I remember learning the NSW river system when I was in primary school (yes, we used to think it was important). The Murrumbidgee was always referred to as The Mighty Murrumbidgee, as if that was its full name. And it is – the word Murrumbidgee apparently means “Big water” in a local Aboriginal dialect.
The Murrumbidgee has a fascinating history. Very important to local Aboriginal tribes, it seemingly hid itself from prying white eyes for years. Perhaps because the beautiful countryside and fertile floodplains didn’t want to be discovered. Or perhaps because the indigenous population somehow knew it would be exploited and they would lose the life it brings, so kept white people away. That’s not quite the way they taught it at primary school, but I like to editorialise.
Despite all the dams, the Murrumbidgee still floods, most recently this year (2012), and farmers use its fertile floodplains for cattle and crops.
When I first started coming to the farm with Doc, the river was just a fraction of its Mighty self. We’d been in drought for a couple of years by then, so perhaps it’s understandable. The dam was also less than 30% full.
Then last year things changed. The drought broke – with a vengeance. In a matter of months the dam went from levels where Canberra might run out of water, to a situation where water had to be released to prevent worse flooding than was already happening downstream. The Mighty Murrumbidgee was mighty once more.
And it was letting us know.
But now, in a few short weeks, it’s back to a trickle. At least in this part of its journey. Water agreements to improve the Murray-Darling basin mean that water has had to be released from dams to more closely mimic natural river flows. I fully support the plan to improve the health of the Murray-Darling – and all our river systems – but it’s so sad to see the Mighty Murrumbidgee look like this.
When I get back to my studio after my Christmas break I’ll put up the before and after photos so you can make the comparison.