My Dearest Darling,
From the first time that I sat beside you in 1974, I have always loved you. Your peacefulness, your beauty, your generosity, your power. Gradually I learnt your history and came to know the people who have loved you since time began. The more I got to know you, the more I loved you – through the good times and the bad, through the floods and the dry times. From Wiimpatja I learnt a little bit about the customs of caring for you and understanding you. These customs had ensured that you nourished people with water, food, shelter, warmth in winter, coolness in summer, celebrations, stories and meaning.
I learnt about the terrible things that were done to you over the last 150 years. Like many thousands of trees cut down along your sides for fuel to power the steam boats. Like sacred rock bars blown up to allow boats past. Like millions of sheep watered along you till the land blew away. I felt your pain at these old wounds but I saw your recovery.
I learnt about the more recent attacks on you. Like dams and weirs to turn away the flow of your life-giving waters and upset the ancient life-cycles of all living things that depend on you. Like ever-increasing pumping of your waters to feed the greed for more and more money to be made by sucking the life out of you. Like the spread of carp. Like the demise of black bream because of barriers to their migration. It is distressing to love you and to see you being slowly killed. Many of us speak up on your behalf but we often feel powerless. Sometimes, even those of us who love you and are desperate at your plight, can’t think clearly and act to save ourselves rather than you. I feel your pain as terrible things continue to be done to you.
All the things that I learn about you all add up to the big picture that you change all the time and that you cannot be predicted. You cannot be tamed. You should not be tamed. Taming will kill you. I will stand up for your right to run free. I will always love you.
Now I witness more horrors committed against you. Governments are fighting over you. New rules to limit the taking of your water are made, but these rules give back too little to restore you. Vested interests are not willing to give up their privileges so that you can live. Then the rules get weakened so more can be taken from you. Then greedy people even cheat those weak rules. They don’t get caught because governments have sacked all the inspectors. If they get exposed by ‘Four Corners’ or other public-interest groups, cover-ups seem to occur to protect the rich irrigators who give donations to government. We must demand much, much more honesty, fairness and ethical behavior from our politicians and leaders.
Maybe, just maybe, we can forgive the earlier crimes against you as ‘ignorance’ and ‘pioneering’. But we can’t forgive the new crimes done in our name and in our lifetime. We are now fully aware of how the river functions and we choose to ignore it. Murder in cold blood. Ecocide (killing of an entire ecosystem)!
For your sake my Darling and for ours, we must resist this age of galloping greed. Your interests and the interests of the public must triumph over the interests of a few wealthy people who want to take more from you. For a long time our relationship with you, my dearest Darling, has been going in the wrong direction. Instead of ‘take, take, take’, we must start giving back and keep on giving back. How about every irrigation licence be cut by 5% every year. How about not treating water as a piece of tradable real estate. Restore the idea that a water licence is a privilege to use the public good that is part of you, with very strict conditions. Stop allowing water licences to be moved around in any direction, because you can’t cope with that. Remove barriers to fish movement. How about we stop thinking that all the naughty people live upstream but that every drop of water that flows past me is wasted. Really! How about we celebrate when you flow into the sea like any healthy river, giving life to the estuary and the ocean. In New Zealand they have just recognised the rights of a river. Yes, the rights of the river itself. That sounds like a good idea to me. I demand that your rights be recognised and protected. How about putting Aboriginal people in charge of managing your interests.
You are reduced to tears. I am crying with you. But we will not let you be sacrificed. There are no sacrifice areas on this planet. Every place is the beloved home or spiritual homeland of someone or many people. You are my beloved Darling and I know that you are loved by many. I know that one day you will flow free again. It is up to all of us mere humans, during our short time with you, to learn to speak for you and stand up for you. We can do it.
Wapikatina Paakinana purrinyari.
We will return our river to life.
Yours forever my Darling,
6th August 2017