top of page

Another Man-Made Tragedy: Australia’s Murray Darling River 🎥

The Murray Darling basin is a large geographical area in the interior of southeastern Australia. The name is derived from its two major rivers, the Murray River and the Darling River. The basin, which drains around one-seventh of the Australian land mass, is one of the most significant agricultural areas in Australia. Wikipedia

The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin is a unique region with its extraordinary biodiversity and is home to a range of native species, with over 2,000 plants and more than 450 animals.

The region also provides many tourist attractions along the rivers and lagoons. One of the tourism operators states: “Welcome to the legendary Murray River region. Australia’s longest and most iconic river, a state border, lifeblood of millions - a great place for a holiday.”

Murray River (flickr)

But in January 2019 - despite the many years of increasingly dire warnings of experts undermined relentlessly by the current Government - an ecological disaster forecasted by many happened, making headlines around the world: Thousands of rotting fish carcasses were found along a 40 kilometre stretch of the Darling River at Menindee (far-west New South Wales). It has been described as one of the largest fish deaths ever recorded in Australia.

Although the effects of climate change, such as severe droughts, are not to be discounted, there are a number of factors playing a greater part on this occasion. Australia is paying the price of alleged water theft, questionable environmental infrastructure water projects, and policies that subsidise private benefits at the expense of taxpayers and sustainability.

"This mass fish kill should be a wake up call for Australia. For too long, politicians have shifted blame from one to another and pretended they can fix the policy without addressing the fundamental issue of returning more water to our natural waterways and wetlands. We've spent decades and $13 billion only to end up with an ecological tragedy in our river." - Jeremy Buckingham

🎥 Fish Kill on the Darling River, Jeremy Buckingham, published on 9 Jan 2019

Jeremy Nova Buckingham is an Australian politician. He has been a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council since 2011. He was a Greens member from 2011 to 2018, but resigned from the party on 20 December 2018. He has stated that he will contest the 2019 election as an independent. Wikipedia

In 2017 the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: “The sorry state of Australia's mighty Murray-Darling rivers is a tragedy entirely of our own making, not the result of cyclical droughts, as so often claimed. How did it come to this? Last century, the waters of the Murray-Darling rivers were notoriously over allocated by overzealous government water agencies. So many dams were built by taxpayers that they could capture 130 per cent of the average annual flow of all the system's rivers. Recently some farmers argued that a new dam on the Belubula River, near Orange, would fix this. But building dams doesn't get you more water in the same way that opening a bank account doesn't get you more money. Nothing flies in the face of the intent of the Basin Plan than a new dam. Meanwhile, we seem to have forgotten the dire state of the environment that drove the reforms. Forests of river red gums, black box eucalyptus and coolibah trees dead, denied the water flows they relied on by irrigation. Waterbird numbers have plummeted, half the native fish species are now threatened, blue-green algal blooms are increasing, and the Lower Lakes was once taken over by sulfuric acid and salinity. Communities have also been short changed; Aboriginal communities despairing of a dying Darling and graziers lamenting the transfer of their wealth upstream, as irrigation diverts the water that once provided the floods to grow grass for cattle. Tourism too, has been hit hard.”

Murray Lagoon in South Australia

In addition, the continuous water pollution has to be taken into account. Water becomes contaminated from runoff, chemicals, debris and organic waste which is all directly from humans and/or human activities. When pollutants are discharged directly or sometimes indirectly into bodies of water, without the right treatment to take out harmful compounds, water pollution occurs and changes the environment in devastating ways.

We cannot be ignorant any longer. Everyone has to take an active role in trying to reverse environmental mismanagement, cut back on excessive use of water and be more mindful of where all of our “waste” ends up. Besides we have to - urgently - rethink our agricultural practises with a huge demand on water for irrigation in Australia; the driest inhabited continent on earth.(

Those farming practises including monoculture e.g. sugarcane, cotton, feed for farm animals and so on, have been outdated a long time ago with destructive, ongoing denial of the scientific facts: Climate Change is real, with much less rainfall, more heatwaves and ongoing droughts in this country.

A little detour in history: The environmental change and approach in Europe goes back about almost 50 years ago, when the first events of river pollution occurred with dead fish being washed up, building up of algae and so on. Those devastating events resulted in a successful push to restore Europe’s long abused rivers over the next decades since the first problems occured due to industrialisation, developments, farming and other human activities. Some of the most dramatic environmental battles in Europe have been over water engineering projects.

From Britain to the Czech Republic, European nations have been restoring rivers to their natural state - taking down dams, removing levees and reviving floodplains. For a continent that long viewed rivers as little more than shipping canals and sewers, it has been a fundamental continuous change.

River Elbe in Germany

With many examples of overseas experience to draw from, there is no excuse for our politicians to avoid making the right decisions for the long term, invoking science to overcome pressure from agricultural and commercial interests so that the Murray-Darling basin may be restored to its once glorious state.



Sydney Morning Herald, 07/2017 (viewed 18.01.2019)

Murray Region Tourism Board, 2016 (viewed 18.01.2019)

YaleEnvironment360, 10/2013 (viewed 18.01.2019)


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page