A hundred years ago drilling for artesian
water wasn’t an easy job. The old bore drillers were as tough as nails. They used to work
through 50 degree heat in the summer and freezing cold conditions in the winter.
Well when dad and mum started off they would have had three offsiders for the drillers,
there would have been two drillers, there would have been a cook. That’s just for the
drilling rig. Then for carting water there would have been two people carting water because
there was no truck or centrifugal pumps in those days. There was only tent accommodation
at best. When my mother went out and first got married it was all camp oven cooking.
She had to make her own yeast out of potato peels and things like that.
Now this is an old � this was a steam engine that used to drive the drilling rig which
is in front of us here and when they were using it they would have had to � very often
had to keep the same wood, about this size, into it and then shutting it up to keep the
power � steam power up. To transfer action from the steam engine to the actual drilling
action they used to have a wooden con rod coming down onto the crank here. This crank
turns all the time the engine’s turning and it goes onto that big walking beam above here
and that gets the up and down movement. With such a vast expanse of water under our
feat it’s easy to get complacent about conserving the basin. That was the case when settlers
first discovered they could drill into the basin for water. They got a little bit over
excited and didn’t really think too much about the future. Let me explain.
Let’s say this hose is the Great Artesian Basin and the sprinkler at the end is a natural
spring. What would happen if I was to poke a hole in the hose? I’d have water over here
and I wouldn’t have to go all the way over there. But what if I also wanted some water
over here? Now I’ve got holes everywhere but I haven’t
got the pressure to get the water I need. This is exactly what’s happening in the basin.
It’s so bad that a lot of bores and natural springs have simply stopped flowing and hundreds
of bores that do flow are out of control. They can’t be turned off and they’re wasting
millions of litres of water every day. A lot of bore water flows into shallow channels
dug into the dirt which encourages noxious and feral animals and it’s kind of pointless
because the open channels or drains mean around 95% of the water evaporates or seeps away
before it can even be used. Meanwhile to make matters worse a lot of old bores were poorly
made or the casings underground are corroding so the water is escaping to the wrong places
and damaging the environment. But, there are things we can do.
These days there’s a strategy in place to fix up the old bores so they can be used in
a sustainable way and the water can be distributed more responsibly. This process involves what
we call capping and piping. Put simply capping is just like putting a lid on the bores. Through
a complex tap system farmers can turn the bores on and off and only use the water when
it’s needed. Piping involves replacing the old open channels or drains with pipes. Now
the water goes straight to the tanks and troughs without being wasted through evaporation and
it doesn’t ruin the native landscape by encouraging weeds and feral animals.
It costs quite a bit to cap and pipe all those bores but the expense is being shared by both
land owners and the state and federal governments. It’s not only graziers that are affected by
bore water. It’s towns, it’s mines and I think it’s proving that water is a scarce commodity.
The more we can do to save it the better and if the pressure in our basin’s going to rise
through a government subsidised scheme, I cannot see any reason why people shouldn’t
want to be involved in it. And so far the overwhelming majority of land
owners are saying that capping and piping their bores has saved them money and in many
cases helped them make more money. Tractor repairs are way down because delving
drains is hard work. It’s hard on the axel, it’s hard on the tyres. The tractor is in
the mud all day. And the pressure in this bore will keep the tanks full under its own
pressure. So you don’t have as much electricity pumping water. You can pump hot water straight
into the house and do away with the hot water system. You can pump water straight into the
garden sprinklers, once you’ve cooled it down. Also you can get a cool, clean drink yourself
when you’re mustering. Come to a tap. There’s a drink. On top of that it’s just the fact
that you feel so much better about not wasting such a great resource.
Of course capping and piping has to be managed carefully so that the water now reaching a
naturally dry environment doesn’t upset the delicate ecosystems.
We started a program of capping the bores and that meant that we had to get the water
flowing into tanks and troughs and we call them a closed system so that the stock can
actually drink out of the troughs and we’re not wasting any water.
The government has committed millions of dollars over several years to help protect the Great
Artesian Basin and the states are all starting to cooperate. Let’s face it, they have to.
Each state has different laws and legislations but water isn’t going to respect state boundaries.
It just keeps on flowing. So, any plans to protect the Great Artesian Basin need to reach
across the whole basin. The families that still live and earn their
living in the bush just wouldn’t be here without the Artesian Basin.
Committees and sustainability initiatives now focus on getting everyone involved – farmers,
local businesses, state and federal governments and other stakeholders. It’s great to know
that people recognise how important the Great Artesian Basin is to Australia.
If you’d like to know more about the Basin check out the website.