Day trip to Broken Hills water wonderland…

menindee (1 of 33)_4000x3000We are going for a day trip through the rolling desert landscape to Menindee just over 100 kilometres south-east of Broken Hill

 Menindee is a tiny outback settlement which is famous for two things: it was the last place where the Burke and Wills expedition stayed before heading north into the unchartered outback and the Menindee Lakes are an inland wonderland and a vital source of water for the surrounding citrus orchards and vegetable farms. Menindee is also surrounded by some 20 lakes which exist in an inhospitable desert environment.

It is very dry and not much feed for the sheep they are tinted the colour of the red dust and blend in to the surrounding landscape. They stare, vacant eyed, at me as I stop for a photo. menindee (27 of 33)_4000x3000Suddenly a blur and a shimmy of feathers as an emu bursts from the bushes. I almost didn’t get this photo as he took off at speed. We had been told/warned about an invasion of emus and kangaroos as they were starving in the bush and coming into the towns. But we only saw 2 emus and a couple of live kangaroos during the whole week we are in the area.menindee (28 of 33)_3323x2797As we get closer to Menindee I spot this sign, it is at the start of a narrow side road…menindee (5 of 33)_4000x3000How intriguing, it conjures images of Hollywood glamour – movie stars, rock stars, billboards, boutiques. It has the welcome sign out. So let’s go explore. menindee (6 of 33)_3527x2645A couple of kilometres along the road we come to a row of houses. This first house is not Hollywood but pure Aussie larrikin. Look at all the paraphernalia that has been lovingly collected. menindee (12 of 33)_3306x2306We drive on with a smile on our faces. Then I see a man pottering about in his garden with his cat sitting in the shade watching. I stop to ask where the road goes. What a story Frank has to tell…

He has owned his house for over 20 years, first as a weekend, holiday home, then when he retired he moved here permanently and he loves the place. It was a paradise, an oasis in the middle of the desert, where, for decades, people from the hot, dusty mining city of Broken Hill have flocked to live the dream. The families frolicked in the water that lapped at the bottom of the gardens lush and green with plants, even growing vegetables. There was plenty of water for irrigation. Everyone owned boats, fishing was abundant, water skiing was popular. The air rang with the happy laughter of children. Groups gathered for the evening BBQ. cooking the fish they had caught. Sipping wine and beer and watching the sunset over the lake with views stretching almost to the horizon. Life was idyllic.

That was then. Now things are very different.

Many of the 120 homes along the shore line are now empty, abandoned, up for sale. The tinnies sit outside, slowly deteriorating. The gardens are dust bowls. Families no longer come here because Lake Menindee dried up in 2002 and has been empty ever since

The Menindee Lakes were a series of natural and ephemeral lakes that only used to fill when the nearby Darling River flooded. Lake Menindee, at 168 square kilometres, is the biggest. It can hold 594,500 megalitres – more water than Sydney Harbour.
We said good-bye to Frank and drove on along the road. Rounding a corner this is what we saw…
This was once filled with water to the horizon, the end of the road was the boat ramp. Now it is just a huge dusty plain. Can you see that dark dot? It is me taking a photo the only sign of life…
menindee (10 of 33)_3936x2952Nothing could prepare me for this sad sight. I had heard of the plight of the farmers in our drought ravaged land, but this is the reality.
I turn round and look back at the row of houses standing forlornly on the hill that was once the banks of the lake
menindee (23 of 33)_4000x3000 menindee (25 of 33)_4000x3000menindee (24 of 33)_4000x3000
Enlarge this last photo and look carefully and you will see 2 elderly people still living there.

Drought has seen Sunset Strip occasionally lose its water views before but never for this long. Sunset Strippers don’t blame their predicament solely  on drought or climate change – they blame the irrigated cotton industry that has been allowed to develop in recent decades on the Darling and its tributaries.

The name that comes to everyone’s lips is Cubbie Station, the massive Queensland cotton farm that has been given government leases to take and store 537,000 megalitres of water from the upper reaches of the Darling River, almost as much as Lake Menindee used to hold.

