12 – A life living between a river and a creek 121 together by its booms and busts. Water connects our community from top to bottom, over vast distances. The river’s behaviour underpins our myths. For example, Laddie Milson lived on the river for many years and always used to say ‘if the river isn’t running before Christmas, it is going to be a dry year but if it is, the good times are coming’. For our family, we watch and wonder what happens in Pie Melon Gulley, the tiny creek on our place, feeding the great river. When it rained and rained in 1990, I took my children to the creek where I told them how this water would run into the Thomson River, and then join the Cooper, eventually running into Lake Eyre. Now 20 years later, my children have grown up and live and work on the Cooper and the Diamantina River. Another generation deeply understands the paramount importance of this great river and its floods. I think, learn and care deeply about this river. Increasingly, I have become concerned about its future. In 2007, I became a member and soon after the chair of the Cooper Creek Catchment Committee, followed by a stint serving on the board of Desert Channels Queensland, the regional natural resource management body (see Chapter 7). Another world opened up for me. Despite living on the river, I was for the first time exposed to its vulnerability, particularly the insidious threat of irrigation, so often sanctioned by water planning. I was appalled by how few checks and balances existed on diversions of the river’s precious water. I innocently believed the river that had flowed uninterruptedly for millennia was safe and little could threaten the river I loved. It came as a great surprise to me that no one knew how much water people took from the river. My questions reverberated around our meetings – unanswered. What stopped a person taking more water than their licence allowed if no one measured it? Even if the legal take was exceeded, there was an inconsequential fine – certainly no deterrent. I realised I was not alone. Others continually asked the same probing questions, with equal frustration. There was a strong partnership of fellow custodians (see Chapter 7). Then everything crystallised when I attended the 2008 conference at Windorah (see Chapter 7), sponsored by the Australian Floodplain Association. People like me, living on the rivers, talked of our collective experience. We heard the sad stories of lost rivers from landholders in the Murray–Darling Basin (see Chapters 14–16). Landholder stories were the same from each of the Macquarie, the Lower Balonne, the Lachlan and Murray Rivers, all experiencing widespread severe damage caused by diversions of precious river water upstream for irrigation. It had had a huge impact on their lives. It showed me how my river could easily be changed forever, affecting the land, people and social fabric of our community. In 2012, the Liberal National Party Government arrived with a new agenda (see Chapter 17). For us, it was on again – the push for small-scale irrigation on the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. The government’s ‘spin doctors’ tried to convince us that new technology changed the equation. But you can’t make more water. There is a limit to how much water can be diverted before affecting people and environments downstream. Now, there is another ‘elephant in the room’ – mining (see Chapters 19 and 20). It has a place in our economy and we need it, but this does not give the industry any right to destroy our rivers. We have to have the right policies and regulations in place (see Chapter 22).
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