Don’t Mention the War (ter)
Too much rain, not enough rain, a 25% chance of 5-10mm of rain, so many points more or less than the place down the road…Farming is all about water. Some years ago i joined my father and a band of fired up farmers on a trip to the high court. They were protesting legislation that ruled that farmers were only allowed to use the water that fell on their heads for stock and domestic purposes. Any excess was to be captured by the catchment and sent downstream for licensed users. Licensed users (and those who lobbied for the legislation) happened to be those engaged in some pretty unsustainable and damaging practices. Our Rumpole-esque QC sourced some British common law examples that suggested that land and water rights are indivisible, some slick government lawyers argued that the farm dams legislation was legislation and that was that. There was some tittering and the band of renegade farmers were furnished with a bill for costs that may or may not have sunk to the bottom of some-one’s shoe box, never to be heard of again.
Burrowye Station sits on the banks of The Murray, just before it bloats and turns into the great evaporation pond they call The Hume Weir. The beauty of the River Road drive is haunting, ironic, and drowned. In moments of high emotion, when I feel overwhelmed by the place and the space and the demands and the moral dilemmas out here, I see myself chucking an Ophelia and floating face downstream into it all. I remember sitting on a hill with an elder from Arnhem Land, watching one of our cattle trucks wend its way along the muddy edge of the weir with its skeletal river red gums and we didn’t say anything but I felt we were both looking at the same thing.
For the past three years we have drunk river water, and I have been sick with it. On the one hand, you could just write us off as being lazy and impractical – visitors are astounded and ask why we don’t just put in a rain water tank. I have complained about health and well being not being a priority when it comes to spending money round here, but on contemplation, our stalling is about something deeper than that. James sums it up when he says that not being able to drink the river water separates him from the land and goes against our efforts to be at one with it. Our prayers and purifications are not enough. If this water, at the very start of its journey, is fouled, what is the rest of the country swallowing? Pest species, cattle, boat fuel, god-knows-what else, and all the chemicals required to get it to potable quality. Errgh.
I wonder about water separated from land, and what nutrients it loses. About the scared pools that have dreaming stories on billboards that ask that people do not even swim in them. About all the summers where I do not swim in the river and feel un-australian for not joining in and yet can’t overcome my instinct to remain on the bank. About the silt and faecal matter that sits in the bottom of the granny pink bath.
And now, in the seventh month of my ninth and only viable pregnancy in three years, I carry chlorinated water in plastic boxes, over 100km, from taps in town, along The River Road.