Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Requiem for a River System

A review of The River: A Journey through the Murray-Darling Basin, Chris Hammer ($34.99 Melb University Press (Paperback))
 Canberra journalist Chris Hammer has spent over a decade reporting on the crisis facing the Murray-Darling river system, and the communities that rely on it for their livelihoods.

To write The River, however, Hammer actually traveled from tail to tip of the river system – from Cunnamulla to Dubbo and Echuca, from Bourke to Menindee and the Murray Mouth – and witnessed first-hand a river system in terminal decline.

What has happened to the once-great Murray-Darling? As Hammer writes, “Australia's major river system is collapsing. Parts of it are dying; parts of it are already dead. Australia's most significant river no longer reaches the sea . . . I look out into the dim autumn light and wonder once again how it has come to this . . .

The Murray-Darling basin, Australia’s breadbasket and mythical heartland, has suffered from years of competing economic and social needs, agricultural and municipal misuse, from a decade-long drought, and from the increasing effects of climate change.