FROM UNINHABITABLE TO UNIMAGINABLE!

In the summer of 1817 when explorer John Oxley and his botanist companion Cunningham, headed south from following the Lachlan River,they climbed Mt. Brogden in the Binya Hills to survey the land to the south.Oxley wrote in his journal:I believe I am the first white man to ever view this desolate landscape and believe I will likely be the last, there is little probability that these desolate plains will ever again be visited by civilized man.Twelve years later in 1829, when Charles Sturt was exploring the Murrumbidgee River he stopped near where Darlington Point now stands and following a short expedition to the north describes the Binya hills in the distance and notes in his journal:The area to the north of the river is a dry treeless plain unsuitable for habitation.

These two observant explorers were looking at what is today one of the richest and most productive food bowls in the world.It is the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, made possible by the vision of Politicians who over one hundred years ago, recognised that providing man invested in water conservation we could develop otherwise wastelands into fertile productive farmland supporting vibrant communities.This once desolate landscape, today produces on average every day of the year, 160 semitrailer loads of quality, fresh food ready for the Supermarkets of Australia.Every day of the year there is also on average a further two and a half trains of containerized food leaves the towns of Griffith and Leeton for markets around the world.

The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area produces around three and a half billion dollars worth of quality, reliable fresh food every year and supports the thriving towns of Leeton and Griffith.This has been achieved during the last 90 years by a constant improvement in the management, irrigation techniques, fertility and productive capacity on these once barren plains and rather than destroying aquatic habitat, the irrigation industries have enhanced the prospects for all species native to this area.Leaders who had witnessed the devastation and totally dry rivers that accompanied the droughts of the 1860’s and the late 1890’s, were determined to conserve water at times of excess, for use in sustaining inland communities supported by the production of irrigated crops.

What they probably gave no thought to at the time, was the fact that as they did this they were also increasing the habitat and improving life for all aquatic species.Modern day commentators seem unaware that although there are over 30,000 so-called wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, that prior to modern mans intervention all of these “wetlands” were bone dry for extended periods between floods.While the wetlands exploded in a smorgasbord of life accompanied by a cacophony of sounds, following floods; this abundance quickly disappeared as the floods receded and several years, often over a decade or more of no floods followed.The vast majority of this food chain simply died.

The truth is that rather than mans intervention in the management of the rivers of the MDB being the cause of problems with the wetlands; the fact is that most of the near permanent wetlands of the lower MDB are maintained by man.City environmentalists and academics seem unable to accept or understand that our best and most permanent wetlands and ideal habitat for all native aquatic flora and fauna are the dams, weirs, irrigation storage lagoons and channels built and controlled by man.The research work done by the University of Canberra relating to the breeding of frogs in rice paddies in the Riverina supports this argument; a fact that has been recognized by everyone that has worked or lived in the irrigated agricultural environment for decades.

The Montage of irrigated fields surrounding Barren Box Swamp near Griffith

This man-made water storage (wetland) is part of the Mirrool Creek that has its source near Cootamundra in the foothills of the Great Divide and ultimately flows into the Lachlan River.

Along its course through the MIA there are numerous managed wetlands that are home to thousands of water birds all feeding off the aquatic food chain that has become part of this unimaginable picture to the first white men to gaze across this once uninhabitable landscape.

Pikey