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The Darling River Isn't Cotton Country

By Hakamike @hakamike

Mayor says river too unreliable for cotton

NICK O'MALLEY, SMH 30 Nov, 2011 04:00 AM
RON PAGE, a 15-year veteran of local politics in the far west, was once so incensed by the then premier Bob Carr's policy on the Darling River that he took to calling him the ''River Killer''. He even got some Aboriginal mates to teach him how to say it in the local language.
''The first time I met Craig Knowles he tore some strips off me,'' he says of the former Carr government minister behind the revised Murray Darling plan released yesterday.
Mr Page, 62, who is now the mayor of Menindee and was once mayor of Broken Hill, lives in a two-storey home on the banks of the Darling. Today the river is full, but still a good 10 metres below his home.
''When it gets hot, up around 45, I put a life jacket on, get into the river and float around for an hour or two,'' he said, looking down to his little jetty.
He remembers how important the river was when he was growing up poor in Broken Hill - cool and wet with plenty of fish to eat.
During the summer floods this year, he scooped fat yabbies off his front lawn and made his way to the road into town in his tinnie, easily clearing the fences on the way.
But he knows not to trust the water and thinks that, at best, the new plan is a good start. ''A lot of people have gone broke on this river, and they always will because this river, it's natural state is not reliable,'' he said.
Over the years, Mr Page has been shouted down at shire council conferences for his views on water allocations.
''I'd be the only bloke in the room who was not an irrigator and I would tell them 'you won't have to worry about money soon because there is going to be no water left'.''
''One mayor once said to me the only environmental flows I want to see are ones flowing straight over my property.''
Mr Page believes the Murray-Darling can sustain food production but not crops like cotton.
Later in the afternoon, he sat in the nearby front room of Evelyn and Harold Bates. Evelyn, 73, is an elder of the Barkandji river people. The three of them discuss the river they remember from their childhoods.
''The water would be so clear you could see schools of fish swimming about in it,'' Mr Page said.
Mr Bates remembers the duck weed that floated on the surface and the water spiders running about. ''You don't see many water spiders any more.''
His wife remembers the cod and the catfish.
''I haven't seen a catfish for years, maybe 10 years.
''A bloke caught one in his dinner break.''
Running high and fast yesterday, the Darling was the color of clay and full of carp.

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