Disaster in the Australian outback
Today. We discuss a disaster in the Australian outback where searing heat severe drought and terrible mismanagement has allowed rivers to run dry and in opinion, the guardians Williams asked for all to hysterical about screen time. Southern Australia is in the middle of an extraordinary heat wave. With temperatures soaring to up to forty seven degrees swiping rod across central and south eastern tonight. Temperature records waste and the mercury was only headed one way. It's happening when the country is already one of the worst droughts in its recorded history drawing up landscape, really large parts of the Murray, darling basin a huge swathe of land the size of Egypt. Little rain is expected for months. It's like the main artery in a stray area. So people are starting to really worry about what the future holds. The areas drying rivers that run from Queensland through New South Wales. Victoria, and into South Australia are increasingly the site of fish kills mass fish deaths being reported all over the Murray darling basis morning. We're just getting reports coming through the fishkill down at like Hyun. The latest this week. So the water carpeted with hundreds of thousands of bony bream, golden perch and Murray cod is an absolute catastrophe. These magnificent animal generations out her now is dead. Let residents fair being forced to abandon their homes in search of clean water animals animal Abbott, no water to swim cook wash with anymore from the guardian. I'm initially Astana today in focus, I disaster in the Australian outback. So we flew about three and a half hours to mill Jura, which is near the junction of the Murray and darling rivers down on the border of South, Australia, and Victoria and New South Wales. And Davies he reports the guardian stray Leah traveled to them in Indy. Lakes long with the photographers we drove about three to four hours up a dirt road. But it's really quite Ramoche and take yearly at this time of year because the temperature was forty seven degrees celsius feel what it feels like you're in an oven you walk out, and as the wind blows it feels like it's just scorching your legs. I've never felt anything like it's it's almost a claustrophobic eight the closes on you when you're around it. And and getting back into the start getting little DC tired. He start sweating. Forty seven degrees. Jeez. I mean, that's not. Yes. Normally look around that part of the world, you can have forty seven degrees want one or two days a year. But people are getting really really worried that they we're getting like two weeks of this temperature in a row. So we drove up to Menendez which is used to be quite a big tourist spot. There is some agriculture including grape growing and citrus. But now, it's all the grapes of being abandoned. And so there's just this collegial grape vines everywhere in fields and then further up. It'll just be a dry river bid. Why did you go to this area? So the reason why we went to Mindy was on January seven there was a a major fish kill. And by that. I mean, all these fish just suddenly died and floated to the surface, there was a copy of these little fish and in amongst them were larger quite endangered fish, the golden perch, and the silver perch and also some very large Murray card, which are native fish that can grow up to a major long and be sixty seventy years old. We've had Fudd hers coming back from an indie of the river, literally carpeted with these tiny little what silvery fish. It's really disturbing. We went down to the age of the darling river, most people tell me, you would never see him my record in your life. But they they were they were just gasping for breath. And it was was quite horrified to see we saw one just turn over flip a few times and it died right in front of us. How many Fisher died so we've had three kill fish kills. In Manila, d all of them are being I wanna tens of thousands and into that people say I in the hundreds of thousands. I think we're going to end up with a figure that's probably a million fish died in the river in the last month. People say that the bony bream the ones that are dying in the hundreds of thousands, the really important in the food chain in the river and without them. We're gonna see impacts all the way through right down to South Australia and some of the Fisher talking about our enor-. Thomas Murray card. I mean the way sixty two kilograms it's the weight of a person and in pitchers people have their arms stretched out wide to hold onto them, the huge only. Yes, they really large and the papal Menini have this relationship with the fish, you know, they love them, and it's been part of the tourism industry. It's part of the, you know, the mythology of the old timers about the fish. They've caught and I've seen grown men weeping over these did fish. Any words toward it's very very sad. Very sad. This is a man might disaster. These animals. That's Mexican feel chronic dying. Well, the preliminary investigation has suggested it's caused by high temperatures and then low temperatures that follow. And because there's no flow in the river. The water has been becoming slowly Deok sedated by blue-green algae, which is a poisonous algae. And then when the temperature falls the algae dies and uses up more auction leaving the fish without any dissolved oxygen in the water. Why is there a lack of water is all because of the drought? So the