This is how it used to look when the lake held water (photo from NSW/Broken Hill tourism brochure)

The lake was beautiful when it had water. And while it’s always been subject to the fluctuations of the harsh Outback, locals are sure the current dire state is due to mismanagement of water. Picture: Destination NSW/Broken Hill City Council

We drive back along the road leaving this sad, almost abandoned settlement waiting for rain, hoping that the lake will once more become a water wonderland.

Turning east at the end of the road we drive the few remaining kilometres to Menindee.

To be continued…

51 comments

  1. What a tragic ending for the place, Pauline! Our planet is full of surprises, and not always good ones, is it? We’ve finally got Internet sorted out, after a number of issues, but we’re off ‘home’ in a couple of hours. One less thing to sort out when we return. 🙂 🙂 Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lovely to hear from you Jo and to hear that the internet is now sorted. I think I would be lost without the net now. Enjoy your trip to UK. I don’t suppose you can call it home now… have a great weekend

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It must have been amazing when there was water.. sad its so parched now. Wonderful how generous the government is [sarcastic] and I suppose these water leases extend for some crazy long time like 99 years. In Australia of all places – I’d have thought such a precious resource would be managed so much more wisely over there. Its quite shocking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How devastating that a vibrant town lost everything when the lake dried up, Pauline. Isn’t it sad that industry has diverted all the water and left the residents with nothing? It reminds me of the dried up Four Corners area I visited in the SW USA in May.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like everyone said above; this is so sad. I was just talking to someone else from Texas about the Salton Sea, which was thought to be the next ‘Riviera’ when it was developed so long ago. I considered buying a winter home there, not because it is such a nice place, but because it is affordable. It really became an icky place . . . although I sill like it very much.
    We have sadder news in California than the ‘Riviera’ drying up slowly over a century. Paradise burned overnight. It was there when I went to bed last night, but is gone now. It took only a few hours for fire that started outside of town to move in and burn everything. There are other big fires in Ventura County too. It is very smoky here right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Saw those fires on TV Tony. How close are they to you? Disaster can happen overnight. You can buy a house for $55000 at Sunset Strip and the ad says ” a great place to sit and wait for the water to return”

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Camp Fire that burned Paradise is more than two hundred miles to the north. The two fires in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties are more than three hundred miles to the south. It is very smoky here from the Camp Fire. It was only clear for a day or so after the smoke from a small local fire.
        Another blogger from Texas was just asking me about real estate around the Salton Sea. The towns there are the same sort of ghost towns still that are not quite yet dead . . . but working on it. There are homes in Bombay Beach there that are even less than $55,000, but it is not such a great region. For a while, it was considered to be the new Riviera of the West.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely to catch this post Pauline, such a difference when there is no water.. And sad so many who once thrived along the shores of that lake its now empty properties…

    Thank you for sharing Pauline.. Hope All is well with you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your posts are always so rich with people and sympathy. Frank’s account of the past is how I knew it. The big end of town has so much to answer for, and a gutless government.

    I think I only detoured there once – my goal was always a campsite by the Darling in Kinchega NP. I used to go there nearly every weekend for a bit of solitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t get to Kinchega, a few things I didn’t have time to fit in. Should’ve been there longer than a week. I was amazed how much there was to see. I found it all so interesting.

      Like

  7. This is such a shock Pauline. I have photos somewhere (I will look them up and scan a few to post) similar to your last photo without the sunset. Those poor people who have had to move and lose their houses – I am sure no-one is going to buy one at the moment. And how crazy that the government gives leases to take that much water for growing cotton! In a country like Australia I think it is madness to have an industry that uses so much water.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. That’s very sad. I’ve never been through that country, but I’d like to. Cotton-growing is so destructive. Bonds advertises its clothing made from “Australian Cotton”, but I’m reluctant to buy it, even though I like to wear cotton. I’m currently reading “Dark Emu”, which describes the richness of the Australian Outback before colonisation. Interesting and sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a really good post Pauline. You have put a personal face on the drought in a way that sensationalized tv reports have failed to do for me. I had no idea things were so tough out at Menindee. Your photos speak volumes.

    Liked by 1 person

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