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Written by: Duncan B. on October 23 2021


WOUNDED COUNTRY. The Murray-Darling Basin A Contested History by Quentin Beresford (Newsouth Publications $35) is the third book about the Murray-Darling Basin to be published this year, following on from Dead in the Water and Sold Down the River. This is a good thing. There cannot be too much exposure of the destruction of a major section of Australia’s environment in the interests of mainly foreign-owned agribusiness operations, with the assistance of servile politicians, particularly from the National Party.

The author takes a broad historic view of the Basin, tracing its history from the explorations of Sturt and Mitchell, the dispossession and destruction of the Aboriginal inhabitants through small-pox and murder, to the spread of the squatters (and later the small selectors) who took over the Murray-Darling Basin area.

Beresford says that the Murray-Darling Basin has been over-exploited for 200 years. He describes the destruction of the native forest and grasses and the killing of millions of native animals and birds. He outlines the damage done to the soil by the introduction of sheep and destructive agricultural practices such as over-stocking and land clearing. The result was a reduction in rainfall, an increase in salinity, wide-spread soil erosion and the massive dust storms that engulfed the countryside and reached the capital cities.

When we read Beresford’s review of the history of the Murray-Darling Basin, we see that nothing has changed since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then as now, inept and corrupt politicians have served the vested interests that profit from the over-development of the Basin.

Beresford reserves special fire for the National Party. The National Party and its predecessor, the Country Party, have always opposed measures to control water use, stop soil erosion and prevent excessive land clearing. They are creatures of the big irrigators of northern New South Wales and Queensland, the water barons and foreign-owned agribusiness. They have done everything in their power to sabotage the Murray-Darling Basin Plan since its inception, in the interests of the parasites. 

The losers in this whole sad saga are the small irrigators who are forced to pay high prices for water while big irrigators have plenty of water for their cotton and almonds. Many small irrigators have left farming, with the towns suffering as a result.

Also losers are the First Peoples, the indigenous inhabitants of the region.  Before colonisation they lived in harmony with the land and the rivers for thousands of years. They fished and collected mussels from the rivers and lived and hunted on their banks. Today they are marginalised, with little access to land and water rights. The “experts” ignore the valuable knowledge and experience that the First Peoples can bring to managing the Murray-Darling Basin.

Read this book and be angry. Be angry at the exploiters who are destroying our environment. Be angry at their politician servants. Channel your anger into the struggle for National Independence and Socialism in Australia.


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