issue for strata with this river system is that it's been historically farming has just been able to take water out of the river system and gradually. It's become unsustainable. Now, the government realized this in in the two thousands when we had another drought and they've been endeavoring to come up with a plan to manage the water better. But. This is exposed is that, you know, this just way too much water being taken out still and the government has peps bowed to Bagram culture at the expense of the environment. And just because what what kind of agriculture we talking about. So in some of the dryest parts of stralia. We now grow caution almonds citrus. And these crops all require huge amounts of water as the government has tried to regulate how much water is used by agriculture. The result has been that big aggressor has bought up a lot of the water rights strandings often say why are we growing cotton in such dry climate and the answer is well it makes money. This was saying that customers have said they feel they've been unfairly blamed for what's happening. You've had some of the forms who did you meet? So we visited one of these thumbs in what's called the Loa, darling. It's a massive property of half a million heck diz. It's one of the bees sheep stations in New South Wales. But Lauren who's the wife of the manager is absolutely struggling to know, whether she can stay there. But even before the hey came sort of been struggling to cope with the lack of water. So for a long time. Now, we've we always knew the she's got a little baby who seven months old called will. They would usually just drink the river water use it for this stock when it has blue-green algae unit. That's no more. The snow is unbelievable is unbearable. What does it smell line? Smells like. Smells, like, rotten eggs. It's just you can't fill up a sink to do the dishes because it's just awful. We usually brush tape in this water easily by cont actually bath her child in the river water. The river ward is being declared. It's got a red alert for blue green algae. And the the medical advice is don't touch it. Don't drink it swim in it. She save him wondering whether she can wash her flaws with it because the baby will be on the floor. The last time it went dry. Some of the kids imprint Carey in other stations got very very seek that had like bedsores on them just from playing sprinklers e cetera. And then we're on like antibiotics months afterwards. So instead they bothering the baby in a tiny little amount of Brian water. The net that now run acid rain water. So they're gonna get water trucked in from somewhere else. It's not fair. It makes you angry. Thanks you side. And it just feels like nobody cares about. When you were watching. How did you feel just so hot I felt for her? You know, I could see how worried she was about the baby every day. We think about leaving like is it worth at being in like, this is our home. We love it so much. But is it worth it? What if will does get from the water? Rena? Where's your family from with you wanna right people? So we're river people from the far northwest of New South Wales. My grandmother was born on the Narran river, which is on the northwest age of the Murray darling base. Llerena alum is the guardians. Indigenous affairs, editor she spent a lot of her childhood on the banks of the river visiting her family who have lived there for decades. Recently, she traveled back to the region to see the impact of the drought. For you will arrive people to river is very important culturally. We shed that water with all the other nations of the basins. There's about forty six different nations in the Mary dining bison. They all believe I have a strong responsibility to look after not just the country, but the the water other communities that live by the river, predominantly indigenous communities. Yes. Absolutely. So most of the little towns along the Murray darling majority indigenous population because that's where people were herded onto reserves at the turn of the situation after they were sort of brought in from their traditional lands, but they have lived on these rivers since before Europeans arrived. Tell me about that trip because I hadn't been home so to speak for a long time. But the rivers are just always there. So it was a shock to me to see how degraded the country was to see these big rivers empty and the enormous old gum. Is on the river banks that really give you shelter in pace. When you sit by the river to see those big old trays sort of fully into the river bid was quite confronting. Do you have memories of visiting your family as a child and in those memories? What did the river mean? The rivers sustained us culturally physically spiritually for centuries. That's where we ate that's way, we had ceremonies. That's where babies were born. That's where funeral practices were carried out and whatever lying on the water for their livelihoods in those mission times people call them win every people during the protection era in the last century were herded onto reserves and lived on rations flour sugar and tea a lot of people were hungry and a lot of people were poor. So the rivers even then provided sustenance. So you could always going catch a fish or Yogi. Do you know what he sees? No. It's a it's a freshwater crayfish, which tastes like lobster list salty. Do do you remember seeing people catching bees when you were a kid? Absolutely. You