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The following article appeared in The Plains Producer (Balaklava S.A.) on the 24 Jan 2007 - [pg.3] 


It’s pretty crook, says this concerned visitor

 • By KAY CALDER

HE'S SEEN A LOT OF AUSTRALIA AND ANALYSED MANY RIVERS :
`walkaboutjoe' CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY LOCALS STOOD BY AND WATCHED THE RIVER WAKEFIELD DIE

HE'S an opinionated modern-day dinky di swaggie who calls himself Walka­bout Joe. 

Home is a bizarre fully-equipped cart he pushes around to keep fit. He sleeps where his car runs out of petrol and that's how he rolled into Balaklava early one morning back in November. That and an infected toe requiring medical attention.
      walkaboutjoe is a quintessential Aussie-he loves people, yarning and Australia . He's especially pas­sionate about conservation and wildlife and what he calls "balancing the ledger". Unashamedly patriotic and with a fiery conviction to save our rivers, Joe says he's old enough to speak his mind and not care what people think of him.
      He's quick to tell you respect is the only way to protect our birds, wildlife and environment. Walkabout Joe - or Ronald William Murray as his parents christened him - knows a thing or two about rivers. He's written books about the plight of two major rivers, including the Darling, and blames man's interference for destroying Australia's precious water ecosystem.
Being waylaid in Balaklava , Joe decided to camp a couple of weeks at The Rocks, curious to see first-hand how our own small river system compared to major rivers such as the Darling.
     Sadly, in both cases, he concluded man was re­sponsible for destroying entire water ecosystems,. including our own River Wakefield. He succinctly and accurately described the health of River Wakefield as "pretty crook". Joe found the river reserve overrun with im­ported weed, trees were exhibiting signs of stress and swarms of European honey bees had invaded the area.
     While he was camped there, he came across a team of people from the Australian Native Fish Club on a field trip. Of all the fish they caught in traps set along the course of the river, none were Australian native fish.
      He also struck up a conversation with a well-dressed local man who reminisced about his youth when he would camp, trap, fish and swim at The Rocks. "He lamented that it wouldn't be possible today because of the river's deterioration," Joe said. The same man com­mented he thought many bird species had disap­peared with the advent of mist sprayers.

     On his quest up river, Joe met an Undalya man who had bought a parcel of land as a retirement nest egg about 17 years ago. Sadly, he told Joe the river hadn't flowed for 15 years and he believed irrigation practices had destroyed what was once a living, thriving river.
     Further upstream, Joe came upon old stockyards and a house ruin. He stopped a while to ponder the impact of early settlers living by the river when a car pulled up. Incidentally, Joe is a talented artist and fills his sketch book with detailed drawings of birds and buildings and landscapes.
Two elderly ladies emerged from the car and it transpired one had grown up in the now derelict house. She chatted animatedly to Joe, telling him how the river provided what the family needed to sustain life - a far cry from the dry bed facing her.
     Joe's expedition followed the upper Wake­field River through the back of Mintaro, past the Merildren area near the old abandoned railway station and finally to the Tothill Range where the headwaters once were. "My observations showed the river has been killed by damming of the natural water courses so nothing or very little water actually makes it to the river bed," said Joe.
     "Large, plastic-lined dams which continually receive water from bores into the aquifer are robbing more moisture from the ground.  "Irrigated crops that should not be supported by this system flourish wherever the eye can see. "And now a supplementary pipeline pulling water from the Murray adds to the insane rape of the land."
     Joe scoffs at farmers claiming to be custodians of the rivers. "They are the destroyers and are driven by the dollar. What's been best practise for farmers isn't necessarily best for our environment."
     Joe describes the de­mise of River Wakefield as "a disaster that should not have happened in our knowledgeable world." He's seen a lot of Australia and analysed a lot of rivers but walkaboutjoe can't understand why locals have stood by and watched our river die.
     His summarisation is supported by the river's inability to flow even after the recent deluge. "By all accounts it should be flowing after a rain like that," he said. Instead, what used to be a picturesque, family-favourite picnic spot has deteriorated into a foul-smelling, stagnant puddle. "The Rocks should be a wonderful week­end attraction for city folk but no one would want to come here now.

This article reproduced courtesy of The Plains Producer, Balaklava, SA

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