Another Australia Day has come and gone, with the usual protests, and ongoing debate about what – if anything - we should be celebrating, and when.
I used to share the view of Jeff Kennett, that a more fitting, and less divisive, date to mark our national day would be January 1, the anniversary of our federation in 1901, but now I’m not so sure.
It’s clear that there are elements of our society committed to using whichever date we choose for Australia Day to don the black armbands and engage in an annual exercise of self-loathing.
What we should be celebrating on Australia Day is perhaps not so much the landing of a ragtag bunch of convicts and soldiers on the shores of Sydney Cove, but our extreme good fortune in having an island continent for our nation.
No other country is so fortunate. They have to share land borders and natural features with other nation-states, often leading to acrimonious rivalries, bitter disputes, and in some cases, full-blown wars.
And yet we continue to squander the opportunities that our nation-continent status affords us, nowhere more than in our development and utilisation of natural resources.
The present unfolding tragedy at Menindee and along the Lower Darling is just another classic reminder of our failure to harness our water resources and direct them to where they are needed.
Way back in 1938 the engineer John Bradfield floated the idea of directing surplus flows from North Queensland coastal rivers westward into the inland river basins.
Since then we’ve had other schemes proposed, including former WA parliamentarian Ernie Bridge’s campaign for multiple north-south water piping schemes across the continent.
People nodded their heads and said, “Yes, nice idea; what a pity it will never happen.” Just how big a pity we are only now realising, as fish die at Menindee while up north at the weekend the Daintree copped nearly 500mm in 24 hours!
In 1984 I wrote in this newspaper about a scheme proposed by Sydney engineer David Coffey to capture flows in the upper Clarence and divert them through the ranges to the Murray-Darling system.
Now we have other, more radical ideas being floated, such as the desalination-piping scheme outlined in recent letters to The Land from Walgett farmer Mark Evans.
We have the resources, the technology and the crying need to alleviate our recurring inland water crisis; all that is lacking is the political will to formulate and “sell” a lasting solution.
The same could be said of our energy crisis, the answer to which is in our hands in the shape of nuclear power, thanks to our abundant reserves of uranium and our wide open, empty spaces.
When will we wake up to our good fortune?
- Peter Austin