On the road with the Murray Darling Basin Group
The Uniting Church’s Murray Darling Basin Group is taking forward the Synod’s vision for our Church to be a transforming presence in the Murray Darling Basin. This includes offering pastoral care to the people and a prophetic voice for the reconciliation and renewal of Creation.
The Group formed in response to the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan and the struggles of life on the land in the last drought for Basin communities.
“We felt a tour through the Basin would allow people to experience something of life there, and to share stories and build an understanding between rural and city Congregations,” said Geoffrey Paterson, St John’s Uniting Church, Elsternwick, Victoria.
And so planning for a trip along the Murray River, from Albury to Mildura, got underway. It would include public forums, meetings with Churches over a meal, visits to irrigation and dryland farms, ecotourism, visits to historical sites, and time with indigenous groups.
Past Moderator, Rev. Dr Brian Brown, and new Moderator, Rev. Myung Hwa Park have both been involved with the Murray Darling Basin Group. “Myung Hwa’s presence on the trip was a thrill for those we visited and gave her a chance to see and meet lots of different people and places. As participants’ reflections below show, meeting, listening and sharing together grew our awareness of the complex issues for those living in the Murray Darling Basin. It enabled us to think about who we are in creation, and build connections for the common good,” said Geoffrey.
Seeing the Murray Darling though your eyes
The 2014 Albury to Mildura tour has ended. But the transformative journey continues, and you can be a part of it. From 7 to 9 May 2015, the Murray Darling Basin Group will host a conference in Deniliquin on the theme Imagining a sustainable future for the common good in the Murray Darling Basin. The group is also considering future tours.
Reflections on the tour
Rev. Phill Matthews, Rural Chaplain
The tour for me was full on as I did a lot of the driving, but also joyful as I saw people from different places slowly form a community, care for each other and share an understanding of why we were here. The other thing was to see the joy, passion and surprise of those who came to forums to understand why we came to listen and see what was happening along the Murray.
I heard about resilience, innovation and deep caring for the river. From the two visits to local indigenous groups I witnessed respect, being grounded to country and self-knowledge about who you are and where you are going. The local Churches welcomed us warmly, and shared their concerns and joys of their place in an honest way. For me sunrise over Lake Hume on the first day and the clouds over Mungo National Park were mind blowing. I would like to thank the outgoing Moderator and new Moderator for taking an interest in rural New South Wales. My only regret was not being able to spend more time at some places. But I’ll go back. Please see www.ruralchaplains.blogspot.com for more photos and thoughts.
Myra Cowell, Finley Uniting Church
The Yenbeena Indigenous Training Centre is in Barmah. Here we learnt about the Indigenous people and culture; that many young people today seem to have lost their Indigenous identity. Sean told of his grandmother telling him that their people needed to stamp on the country, to sit on the country, and let it soak into them.
As we left Mildura and travelled along the corrugated bumpy road to Mungo National Park, our guide, Graham, pointed out the different vegetation and what it means to the Indigenous people. He also pointed out items of particular interest as we walked over the terrain — things we could easily have missed if they hadn’t been pointed out to us.
Sean and Graham brought to our attention the importance of handing down their Indigenous heritage to the younger generations.
Jim Vickery, Brighton-Kogarah Uniting Church
The earth screamed as it was thrust skyward along the Cadell Fault by an earthquake some 25,000 years ago. The mighty Murray was severed as the Green Valley rose up and emptied out, depriving the western land of its water supply. To the east, water from the melting ice in the mountains dammed up against the ridge. The eastern river folk moved to higher ground as the water rose and they watched the transformation of their world by this new inland sea. Eventually the Murray broke through to the south; rushing at breakneck speed down the Barmah Choke. Then the Barmah River Red Gum forest took root in the sediment laid beneath the waters.
The finger draws time circles in the sand at Lake Mungo to reveal our relationship with mother earth, as prescribed for 40,000 years in the lore. Embellishments to the circles show how insignificant our memorable time on earth has been and where we are placed in the cycles of a changing planet. Disruptions like the earthquake are recalled in the song; for it is only the song that changes.
