Intrepid travellers follow the course of the Darling River

Pictured: The group at Mungo National Park, together with Paakantyi traditional owner Graham Clarke from Harry Nanya Tours

From 1-9 August 35 intrepid travellers set out from Dubbo, and from points east and south and north, to follow the course of the Darling River (by road of course), to learn about water and land use in the Western Division, to meet with Uniting Church communities along the way, and to share our lives with each other over nine days.

The learning part took a variety of forms.  In Dubbo and Broken Hill, two forums had been organised to engage the local communities in discussions and presentations by John Williams, John Goss, Miriam Pepper, Austin Evans, David Reichardt around water use for agriculture and town supply and the tensions that ensue for communities dependent on the Darling River.  We learnt about the river’s slow flow and how it reflects a “boom and bust” cycle in its life.  Along the tour, discussions and information was given about vegetation and what that reflected about the land and its use for agriculture.

We also learnt about life on the land when we visited two stations, one out of Louth, and the other south of Menindee.  Both farms had suffered during the drought, and one farmer had been cut off by floodwaters, over seven months one year, and six months the next year.  The resilience of people in small communities continues to amaze me, and the way they accept the vagaries of the weather, a land of boom and bust indeed.

Enngonia Public School was an outstanding example to me of resilience and commitment to improve life for outback kids.  The school welcome was warm and winsome, each child telling us part of their school day and finishing with dancing.  15 children from K to Year 6, the majority of whom are indigenous, four teachers and two teaching assistants.  Melissa Harrison, the principal, lives next door to the school and takes her calling very seriously.  Her enthusiasm glows and the children respond.  Here was a place of the Spirit, working its wonders.

We worshipped with Narromine and Nyngan congregations, were fed by them and the Cobar congregation, we heard of the work of the flying padre, the Broken Hill minister and the Nyngan-Cobar minister and patrol padre.  We gained a sense of their life and tried to assure them of our continuing prayers for them, and a promise to remember them to our own congregations.  We gained a sense of the distances they have to travel and the feeling of remoteness from the life of the wider Uniting Church.

Sharing our lives with each other happened as we shared meals and discussions around the campfires.  We built a sense of community in our care for each other, especially when one of our number fell in Bourke and had to leave the tour.  We shared devotional material prepared by Gereldine Leonard and Dorothy Creek, and reflected on the sacred in what we were seeing of this “wide, brown land”.  We had a greater appreciation of the importance of water in the lives of communities, and how water is spirit, in recreation, in life.

Our thanks to Paul and Dorothy Creek and the committee for their organisation of the trip.  If you get the chance, go on the next one, it will be worth it.

Nerida Drake




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