Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Murray River Mash Up [July 17]

For decades I have watched the political battles over the Murray-Darling Basin from the sidelines and felt sickened by the Don Watson-style ‘weasel words’ produced in report after report, inquiry after inquiry. Walking the banks of the Murray River this week I have consciously tried to cleanse my mind of this obfuscatory bureaucratic language. Meanwhile, the pelicans keep landing gracefully on the river.


In order to allow for better social, economic and environmental outcomes than would otherwise have been achieved by the Basin Plan stakeholders will consider the pelicans, which are a symbol of empathy, nobility and goodness. Policy measures that further identify ways to deliver on agreed outcomes include an acknowledgement that, according to legend, the mother pelican, to save her babies from starving, wounds herself with her beak to feed them her blood. The sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism should refer to the lines of Shakespeare in Hamlet (1616), ‘To his good friend thus wide, I’ll open my arms and like the kind life-rendering pelican, repast them with my blood.’

In line with the need for progress towards meeting environmental needs, stakeholders note that fossil evidence of the pelican dates back at least 30 million years. The Salinity and Drainage Strategy (1989), the Natural Resources Management Strategy (1990), the rural water reform package (1994), and the Integrated Catchment Management Policy Statement (2000) were dwarfed by flocks of pelicans, which are gregarious birds, travelling in flocks, hunting cooperatively and breeding colonially.

In spite of chronic under-resourcing of regional water planning and water security for the irrigation industry, pelicans also have a long history of cultural significance in mythology and in Christian and heraldic iconography. Local irrigators would be forced to reduce the salinity impacts of irrigation, to assist in preserving the pelicans’ rickety grace and old world feathers like seasoned boardwalk planks.

Milestone assessment reports remind us that every woman who sees a pelican will think of Storm Boy, the motherless child in the blowing sands of the Coorong, as well as the rapid erosion of support for catchment-wide management. Environmental water will be permanently outside the consumptive pool and will provide habitat for the wonderful bird the pelican whose beak can hold more than his belly can.

There have been accusations of deliberate misuse and neglect of scientific evidence in decision-making to justify a predetermined political outcomeas twilight glides on pelican wings. It has been concluded that the promised environmental outcomes can be achieved with high degree of uncertainty, outcomes which, like the novelists, miss the mark, but not the pelican, because pelicans dip and dive, rise, shaking shocked half-dead fish from their beaks.

In most cases there is insufficient information or scientific modelling to assess the sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects submitted by the states, unlike the king and queen of the pelicans, we, no other birds so grand we see, none but we have feet like fins, with lovely leathery throats and chins.

Henceforth all reports regarding the future of the Murray Darling Basin shall include the terms biophilia, solastalgia, evanescence, limpidity, habitability, heartbreak and hope.


(Please note: most of the text above has been  ‘borrowed’ from other sources)

(This story was first published on the Mildura Writers Festival blog, July 2018)