Darling River wildlife, vegetation show signs of life as they come back from the brink after drought
You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience. Darling River wildlife, vegetation show signs of life as they come back from the brink after drought ABC NEWS 1 day ago By Lucy Thackray © Provided by ABC Health Hundreds of pelicans on the Barwon River at Brewarrina. (Supplied: Lara Taylor)
Towns in western New South Wales have struggled through years of extreme drought with the absence of water devastating native wildlife, stripping soils of moisture, and killing countless trees.
But now the environment is bursting back to life and showing incredible resilience as it responds to new river flows.
The flow reached the Darling River just downstream of Brewarrina in February .
Three months on and the Darling River is still running strong.
Water reached the Menindee Lakes in March and has continued to flow through the system, with the Darling and the Murray joining for the first time in two years .
After such an extreme drought the extent of the damage and the potential for rejuvenation was unknown, with major concerns the environment would never recover.
However, communities are already thrilled by the positive signs of life and resilience demonstrated by birds, fish, wildlife, and vegetation. ‘Water is life’
In Brewarrina, water is life and the wellbeing and prosperity of the town is dependent on the river’s health.
The community suffered when drought left the riverbed dry and native wildlife dying.
“The recent drought was probably one of the worst in history,” said Brewarrina Local Aboriginal Land Council chairperson David Kirby.
“In terms of Brewarrina and the river itself it really had a big impact on our elders especially, and their mental wellbeing.”
Brewarrina is the last town on the Barwon River before the river changes its name to Darling, or, as it is traditionally known, Baaka.
It is also home to ancient Aboriginal fish traps estimated to be more than 40,000 years old.
As soon as the water arrived and rushed over the fish traps in February the river was teeming with fish, and birds quickly followed.
“I think it’s probably the best example of how resilient the land and the water actually are,” Mr Kirby said.
Particularly significant was the sudden appearance of hundreds of pelicans — more pelicans than any local remembers seeing in their lifetime.
“It’s a sign of a healthy river,” Mr Kirby said.
“The old pelican is [called] the boorimatha, they’re the king of river.
“Seeing them back on the river itself, especially on the fish traps, is quite significant, and to be able to share it with our kids is really special.”
Pelicans are traditionally sacred for the local Indigenous people.
The fish traps’ design was inspired by the way pelicans scooped fish out of the river, allowing communities to fish even during times of drought. Water brings joy
The Mayor of Brewarrina Shire, Phillip O’Connor, said people have been elated since water returned to the river.
“It’s really boosted us and lifted the spirits of everyone and everything around us,” he said.
“It’s just amazing with the river running, all the green tucker and the smile on everyone’s faces.
“It really is unbelievable.”
Birds, kangaroos, emus, and fish have all been thriving since water brought the environment back from the brink.
This has been a relief to the local fishing club which worked hard to save native species during the drought.
“We put 25,000 cod and 25,000 yellow belly in every year to try keep the numbers up,” Mr O’Connor said.
“We like to tag some and see where they go when the big river comes.
“You don’t know if they go or come back, but you’ve just got to keep putting them in!”
Locals are relieved they can teach their children to fish by the river again.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mr Kirby said.
“My son’s eight and he’s at the age now where he’s never seen the river like this.
“In his memory he hasn’t seen the weir flow the way it is or the fish running like they are.
“He doesn’t even remember being able to swim here. But bringing him back here now he’s starting to remember.
“The stuff we teach our young kids when they’re younger, about knowledge and our practices, it really shows.
“Now’s the most important time to be able to do that.” Ancient trees die in drought
Five years without moisture was too much for western NSW vegetation.
Even established trees that stood for generations could not survive.
The Bourke Shire Council has felled countless dead trees and more have been marked to be removed.
“Trees that have been in Bourke in my lifetime have died, and that’s disappointing, that’s sad,” Mayor Barry Hollman said.
“So it must have been so bad — the drought we’ve just gone through. It’s devastated everyone.”
While the signs of the drought still remain, greenery around the river gives hope.
“It’s still hard times and it’s still tough enough for vegetation and the trees, and us, to try and survive out here,” said Louth grazier Garry Mooring.
“It’ll take a long time to get the moisture profile back up so everything can be back to normal.
“Vegetation-wise it was zero, some of it’s coming back well though.
“People were saying they didn’t think anything will grow again. But just add water.”
“While a lot died, trees and the vegetation are coming back and some of it’s come back really, really strongly.”
Bourke grazier and carbon farmer, Michael Marshman, said the trees were also crucial to agriculture.
“Some trees were dying, others were starting to look fairly unhealthy, and we could see there were going to be significant impacts with groundcover issues and soil erosion which would start to affect our livestock production,” he said.
An important part of his business model was encouraging natural rejuvenation and protecting vegetation.
“We’ve fenced off areas around the river that cattle tend to overgraze when they come in for something to drink to just improve the ground cover and whole health of the ecosystem along the river.” An outback oasis
Gardens are an important part of life for people living along the Darling.
“It’s an oasis out here,” Mr Hollman said.
“We like to think being on the river we can have nice lawns here in Bourke, but the water restrictions just devastated everyone and everything.”
Severe level five water restrictions and a salty water supply led to the death of many gardens in Bourke.
Now, residents and the local council have been replanting and were excited to see new growth around town with a flow of fresh water in the river.
“You can just see a spring in the step once we got the rain and the cooler weather,” said local gardener Kath Sneddon.
“When you’re growing things and building things you’re making progress. You’re not standing still.”