A recent tour of regional NSW has left former Gunbower farmer Greg Toll with unforgettable images and clear concerns for distressed communities.
The Speak Up ambassador and his wife Margaret have recently returned from a trip of more than 3200km which took them from their home in Bendigo through Mildura, Broken Hill, Bourke, up to Brewarrina and back through Griffith and Deniliquin before arriving home.
During his tour Mr Toll met with many community members including several councillors and mayors, to better understand the issues being faced, particularly by those in the Darling and Lower Darling river areas.
He also introduced Speak Up and its policy document Balancing the Impacts of the Basin Plan.
Mr Toll and his wife have returned emotionally drained from what they saw and heard during their trip, especially the clear message that the grassroots concerns from communities are not been heard in the hallways of Canberra.
This was summed up during a meeting with Wentworth Shire Mayor Melisa Hederics.
‘‘Melisa is very concerned that the right messages are not being heard in Canberra,’’ Mr Toll said.
‘‘In her shire — like many others — people are suffering, shops and banks are closing.
‘‘Melisa is also concerned about the water pipeline from Wentworth to Broken Hill which is being built with no consultation.
‘‘There is also concern the water will come from the Murray River system ... again, we’re trying to fix every problem through the Murray, instead of looking at other options,’’ he said.
‘‘It was devastating to see the state of the water in the Darling River at Wilcannia; it was green with a mouldy smell and I can’t help but worry about the poor people relying on the Darling for the water supply there.’’
Mr Toll said he’d heard the same messages everywhere he went — and while people understood a drought was a drought, there was no excuse for the poor water management that had caused so much stress and grief for those communities up and down the Darling River.
‘‘The frustration and anger was pretty evident, with a lot of angst about the rules around when pumps upstream are turned on so that storage dams can be filled; and there are some pretty big ones as you get close to the Queensland border.
‘‘While most point fingers at cotton growers, surely the rules and management of the system by government has to be called to account,’’ Mr Toll said.
Heading home, the Tolls called into Griffith and then Deniliquin where the scale of water purchases by the government under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is having major socio-economic impacts on agriculture and local communities.
Governments have targeted the majority of water recovery in the Southern Basin, with major impacts on NSW and Victorian Murray regions.
The Tolls, who previously ran a prime lamb and hay production enterprise just out of Gunbower, have always understood the importance of water management.
‘‘The current state and what we see happening to our communities is devastating, given the prosperity I have experienced,’’ Mr Toll said.
‘‘The trip showed me the two extremes of water management.
‘‘On the one hand we have communities along the Darling struggling for water because the river isn’t flowing — and part of that is the management of Menindee Lakes.
‘‘And then along the Murray we are going to see landowners flooded out in attempts to get water to South Australia, all at the expense of communities in the middle.’’