The final Uniting Church Murray Darling Basin Tour concluded on 5 August, with a group of UCA members exploring the ongoing water crisis in the Northern Basin.
The annual tours, which are a NSW/ACT Synod initiative, began in 2014 and have since travelled to the Lower and Upper Murray, the Darling, Murrumbidgee and the finally the Northern Darling Basin.
The tours were run by the Uniting Church NSW/ACT Murray Darling Basin Group which consists of scientist, theologians, farmers, environmentalists, pastors and educators.
UCA member, Paul Creek, who coordinated all five basin trips said that the MDBG had achieved the objective of touring the whole basin over the last four years. But what the experience has shown Mr Creek, is that there are no easy answers for the sustainability of one of Australia’s most integral natural resources.
“The Murray Darling Basin is a very large diverse area being 14% of the Australia’s land mass.”
“There are no simple solutions to the issues it faces. People need to visit the basin to begin to understand it. That is why we ran the tours,” said Mr Creek.
Each of the tours included public forums, visits to irrigation, dryland farms, historical sites, as well as spending time with indigenous groups and learning about the area’s eco-tourism. It was part of the Synod vision for the Church to be a transforming presence in the basin, by offering pastoral care and working towards reconciliation and renewal of creation.
Katy Gerner, who participated in the final tour of the basin, explained that by the UCA being active in this space was a way to show that we care and that we have not forgotten those who live in the country.
“For us to be aware of wider problems and how the people involved want to be supported – eg – they want gift and fuel cards not boxes of food.”
“Cards mean that they can choose what they want and continue to support the shops in the area. They don’t want to lose their shops,” said Ms Gerner.
Katy also participated in the Murrumbidgee Basin Tour, and said the final tour stood out for a number of reasons.
“Quite a few actually – hearing of one man’s attempt to save Bilbies after the death of his wife; that I didn’t know how bad the drought was until I saw rivers without water; looking down a powerful telescope to see Saturn, Jupiter and the moon and being told that I was seeing the past; swimming in Artesian water and seeing an opalised fossil of a dinosaur bone (fortunately completely out of my price range),” said Ms Gerner.
The 2018 tour took place in the middle of one of the worst droughts the country has seen in years. NSW is 100% in drought.
“The 2016 tour was held during a flood,” said Mr Creek.
“Over the years the tours experienced the boom bust cycle of the Murray Darling Basin. The history of floods and droughts has led to man wanting to control the rivers of the basin.”
After seeing the drought affect first hand Mrs Gerner said she hoped more help would come the farmers’ way.
“[I hope] that Australians will help out in the way the farmers want to keep the farms viable and to stop the farmers going further into debt until the rains come,” said Ms Gerner.
Around 40% of the nation’s agriculture output relies on the Murray Darling. The government’s Murray Darling Basin Plan, $9bn has been spent over more than five years and the Murray Darling river system is still in crisis. The mismanagement of this natural resource includes allegations of water theft and implications of diverted water flows.
Former Moderator Rev. Dr Brian Brown was the driving force in forming the Murray Darling Basin Group after visiting the region in 2013, a mission that continued with past Moderator, Rev. Myung Hwa Park during her term. The MDBG was officially formed in 2014 in response to the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan.
While the Basin tours have concluded, the Synod is still running the Walking on Country Tours which began last year. Walking on Country looks to contribute to the reconciliation process and build greater understanding and respect between First and Second Peoples. Learn more here.
Image: 2018 Murray Darling Basin Tour group with members of Gilgandra congregation. Photographer: Dr Miriam Pepper.