- Title: Thirst turns to anger as Australia's mighty river runs dry
- Date: 23rd October 2019
- Summary: MENINDEE, AUSTRALIA (SEPTEMBER 1, 2019) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF HOLY TRINITY CHURCH VARIOUS OF REVEREND HELEN FERGUSON CONDUCTING CHURCH SERVICE (SOUNDBITE) (English) REVEREND HELEN FERGUSON, SAYING: "Without water you lose that natural flowing-ness and you know, when that river flows, the people are just abuzz and the whole town comes to life. But that hasn't happened for some time now and my prayer is that people don't get worn down through that but they are resilient and they are strong and they are fighters and hopefully something will come about soon."
- Embargoed: 6th November 2019 09:32
- Keywords: Australia water drought Darling River Menindee Lakes indigenous
- Location: MENINDEE / WILCANNIA, AUSTRALIA
- City: MENINDEE / WILCANNIA, AUSTRALIA
- Country: Australia
- Topics: Droughts,Disaster/Accidents
- Reuters ID: LVA004B2GFFIF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Australia's longest waterway, the Darling River, is running dry - reduced to a string of stagnant and mustard-coloured pools, fouled in places with pesticide runoff and stinking with the rotting carcasses of wildlife, cattle and fish.
The river, historically an important water source for the Aboriginal, is in the grips of Australia's deepest drought in a century. The past two years were the driest in the catchment area of the Darling and adjoining Murray river since records began in 1900, and an end was not in sight.
At Menindee, deep in the interior 830 km (500 miles) west of Sydney, despair has been turning to anger as locals blame the government for exacerbating the drought by draining the river to give water to irrigators.
"That was our food source, with the river, it was our water source. It was our livelihood," said Patricia Doyle, an Aboriginal elder at Menindee, where ephemeral lakes used to store river water were drawn down in 2017 by a government authority.
"They let water in, as soon as they shut the inlet gates, (they open) the outlets and drain it straight away, send it down to South Australia," said president of the Sunset Strip Progress Association in Menindee, Peter Cox. "It's just a crazy set up, it's just devastating to everybody," Cox added.
In Aboriginal language, the river is called the Barka and Doyle's clan - Barkindji - translates as 'people of the river'.
The Barka is at the heart of regional creation stories and its water is a reflection of cultural life, especially in a town such as Menindee where a third of its 550 residents are Aboriginal, compared to a national average of just below 3%.
"To see it like this now - not running - it just puts a bad feeling through everyone that lives along the river," said Barkindji artist, Eddy Harris.
The Darling River and the tributaries have yet to be replenished by rain in October, and another hot, dry summer is in prospect.
Drinking water is murky and dwindling, with many residents preferring to use packages of water in boxes, while the Darling - tinged green and with cracked riverbeds - pools behind a weir.
Australia's national government has set up a panel to evaluate water management in the region, and tasked its anti-trust watchdog to investigate trading in irrigation rights.
But in a sun-blasted cinder-block-and-stone church at Menindee, some were hoping for divine intervention.
"When that river flows, the people are just abuzz and the whole town comes to life. But that hasn't happened for some time now and my prayer is that people don't get worn down through that," said Helen Ferguson, an Anglican reverend who preaches there, as a cool breeze drifted across a cloudless sky.
For the Aboriginal communities, they were seeking to draw attention to the bone-dry riverbed by organising rallies and also holding festivals along the river "to heal the Barka". Ochre-painted dancers performed at dusk, and then by firelight, revering the river but also seeking to get lawmakers' attention about its plight.
(Production: James Redmayne, Stefica Nicol Bikes, Travis Teo)
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