got into the river. Start a little fire and Paulo can of water, and you could cook fish and. Yeah bees. And there were it was a rich life on the river. And you returned recently on the river was gone. How do people feel about what's happening? Not just one river all of them. So we traveled a four hour. One might drive. They were no revisit all. The by one is driving. Nemo is dry the great Narran lakes, which heritage protected. Wetlands dry. And and the elders at they were crying and telling us these eighty year old people who have gone through all sorts of deprivations in their long lives who've never seen the river this bed. Virginia Robinson, one of eldest said this to me, the ultimate destruction of our culture. All people think about now is no water in the river because they were in harmony with nature. That's all unbalanced all destroyed now. And do you believe that when the government is thinking about this crisis? It's thinking about those communities. No the bow river at welded. And the darling river will Kenya. The two towns in the system that have the biggest original populations the number of times the river. Stop flowing was in the last decade was phenomenal. It's obvious that these towns of being abandoned in why the being neglected. The government's strong view as the Water Minister said to me the other day is that this is caused by drought. The saying that it's it's unavoidable. And when it rains, everything will be fine. But I know that people don't buy that for a minute. They see cotton firms upstream that have plenty of water for irrigation. And they start to wonder why it is that they have to subsist on ball water. And there's no running water coming down every triple whammy drought, curing trees change. No water. But what role do upcoming elections play? So climate change is being an issue industry for quite a while now, but we have a federal government that is absolutely opposed to admitting that it exists. Current prime minister bottle up of coal into parliament previous prime minister was famously quoted as saying climate change is crap. But the side of dead fish the side of you know, little children bathing in Brown, muddy water. That's coming from the tip. I hope is going to galvanize people in a way that we haven't before. And there are enough people in the constituencies of those impace whose seats in L looking very shaky indeed because they've voter heartland attorney against them because of what they're saying happening to the beloved rivers, and I think this the current government is on borrowed time. This week the state politician who's responsible for water in New South, Wales travelled to the lower darling. River to witness the third mass fish Depp this month, speaking on the banks of the river. Now Blair admitted we've seen nothing like this. And acknowledged it was about more than the drought. And that's why I'm here. Okay. So I'm not on not implying, these this is this is something that warrants the prompt attention. I'm Davies has been reporting on a plan for the area which has been in place since two thousand and seven but many say it's not enough. The Mary jolly basin plan is probably the best attempt at trying to resolve the conflicts between the environment, and farmers and irrigation and climate change. So the plan is the government put thirteen billion dollars. That's about seven billion pounds aside to buy buyback water for the environment. The trouble ease. It's not going to be enough to turn the river back into a sustainable system. Do you think the government hose taken the side of big business over the side of local communities since twenty thirteen we've had a conservative government in ustralia, including the national party, which is a coalition partner. Now, they're the party of the Bush of farmers with the result that I think pharma's have had a fun loud voice than environmental. Groups, and certainly the science has been ignored and a foam is starting to change their mind. Yes. I think that's what's happening. So this certainly a group of farmers who are now realizing that unless the plan is revisited they could be a an environmental disaster in the future. You went to meet one of these farmers who'd already become famous speaking up about this. What did he do? So rob McBride and one of his mates Wade into the river, peaked up to large cod and film themselves say how horrified they were. And look at conic fish. Australia thing trade. This is Lottie disgusted with yourself. It's absolutely gone viral. And I think single handedly put the problems of the river onto the world stage nothing to do with. Disaster. We went down to rub mcbride's property and his family in the forties. And they head have one of the biggest sheep stations in New South Wales. But they don't be water uses and they're in a part of the river, which is just becoming more dry. This is the most amazing rivers can see his face just desparation about what's going to happen to his property. Clearly, the big boys view is destroy the mini likes. We just sacrafice loans out here to justify a lot of it. Feels like maybe this is teetering on the edge of an ecological disaster. And the this part of Austrailia is on the kind of front line of climate change. Well, the Murray darling basin plan, I know this will come as a surprise does not actually take into account. Ouch climate change. So when they devised it. They used Ola numbers that were based on