Water is gungan in Yuwaalaraay. People are talking about it a lot around here at the moment. Bottles of it are being carted to dried-out towns, decades-old Murray cod are floating belly-up in pools of the green soup that used to be rivers, and there’s anger with our governments over the endless shafting of everyone in the Murray-Darling.
The above photo, with the elastic-sided boot on the big old cod, was actually taken in 2011 (courtesy Jennifer Marohasy) and was caused by black water rather than cyanobacteria. Fish kills aren’t new, but the combination of drought, poor water management and a state election has created a potent mix.
I was thinking about this as I scrolled through Walgett Shire Council’s monthly “what’s on” email. This February, the Anglican bishop of Lewes is set to visit Walgett; the Ridge bowlo is having a Valentine’s Day couples’ special; and Walgett Hospital is having a Shamrocks and Shenanigans day (dress code: “black tie, with an Irish tone”).
In a sign of the times, though, more than half the public notices are not about tennis competitions, gymkhanas, bake-offs. The vast majority are about gungan, and the effect that its absence is having on the physical and mental health of people out west. There are healing clinics by visiting ngangkari (traditional healers from central Australia), women’s health clinics and Family Matters workshops.
But it’s gungan that we all keep coming back to.
Beating the Walgett water taste-test sounds like something you’d find in the SMH‘s weekend magazine. But they’re not talking about 10 Ways to Make Yummy Water Even Yummier!
Walgett’s drinking water is currently drawn from a bore which means that it does have more mineral content … More minerals means more taste, and in this case there is a higher than normal level of sodium (salt) in the water.
Chilling your drinking water can help reduce the salty taste … You could also add some flavouring such as cut fruit, fruit juice or low sugar cordial which may improve the taste.
More minerals means more taste! But if, for some weird reason, you’re not fond of the delicious saltiness of Walgett water, simply pop some in the fridge or add a dash of low-sugar cordial for dose of extra refreshingly yumminess!
The next council notice is headed “Walgett Raw Water At Critical Level”: “Walgett is experiencing unprecedented water shortages, the recent flow in the Namoi has now been exhausted”. Walgett is now on Level 5 water restrictions. Oh, and the boat ramp at Collarenebri has been closed due to ongoing dry conditions in the Barwon River. (And Colly is on Level 4 water restrictions.)
There isn’t much in the way of flowing water around here but I thought I’d take a look at the Narran River where it crosses the Goodooga Road, north-west of the Ridge.
[Goodooga is a Yuwaalaraay place name: guduu is “Murray cod”, with the suffix –ga “place of”.]
I headed out on a Sunday afternoon. Wide swathes (like, acres and acres) of paddocks on the northern side have had their trees flattened. I’m not a farmer and I don’t know the logic behind this. We’ve had more dust storms this season than many long-time locals remember: is this an attempt to create a kind of mulch over the top soil?
The point where the Narran crosses the Goodooga road is the site of the old Bangate Station. (I blogged about new Bangate’s wool day elsewhere.) A rock-wall weir was constructed at some point in the distant past; I guess it was to create a permanent water source for old Bangate.
The Narran is fed by rainfall from way upstream – in Queensland – and that rainfall just hasn’t been happening, not for a long time. The southern (downstream) side of the weir is dry as a bone. There isn’t a blade of grass to be seen.
The water on the northern side has been reduced to a green puddle. A longish puddle, granted, but still a puddle. The edges are littered with the desiccated skeletons of roos: Were they simply too exhausted to even drink? Were they poisoned by the foul water? Shot?
However bad the water might look, when you’re on the bones of your arse it’s going to be better than the alternative.
There must be something going on though. This sacred kingfisher looked to be in pretty good health. Or maybe he was keeping going on a diet of skinks and lizards.
The Narran at this point has been heavily modified, sometimes intentionally (the weir and road crossing) and sometimes unintentionally (changing land use). The upshot is that, like almost every river in Australia, it now flows differently and its profile is different. Trees here are slow-growing and the biggest are very, very old. They don’t move away during tough times, and looking at their roots shows how the world around them has changed dramatically during their lifetime.
As I walked along the bank of the river, small bandaarr (grey kangaroo) hopped lethargically out of my way. Showers of parrots screeched ahead me and a lone heron drifted from its perch in the tallest branch of one tree to the tallest branch of another.
A squall of shrieks and broad wingbeats came from the river ahead: whistling kites, maybe eight or ten of them. They wheeled and hung in the air, catching the thermals and floating across the sky.
I turned the corner and saw what they’d been snacking on: perhaps the unluckiest bandaarr in the whole drought-stricken north-west of the New South Wales. Drowning in puddle. I mean, what are the odds?
I left him there to the kites.
Maybe the metre of water that’s fallen on Townsville might gush down the western slops of the Great Dividing Range and, come July this year, the Narran will be flowing again. By then there will have been a state election, a federal election, maybe even an inquiry or two.
But by then there’ll be more dead bandaarr and guduu, and the people of Walgett will have become masters of spicing up their special “tasty” water. That’s life out west, where gungan is the key to life for every living thing.