Conversations on the Condamine: an oral history from the Queensland Murray-Darling Basin

Potter, Catherine and Moles, Sarah and Connors, Libby and Postle, Pam, eds. (2002) Conversations on the Condamine: an oral history from the Queensland Murray-Darling Basin. Envirobook, Annandale, NSW, Australia. ISBN 0858811898

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[From the Introductory chapter]: If you have lived in coastal Australia, the geography of Toowoomba is a bit of an enigma when you first arrive. There is no visible water. All of Australia's major cities are located on bodies of water which first drew the European colonisers together. They grew around strong and swift coastal rivers or deep and scenic harbours and bays; even Canberra; although inland, has its artificial Lake Burleigh Griffin at its centre. Yet Toowoomba spreads itself across the escarpment, a town of over 90,000 people without any apparent body of water to unite its people in common need.

Toowoomba is the first sign that the inland hydrology of Australia operates quite differently to its coastal streams. Toowoomba's fresh water lies underground. When Europeans first arrived they found a number of
small creeks and large wetlands which were fed and recharged by underground freshwater aquifers. The Europeans soon disturbed and resented 'the Swamps' and they were drained and covered over in the nineteenth century.

Toowoomba sits on Gowrie Creek, one small sub-catchment of the Condamine River, but one which behaves in a very similar pattern to the entire river system. Despite its reputation, the Condamine often disappoints coastal visitors. For much of its length it appears as a small
creek dwarfed by its vast plains. Other than where it rises in the eastern escarpment, it seeps as much as it flows, through aquifers and wetlands, through myriad small creeks and brooks and soaks, until it reaches its main channel. Much of its power thus lies hidden to a superficial eye until a sudden downpour reinvigorates it; then the river reclaims its floodplain irrespective of human wishes and plans. Its full power is briefly apparent before it soaks back into the ground or is flushed downstream many hundreds of kilometres to the Balonne and the Darling River systems.

In the last two decades the impacts on the river have increased dramatically and the availability of water has been one of the most contentious issues facing the local economy. Pressures on local water users have been compounded by national concern about the Murray-Darling Basin. Despite its remoteness from the Murray's river mouth in South Australia, the Condamine is one of this national river system's most important northern headwaters.

Although the debate over the Condamine's waters has been a very public one, it has been expressed in the language of economic demands and modern resource management terms. Those unfamiliar with WAMPs, or E.coli and turbidity readings have few reference points to appreciate the
changes that the river is currently facing.

It was for this reason that Sarah Moles, co-ordinator of the Toowoomba and Region Environment Council, first proposed that we talk to older people who had lived along the river all their life. We needed to find out what these changes really meant in terms of people's actual
interaction with and appreciation of the river. In the midst of conflicting scientific and user evidence, she urged us to listen to what older residents knew about the river and its processes.

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Item Type: Book (Commonwealth Reporting Category A)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: There are no files associated with this item.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2009 06:20
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2017 01:45
Uncontrolled Keywords: Queensland; Murray-Darling Basin; Condamine river; history; oral history
Fields of Research (2008): 05 Environmental Sciences > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050204 Environmental Impact Assessment
16 Studies in Human Society > 1604 Human Geography > 160403 Social and Cultural Geography
Fields of Research (2020): 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410402 Environmental assessment and monitoring
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4406 Human geography > 440699 Human geography not elsewhere classified

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