Drought is a normal part of our weather cycle.
“Some of that work is happening right here in Wagga, at CSU, where valuable research into drought tolerant crops and livestock is taking place.”
“Changing climate is part of being on Planet Earth, a living and ever-evolving planet.”
“… 40,000 years ago Lake Mungo was a vast lake, supporting a rich abundance of food, and people.”
The Bureau of Meteorology says, “Drought in general means acute water shortage”, adding, “areas considered to be suffering from a serious or severe rainfall deficiency”.
Captains’ logbooks from ships anchored off Sydney during the earliest convict times describe the 1790-93 Settlement Drought, which threatened the Sydney Cove colony.
Crops failed in 1803, and from 1809 until 1811.
The 1813 drought was so severe that Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson found a way over the Blue Mountains!
From 1826 Lake George dried up for three years.
The Darling River stopped flowing.
So when we talk of droughts we are talking about a regular weather cycle dating from the earliest written records of European settlement in Australia.
My grandmother’s postcard album had a card picturing a horse and buggy crossing the dry Murrumbidgee.
From memory it was dated around the end of the 19th Century.
As a kid she told me that this was a common sight before Burrinjuck Dam was built.
One of my favourite venues for school camping trips was Lake Mungo.
It is a place revered by Aboriginal people because it was there that “Mungo Man” and “Mungo Woman” were found, proving Aboriginal occupation for over 40,000 years.
Also found were fish, shells, and other evidence proving that 40,000 years ago Lake Mungo was a vast lake, supporting a rich abundance of food, and people.
Lake Mungo has been dry for thousands of years.
The landform remains. Walking across the old lake bed to the “Walls of China” and the pristine sandhills is a wonderful experience.
Droughts beat European settlers who tried to farm that land. Mungo Homestead (now National Park headquarters), the wonderful century-old Mungo Woolshed and shearers’ quarters, and relics of isolated homesteads remain as reminders.
Mungo tells us something about “Climate Change”. That vast lake is now a desert. Changing climate is part of being on Planet Earth, a living and ever-evolving planet.
The volcano in Hawaii and the earthquakes in Lombok are the most recent reminders that we are but a speck in the universe.
When we talk about Australian climate records, 1910 is the baseline, a mere 100 years of climate patterns, when the Earth is measured in millions of years!
We know that world temperatures have slowly risen since about 1850 when the Earth emerged from the “Little Ice Age”.
The Federation Drought of 1895-1903 was regarded as the worst Australian drought at that time.
The 1982-3 drought is regarded as the worst of the twentieth century for short-term rainfall deficiencies, but the Millennium Drought from around 2000 until 2010, with 2006 to 2008 being the driest on record for many parts of the country, led to many foolish “climate” predictions.
We’ve had a number of floods since then. Sydney’s water supply is only now causing concern as it reaches two-thirds capacity, whereas when I was a child, the pre-Warragamba Dam era was peppered with water crises.
Building dams is clearly a good way to mitigate floods, and to have water when it is needed. Much of the rural desperation at this time could be relieved if rural dams had been built to harness wasted flood waters.
The $1.89b Kurnell water desalination facility was Labor’s knee-jerk response to years of failure to build new water storages. Premier Bob Carr gave away Sydney’s planned Shoalhaven Dam site for a national park, instead of constructing the new dam.
Talking of “warming” as a reason for drought, as Labor’s rogue former Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon tried as a catchy TV news grab, is politicking at its worst.
However, I agree with fellow-columnist Ray Goodlass that we need a climate change adaptation plan. The climate will change no matter what we do, but we can mitigate dry weather and floods with dams, and wiser land-use practices.
Some of that work is happening right here in Wagga, at CSU, where valuable research into drought tolerant crops and livestock is taking place.
Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country was published 110 years ago. She described our “wide brown land”, “her pitiless blue sky”, “… the thirsty paddocks” and “… droughts and flooding rains”.
Droughts have forever been a natural part of the Australian landscape.