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Here’s hoping for many happy returns

Saturday, 18th April, 2020

Kate McBride with her pet, Kora, by the Darling River at Tolarno Station on her birthday. PICTURE: Supplied Kate McBride with her pet, Kora, by the Darling River at Tolarno Station on her birthday. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

Kate McBride of Tolarno Station has celebrated what she described as her best birthday so far.

Just days after water flowed past the historic homestead on the Darling River for the first time in years about a fortnight ago, it rained and last week Kate turned 22.

“It was the best birthday present you could ever receive,” she told the BDT.

“Incredible. It is so nice to have the river back. It arrived on the Monday night and then we had a massive rain on Wednesday and again Friday.

“At the household we got about 45 millimetres and out in the paddocks our best fall was 75.

“It was lifesaving.”

Tolarno, about 46 kilometres below Menindee, was on the brink of having to get rid of its sheep after enduring not only drought but the mismanagement of the river and the still unexplained draining of the Menindee lakes.

“Dams I had never seen go dry in my life went dry and our backup was only a few days from running out,” Kate said.

“The next step was destocking, so this has been our saviour. The sheep aren’t hanging around the troughs anymore because there’s water in the paddocks, but we’re still feeding the stock.”

Kate had not long come home from her university studies in Adelaide when the Darling flowed and the rain fell.

She is about to graduate with a degree in Commerce, majoring in Management, and her elective subjects were Agriculture, and Aboriginal rights and history.

“It’s not your usual Commerce degree,” she said.

Her studies will continue online while she and her family try to stay on the station “as much as possible” during the coronavirus pandemic.

A few weeks ago the isolation would have been almost unbearable but not now with all the water.

“It is a bit of a privilege,” said Kate. Work goes on at the 188-year-old Tolarno Station and the family’s other property, Peppora. The only hassle was getting the supplies in for everyone, she said.

“Every two or three weeks we send one or two people to shop, mainly for fruit and veg.”

Kate said her father had to explain to the supermarkets in Broken Hill that they weren’t hoarding, just doing a normal shop for five households.

Three years ago news reports showing Kate and Rob in the dusty riverbed brought the plight of the Darling to the nation’s attention, and they have not let up.

From her subsequent appearances on television Kate has become the public face of the battle to save the river.

“The main thing now it to make sure we keep the river here,” she said.

“They nearly destroyed the people on the river and the ecology by keeping it dry for so long.

“Government must look at the long term impacts. When the river came through the fish were going mad, but all the mussels are dead; they won’t come back.

“We need a lot more research, especially into the importance of the lakes to the entire Murray-Darling Basin.

“We can’t have history repeat itself, especially with Menindee lakes and now the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project which is, essentially, the decommissioning of the lakes.

“We are really scared that they’ll rush it through, like the pipeline, and we can’t afford for this to happen.”

It was also well past time that authorities listened to the people who lived on the Darling and stopped peddling the nonsense about evaporation and the lakes being, as the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has described them,  “an inefficient storage”, Kate said.

“The old folks say that when the river and the lakes have water, it rains. Evaporation means precipitation. 

“When the river started to flow and the lakes began to fill, it rained, so who’s to say?”

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