the last hundred years, even though they had worked done by elating scientists which said you can't rely on the same sort of water flows. You have to look forward into the future. Where it's luckily, we'll see hotter. Drier climates in the south you need to adjust the plan accordingly. Now that hasn't been done. If it sounds like urgent action is needed. What needs to be done? So we've recently had an inquiry, and we had a parade of scientists who came to give evidence, and they said you need to allocate more water to the environment or this plan will fail. Llerena what might happen? People going to survive in this area. Well, it's a good question. Book for example, in west New South Wales has just had its twenty first day of above forty degree temperatures with severe water restrictions and no water in the river. So we dealing with communities that are, you know, quite precarious. Now, the people of weld told us black and white alike said we've got six months if we don't get some water. That was Llerena alum and and Davies do read all of their reporting on the Murray darling crisis and have a look at some of the astonishing photographs at the guardian dot com. Coming up is it time for parents to calm down about the amount of time that children's spend staring at screens. In today's don't stop. Making quality time feel self is more important than ever when he by subscription to the guardian and the observer, you can look forward to sitting back and leafing through every page at your own pace from the latest ground-breaking investigations to recipes reviews. Award-winning sports coverage are more subscribe before the third February and you'll save up to fifty two percent on newspaper subscription for a year. Just search guardian. Subscriptions. Now guardian columnist Zoe Williams on the screen time debate. So my son who's eleven watch is people playing games that he also plays and often you'll have to screens going. So he'll be playing fortnight on one screen and then have an ipad in front of him on which like a seventeen year old from Utah is also paying fortnight, but they don't playing the same game. What she's these horrible horrible? Crude unim-, Asians of you know, girls with Bobby figures saying mean things to each other my other daughter watches kind of craft crofters and people making slime people melting stuff watching her watch. It is kind of this is really pointless and boring, but it's actually made her much more crafty and into melting things. Now, there will be people. Listen to this is absolutely horrible stope you childhood because they're not reading all doing brodry or helping me cook, none of them can cook. I could I could use to be stricture. But I suppose I'm willing to interrupt too much what they actually want to do this huge amount of childhood, which is not what you want to do. Don't want to go to school, you generally, don't wanna go swimming. So, you know, I've got to be honest. I probably do let them do whatever they like in the in the time that they've caught vegetable. They were all things about the internet, which which Paris do worry about and they worry about with reasons so ease anxiety about online bullying is it does seem to be more pernicious and bit more savage. There is that element where you know, your Instagram self. It comes your entire self and then of social anxiety touches to that. Because a simple thumbs down from stranger can ruin your day. Don't know any of my children's pin numbers. And I wouldn't ask them. The orthodoxy is so fixed, you should have the pin numbers to children's devices, and you should feel free to go through them. Because otherwise how to know what they're up to that talking to that. They're not communicating with a paedophile that they're not bullying someone else that nobody's bullying them. And I just would not be willing to do that. Because I think it kind of fosters an atmosphere of mistrust and dishonest e I think a kid moderately intelligent child of eleven can outwit you if they want to. So there's no point looming over them because they'll find a way to have prove see if you even if you don't give it to them. And really if you want to protect them from the dangerous things that the world can throw at them. The kind of number one thing in that is that they feel like they taught you which they won't feel like if you've sets up this dynamic, but you know, I've said that in front of parenting panels and stuff people look at me, like I'm out swiftly crazy. On the one hand, you this kind of culture of perfection around parenthood. And then on the other hand, you got this culture productivity and childhood so children to be always doing something productive always improving themselves. Always maximizing their time. I really don't like it. I think it makes them very anxious. I think there were kind of lived realities of human life, which cannot be measured and cannot be maximized. And I'm really uncomfortable with the eye of with like packing every second of their days with yet more stuff. Elements the internet that made me anxious, but I certainly would take the anxiety over something more profound about controlling their every waking moment. That's all for today. My thanks to an Davies, Llerena alum and Zoe Williams. This episode was produced by India Rakkason, Amer Collier, and Elizabeth Casson sound design was by axel Kakuta. The executives on Jackson, and Phil may not we'll see you next week.