Words by Madeleine, 20 ACT
I grew up with a very sheltered lifestyle in Canberra and have very limited memories of ever witnessing a serious drought. However, in the past year I’ve come to realise just how badly impacted Australia is by the current droughts, and how those living in rural areas are the worst affected.
Before I moved away to rural NSW for university, I only heard information about the droughts when a serious crisis occurred. These were largely big news events, like the Murray-Darling Basin’s infamous fish deaths, and instances like this only occurred every few months. I knew it was a horrible situation, but I never realised what information wasn’t getting across to people in the cities.
Only when I finally moved away from home and got to know people who grew up in rural drought-affected areas, did I truly start to see what the drought was doing, even though I was seeing just a small part of the effect. I started hearing the things my fellow students said and did that truly made me realise how impactful the drought has been on Australian communities.
During one of my first classes I remember hearing a few students discussing the farms back home, and nothing they said was good. One of my classmates explained how all of their cows were severely malnourished, to which another classmate replied with a story about how they had to sell their horses. They sold them because they couldn’t survive in the area any longer.
The stories kept coming, all just as saddening as the one before them. Stories about animals that, despite getting the best care, can’t survive in these environments. Stories about people going out of their way to buy water because they would not get by without it. It was never-ending and to these people, it was just a new way of life.
I remember travelling further away from home and slowly watching the environment change around me. It didn’t just become drier; it became nearly barren. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of people living in such a situation, and yet thousands of people outside of urban settlements do.
Australia is currently experiencing what is considered one of its worst droughts. Level 3-4 water restrictions are being implemented over the summer months in mid-west NSW, and in other regions of Australia the restrictions are more severe, simply because there was not enough rainfall over the winter months. It’s such a simple reason, but it has devastating effects.
Under level 3-4 water restrictions townfolk can’t water their garden, wash their car, or fill their pool. However, back in Canberra I could do all three of these things at once (if I had enough hoses) without thinking about it, and that is the most concerning thing about the droughts for city-living people.
Canberra is currently under Permanent Water Conservation Measures and the NSW regions around the capital have on average level 1 water restrictions in place. The effects of the drought mostly do not reach the capital and the reality of the situation does not reach the people.
When I returned back home over the university break, I mentioned to my city-dwelling friends about the water restrictions and how I couldn’t wash my car when I’m away. “Is it that bad?” they asked. They understood the idea of a three-minute shower, and even thought that it was reasonable, but when I told them running a bath was limited to 150mm deep they were astounded because they did not realise how little water that actually is. They only realised, however, how bad the situation was when I concluded my speech to them by mentioning that the water will completely run out soon. My friends couldn’t comprehend the idea of having absolutely no water whatsoever, and neither could I.
When I expressed my concern to my parents, they had only one response. “Your grandfather said that water would become the next valuable resource we’d have to preserve…” they told me, and looking back they were right. Water is one of the most valuable resources in Australia at the moment and it’s dwindling ever more over time. The people living in rural environments are facing the worst of the drought, and yet people like me who live in cities rarely hear the whole story.
I implore my fellow city-dwellers to learn more about what is happening out in the country. Learn what you’re taking for granted, and most importantly learn how to preserve it. I didn’t realise how valuable water was until I moved to the country, but I want others to know without having to experience it for themselves.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc