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Voice of Real Australia podcast brings you a special series to kick of season 2: Forgotten River

When I first visited the NSW Far West last year a lot of the region was still in drought. Lake Menindee was bone dry, and had been since 2017. The Darling/Barka was still pooling in places -- I noticed shrubs growing in the river bed as I crossed the bridge at Wilcannia.

Grape grower Graeme McCrabb stands beside the Darling River where he first saw the fish deaths, at his property in Menindee, NSW. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Grape grower Graeme McCrabb stands beside the Darling River where he first saw the fish deaths, at his property in Menindee, NSW. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

So I was excited to visit these places now that there's water in the system. ACM reporter John Hanscombe, photographer Dion Georgopoulos and I visited the Darling/Barka right before NSW went into lockdown to produce a series on this fascinating and sadly neglected part of the country -- Forgotten River.

Across four podcast episodes, features, videos, and picture essays the three of us will take you along the forgotten river from Wentworth in the south west, to Bourke in the north to introduce you to the people and places that make this river and this landscape so special.

It's what I think we imagine Australia is -- this is the big sky country, a land of drought and flooding rains. But despite looming large as an icon in the Australian mind, Pooncarie, Menindee, Wilcannia, Tilpa are tiny towns, spread over a vast distance and they don't rate highly on anyone's electoral map.

Forgotten River: An Outback Tragedy. BEHIND THE SCENES. The forgotten river team, podcaster Tom Melville photographer Dion Georgopoulos, and national reporter John Hanscombe with Wilcannia locals Natalie Andrews, Deborah Whyman, and Olivia Whyman. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos - THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM

Forgotten River: An Outback Tragedy. BEHIND THE SCENES. The forgotten river team, podcaster Tom Melville photographer Dion Georgopoulos, and national reporter John Hanscombe with Wilcannia locals Natalie Andrews, Deborah Whyman, and Olivia Whyman. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos - THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM

But massive fish kills in Menindee have forced our attention back onto the Lower Darling, and during the recent drought the river ran dry for hundreds of kilometres for more than two years. For the people who have built their lives along the forgotten river, this is a catastrophe with a human origin. Upstream irrigators, they say, are allowed to take too much water and communities downstream are paying the price.

Over our 3,500 kilometre journey we'll take you behind the gates of some of the vast pastoral stations that still dominate the outback, into farm houses, paddocks, and shearing sheds. We talk to Traditional Owners who have lived in harmony with a boom and bust environment for millenia and who worry that if the river dies, they'll die too.

You can listen to every episode of Forgotten River here or by searching Forgotten River in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

This story Voice of Real Australia podcast is back with a splash first appeared on The Canberra Times.