In the washout tread carefully and watch for the relics of disruption. Listen to the still small voice…
Geoffrey Paterson, St John’s Uniting Church, Elsternwick, Victoria
After 2,500 kilometres over seven days, we stopped on the shores of Lake Boga in northern Victoria. We gathered around a simple roadside park bench under a warming sun, the large expanse of Lake Boga splitting the horizon behind us and a breeze blowing off the water. Here Rev. Phill Matthews led communion. After a Bible reading and a short sermon on Living Water, we partook of the elements.
This fitting tour-ending occasion at the start of the Season of Creation allowed us to pause and reflect on our hectic but informative journey in a place where land, water, living things and the air mingled with everyday life. This is, after all, what we experienced and appreciated in the preceding week when we met and talked to dairy, pastoral, fruit and dryland farmers, townspeople, Congregations in Albury, Echuca, Robinvale and Mildura, and Indigenous representatives in Barmah and Lake Mungo. We did this in the awe-inspiring, diverse and God-creating landscapes of towering mountains and wide plains, wide and narrow streams, and plants tall and small.
Paul Creek, Riverina Presbytery
Visiting local Churches and sharing with the people of the Murray Darling Basin was an important part of the tour. At many of the Churches there was a meal followed by a forum and panel. At Albury, we had some scientific input from Professor Max Finlayson from Charles Sturt University. At Finley, Kathryn Creek sang original songs about life in the Riverina and then we learnt about the rice and dairy industries and how the irrigation system works. Hawea and Janice Jackson provided some entertainment at Echuca before Emma Bradbury from the Murray Darling Association shared about her organisation.
After visiting a Robinvale horticultural farm, we shared a meal with the local congregation. In Mildura, Henry Tankard provided an after dinner speech about his family setting up one of the original irrigation farms in Mildura.
After hearing from local speakers, we usually invited members of the Murray Darling Basin Group to form a panel to take questions. The forums provided a lot of information for those on the tour and local people who attended. The Uniting Church can provide a safe place where the diverse issues affecting the Basin can be explored.
Bill Bush, St Ninian’s Uniting Church, Canberra
The liquid gold roars from the mighty Hume Dam to the endless plains. It is undiminished at our first farm visit near Corowa. A third generation couple at Savernake Station are raising prime lambs on deep rooted saltbush and cherish native pines.
The rice farmer at Finley is the first of many who needs the water. He is meticulous in using it to maximum effect. Rice is a crop of opportunity: no water means no rice. Malcolm Holm’s 750 dairy cows are not as accommodating. Malcolm had sufficient fodder and silage for three waterless years but not enough to see out the decade long drought. He threw the dice and bet his superannuation to purchase feed for the remaining years. He won. We watched the milk flowing from the 50 cows revolving slowly on the enormous rotary milking plant and the milked cows walking back to their lush irrigated pastures.
Robinvale and beyond is not possible without the water. Phil Burkett has dedicated his life to developing an organic citrus orchard with rigorous water efficiency. Like Phil, Merv Cupper on his citrus and grape block at Merbein, past Mildura, is contemplating retirement. Merv won a Landcare award.
Rev. Myung Hwa Park, Moderator
I joined sixteen others who were willing to learn more about the MDB and be connected with the people, fauna and flora of that beautiful part of our Synod. The tour became eight days of amazing grace!
As I stood on the Mungo desert, seeing the remains of a mother and child tens of thousands of years old, I realised what it means when we say ‘time immemorial’.
An Aboriginal teacher taught me how to connect with the land on which I have now made my new home by tapping my feet on the ground to help me feel a connection with the earth. I watched those most beautiful rivers — the Murray and the Darling — which nourished the earth for the trees, animals and birds, and quenched the thirst of wanderers, both the first people and also the late comers.
I then met people who helped me understand what it means to be a new comer in this vast ancient land of dreams and opportunities.