How beautiful Australian rivers can be!

This exquisite picture is of the Thompson River in Western Queensland. It’s one of those rivers that empties its waters into the Lake Eyre basin in South Australia, the nearest thing we have in Australia to an inland sea.

The closest significant human settlement to where I took this picture is the large town/small city of Longreach, just a few kilometres down the road. If we move in that direction now, past the riverbank campground and associated amenities, we come across a lone eucalyptus tree, whose trunk and main branches have been painted in a shade of blue so bold its sheen might have been stolen from a volcanic crater lake. Why has the tree been desecrated in such a way?

The story has it that each blue-painted tree commemorates a local farmer who had taken his/her life. Suicides happened quite commonly in the 2010s during the drought that seemed to go on forever. As you can see from my photograph, the drought did come to an end eventually but, for many distraught farmers, who promised themselves they’d stick it out for another year but no longer, it must have seemed like a permanent fixture. Some of them hung themselves in the barn or blew their brains out.

Moving a metaphoric stone’s throw south-east along the Landsborough Highway, we duly arrive at Longreach, a bustling and apparently prosperous town owing some of its prosperity these days to tourism. Why wasn’t Longreach built on the banks of the Thompson? So many other towns or cities in Australia have been built on river banks, presumably because of the amenity a river offered (perhaps still offers) to trade and the like. Think Echuca, Maitland, Lismore, Brisbane, Burketown.

At this point, the penny should drop for you. Those towns/cities mentioned above, and many others besides, have (notoriously) been devastated at one time or another by that other natural scourge circumstances in Australian are apt to throw up: flood. Drought, flood, drought, flood, drought, flood, and the occasional bush-fire thrown in, but never (it seems) the happy medium. It’s legendary that this is the way the cookie is apt to crumble in Oz.

So how was it the good folk of Longreach did the sensible thing and built their village on high ground?

The story goes that the founding fathers of Longreach consulted the aboriginal elders when choosing a site. The aboriginal elders recommended the current site, and the founding fathers took their advice.

Now, we’re not talking rocket science here. Where waterways are involved, it’s common sense to build on high ground some distance from river banks. Then why did all those other towns/cities get built slap bang on the river banks? Perhaps they didn’t consult their first nations’ people, or else didn’t take their advice. Common sense, it would appear, is not always so very common.

Later this year we, the citizens of Oz, will get to vote in a referendum that will ask all Australians of voting age whether or not they approve of an indigenous Voice to parliament and to its enshrinement in the Constitution.

Most voters, I imagine, would see this Voice as a conduit to petition by the first nations’ people to the wider community. But, couldn’t the Voice equally well be a response to petition by the wider community to the first nations’ people? After all, any Voice can be either a question or an answer. The people of Longreach, it would appear, asked a question of the aboriginal elders, received an answer from them, and acted on the advice contained in that answer. The outcome was all for the good. I doubt the people of Longreach have any regrets.

When it comes to issues of land management and to the concomitant environmental disasters that poor management may bring, the first nations’ people have much accumulated knowledge they can pass on to the rest of us. By ‘rest of us’, I mean mainly the descendants of white colonists or those who followed in their wake. We, the ‘rest of us’, have not managed such disasters well at all. Droughts, floods, and bush-fires are things we don’t really have a handle on.

Consider. Burke and Wills might have survived had they listened to and taken the advice of the locals – on what the land had to offer and how they might properly use it – in their final tragic days at Cooper’s Creek!

So, though it has not been widely canvassed, the Voice can operate in either of two directions, and inevitably for the benefit of both parties. And will if we are savvy enough to vote Yes.

A Yes vote is a win-win situation. So, let’s be savvy this time round.