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Broken Dreams on Broken Hill

As soon as our two dust-covered Pajeros  got to Broken Hill the locals rolled out the red carpet. We had received a very warm welcome in Menindee from Margot Muscat and the locals who had shared their Burke and Wills historical stories and told us about their environmental concerns and solutions. We did not think we could get a better welcome – especially  after Ky Crow and Gill the camel carers had entertained us at their camel farm near Copi Hollow. Ky and Gill even allowed us to film the birth of a calf, Chukka, which we visited their Noah’s Ark menagerie in the remote Menindee Lakes area where they have pet emus, donkeys, kangaroos, galahs, chooks, magpies, parrots etc etc.


Yet the day we drove from Menindee into Broken Hill, ABC Radio called us in for an interview  with local anchorman Peter who told the town of 20,000 we had arrived and invited all and sundry to come and meet us outside the local newspaper office – Barrier Daily Truth. So we had a head start but mind you local environmentalist and grazier Simon Molesworth, also a Melbourne QC and leading light in the National Trust for decades in Australia and Overseas, had alerted the locals to our expedition and put in a good word.  Boy, were they glad to see us – as they had so many environmental stories to tell they queued up around the vehicles to look at our maps and inspect the travel-weary Pajeros with their Get Around Campers trailers and also share their tales which cameraman director Mike Dillon then filmed.


According to local Land Care authority Carol Dart, the biggest thing that has happened here since Burke and Wills was the cutting down of the trees by the mining companies who discovered minerals here and began felling the local Mulga forest that surrounded Broken Hill which raided for timber to fuel the fires they needed for mining and also to build protective scaffolding below ground for all the tunnels and mining operations. As the miners discovered the main minerals silver, lead and zinc in bigger and bigger quantities they cut down all the trees by the 1930s creating a bare and barren landscape around Broken Hill. The result according to Carol Dart – soil erosion and dust storms. Without the roots of the trees holding the soil together the top soil just blew away and so the Hill suffered. The soil was further damaged by cattleman and graziers who crammed their paddocks with too much stock which eat any remaining vegetation and grass. In September 2010 a very bad dust storm even reached Sydney and other east coast centres making residents realize how bad things were outback.

The solution ?

Alarmed by this damage to the land, local visionary Albert Morris began planting trees and shrubs in the 1930s creating special reserves around the city dreaming of a green belt that would one day stop the dust storms. Land Care’s Carol Dart who told us this story then jumped into a trusty Pajero and then led us around the wonderful regeneration areas where she and her volunteer colleagues are now continuing the wonderful work of the late Albert Morris, planting 750 native trees at the moment to stop future dust storms.  


Others are also developing new strategies to cope with climate change and global warming and we interviewed Nicky Cooper from Parks and Wildlife who explained how she helps advise and fund local farmers to change their traditional ways and become greener. This is done by replanting, saving water and developing new drought resistant crops and stock. We interviewed her in the Living Desert just outside Broken Hill where she pointed out some of the wonderful new native plants like Rock Sida that has come back in this inspirational reserve.

We also interviewed  the tall and bearded Geoff Laan who looked like Robert O’Hara Burke but who is really the environmental officer from the local shire who is the supervisor of this great regeneration project from the local government’s point of view.


We also interviewed Simon Molesworth a pioneer environmentalist, environmental lawyer and legal adviser to the Environmental Protection Authority. With his wife Lindy he generously hosted the expedition for more than a week on their property and at their town house. He is a great authority on farming in low rainfall marginal land like his sheep station Rupee Station. Ben Beeton interviewed many other local environmental experts for the website he is creating for the Victorian government’s Arts Victoria, Culture Victoria, the content of which is being distributed to schools. Ben also created drawing while in Broken Hill and took many photos for this site.


But soon it was time to leave Broken Hill and head north for magical aboriginal Mutawintji National park and the next series of environmental stories on our great research trek towards the Gulf of Carpentaria – stories we will bring you in the next report.


Crew for this leg: Dr. Jonathan King, leader; Michael Dillon, TV documentary director, cameraman; Holger Schumann outback operations manager; Ben Beeton resident artist and creator Culture Victoria website; visiting artist and authority on the Burke and Wills resident artist, Ludwig Becker, Leslie Sprague from Ballarat.   



Burke and Wills

Mitsubishi Pajero Historian and author Jonathan King is organising the Burke and Wills 150th-anniversary Environmental Expedition. With help of actor and environmentalist Jack Thompson, the trekking team will be undertaking a two-stage expedition, with specialist environmentalists using detailed maps, to follow the infamous 1860 route (this time aided by Pajero four-wheel-drives). Throughout the journey they will be posting updates from the road; providing a running commentary, stories, video blogs, artwork and other findings as they retrace the legendary steps, beginning in late August. Keep track of 4WD4Life to keep abreast of this epic journey!

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