Murray-Darling: when the river runs dry | Environment

- Murray-Darling: when the river runs dry | Environment

Next we travel south-west through Bourke, a major cotton growing centre, and take the Darling river run, a dirt road that follows the Darling. Local graziers and farmers often gather at the famous Tilpa pub, made entirely of corrugated iron and covered in graffiti bearing witness to the wit of the bush.

Murray McClure is 76 and has lived at Trevallyn station on the Darling river near Tilpa for most of his life. The McClure family can trace their roots back to 1879, when paddleboats plied the Darling.

Murray runs beef cattle and a merino sheep breeding program near Tilpa on the lower Darling.

His nephew Justin McClure has a property, Kallara, in the same region, and both are passionate advocates for the long term health of the river.

“Farmers are the best greenies,” Justin says.

- Murray-Darling: when the river runs dry | Environment

Justin McClure, farmer and grazier from Kallara station on the lower Darling, at the Tilpa pub. Photograph: Mike Bowers for Guardian Australia

The McClures and their neighbours have watched the changes in the lower Darling with increasing concern. They say that, since the 1970s, the river has ceased to flow for much longer periods and more often. Their observations were confirmed by a study by the MDBA, released in March.

That means they struggle to get suitable water for stock, let alone for their family’s use.

Justin argues that governments have chronically mismanaged the Barwon-Darling and the MDBA lacks the authority to enforce the plan.

They fear that the low population areas along the lower Darling are being sacrificed under the Murray-Darling basin plan and that river authorities are prepared to let their part of the river degrade.

In particular, they oppose a current government proposal to cut the water recovery target for the northern basin by 70GL. This would be welcomed by farmers in the tributaries in Queensland but would mean less environmental water available in the lower Darling.

- Murray-Darling: when the river runs dry | Environment

The Darling river at Tilpa ceased to flow this summer. Photograph: Mike Bowers for Guardian Australia