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River flowing but blockade still on

Wednesday, 11th March, 2020

Children at play in the flowing water of the Darling/Baaka. PICTURE: Brendan Adams Children at play in the flowing water of the Darling/Baaka. PICTURE: Brendan Adams

By Craig Brealey

The river is flowing in Wilcannia but that will not stop the bridge from being blockaded on Friday, Aboriginal Elder David Bates said yesterday.

Water authorities have said the Darling/Baaka could run for a year; Mr Bates said it must be returned to its natural state.

On Friday, bridge protests will be held in other western river towns and in Parramatta, Brisbane and now Lismore.

Each is demanding a Federal Royal Commission into the management of the Murray-Darling Basin and an end to water being traded as a commodity.

The river has been dry for three years but since it returned to life in Wilcannia last Thursday everyone has been down there every day to swim or just watch it go by.

“It’s good to celebrate the river now but what happens when the flow goes through?” said 73-year-old Mr Bates who is a former chairman of the State Land Council.

“We want it to keep going because even when it’s trickling, it’s still alive and water is life to everyone, no matter what breed you are,” he said.

Mr Bates was born in Wilcannia and came back to stay about 14 years ago.

“In my time back home we’ve had two major floods down this river, more than 10 metres each time, yet we’ve had no water for years.

“You can’t use water as a commodity to be traded to build up your bank. 

“Who is benefiting? I want to see benefit for all of us and we must make our governments accountable for this.”

Lismore has joined Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett and other the towns in the protest. 

The “Knitting Nannas” of Lismore are leading a protest on Ballina Bridge on behalf of Wilcannia, and in Parramatta people will march from the town hall to the office of Water NSW to demand an end to floodplain harvesting and corporate irrigation.

In Brisbane a protest will take place on the Apostle Bridge, and in Melbourne a campaign called “Flood the Minister” has begun that involves inundating the office of NSW Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, with emails and phone calls.

An organiser of the Wilcannia blockade, Ian Sutton, said support had also been pledged from other quarters.

“The ‘Water for Rivers’ group in Sydney will be sending maybe a couple of buses to Wilcania and others are expected from the Northern Rivers area,” said Mr Sutton.

“I’ve heard from others but we haven’t had confirmation. We’re flat out getting phone coverage in Wilcannia.”

Mr Sutton said the benefits of a live river to the town had been known for a very long time. 

“Wilcannia was averaging three break-ins every couple of days,” he said. “Since the water got here there has not been a single crime. 

“A flowing river has a massive social impact.

“The kids are fishing, swimming and playing non stop.”

Fellow organiser, Barry Stone, said the flows were temporary and that if order was not restored to the Murray-Darling system, trouble would follow.

Mr Stone said people in Wilcannia had their river back and did not want to lose it again.

“Once we get started on Friday we’ll have all the community coming out and standing up because something has to be done before there is blood on the rivers,” Mr Stone said.

“I’m watching it now and it’s so beautiful, and there’s activity going on all around us.”

Friday’s protest in Wilcannia will begin at 9.30am (9am Broken Hill time).


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