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Two Men In A Tinnie -

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(generated from captions) 8 of the mighty 'Bismarck'. This is the voyage

Australia's largest river system - We're on a journey to explore the Murray-Darling. Captain is my friend Dr Tim Flannery, palaeontologist, author and explorer. John Doyle. And I'm designated first mate, of taking Tim's tinnie For years we've dreamed along the inland arteries the rivers have shaped the people to look firsthand at the way have shaped the rivers. and the people Oh, geez. Bastards. we'll get grounded... Over the next 5,000 clicks We're stuck. We're trapped. HULL CRUNCHES ..snagged... ..and almost sunk. Shit. Sorry, mate. Ooh... We'll visit places of sublime beauty as we look at the state of the rivers and other places of despair IS the big issue. in a land where water Very slimy. Oh, a bit slimy, isn't it? of the great adventures of my life For a city bloke, it would be one than Tim to share it with. and you couldn't pick a better bloke of the 'Bismarck'. This then, is the fractured log southern Queensland Day one - we make for

into the Murray-Darling. and the rivers that feed charged out this way The first European explorers hoping to find an inland sea. There was one here alright. Only problem was, like Tim and I, they were just a few years too late.

(Chuckles) I'm not as sure-footed as you, mate. Oh, geez, have a look at this, John.

That's amazing, mate. Look. What have you got there, mate? Fossils. A couple of seashells. Shells. Fossils. Shells. Incredible. Laid there when? if it's a day, I'd say, that stuff. 120 million years a long, long time. It's been in the ground down on the floor of the inland sea. This is all sandstone that was laid Yes. Oh, that is amazing. BIRDS SCREECH Isn't this fantastic? of the inland sea OK, so, this was the floor through South Australia. from here right down North? Yes. Gulf of Carpentaria. Right up through to the gulf, an island in the middle of the sea. Uluru would have been With pterodactyls nesting on it. Right. Yeah, yeah. Pterodactyls? OK. was once drowning in it, Water - Australia on Earth. now it's the most parched continent for a likely looking spot We searched the map to launch the 'Bismarck'. the Maranoa River looked ideal. Just south of Mitchell Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's pretty, it's lovely. But it's useless to us. of launching here, But I think our chances I think we'd just look like idiots. Because we get the boat in here for about half a second. we get full power That's right. (Laughs) for the next, I don't know, Then we drag the bloody thing 200 kilometres for all I know. improving around the corner Well, the chances of it are probably pretty slim, I'd say. but it's all under the sand. There's plenty of water in the river That's the trouble. Typical Australian river. I think so. So, we've got to push on? Down towards the Darling. Downriver. Alright, John. OK. And launch. Good stuff. You beauty. Let's be off. OK, skip. means 'river of sand'. Maranoa, we later discovered, Useless. So we head 200 clicks south dry, cleared country. over vast stretches of flat, in the Balonne River Finally there's enough water to launch the 'Bismarck'. Stop.

the seaworthiness of our good ship. But there's a question over have been boating together Every time Tim and I the 'Bismarck' had sprung a leak.

bugger-all had changed. Disturbingly it looked like Beautiful. about a centimetre of water already We've already got four metres from shore? and we're what, She'll be right, mate. 8,000 clicks to go. We could always swim I assume. As long as the engine starts. That's right. better days The 'Bismarck' may have seen a brand-new motor. but at least we had Oh, beautiful note, mate. ENGINE STARTS AND IDLES Beautiful note. Beautiful. Oh, quiet. Don't like the look of that. Oh, a bit stiff. Oh, shouldn't have to worry. Teething problems behind us,

get on the water. it's good to finally An early and obvious discovery - where there's water there's life. Oh, wow! FLYING FOXES CHIRP Can you believe that? Yeah. So, this is a little red flying fox. And he's a true nomad very well since Europeans came. and one of species that's done by the tens of thousands So these animals have turned up almost anywhere in Australia, a big blossoming of the gum trees when there's gets ripe or whatever. or someone's fruit orchards when they blow into towns, are they? Well, they're not terribly popular they're beautiful animals. Well, often not, but I think They really are. Yeah. They're very intelligent. up there peering down at us saying, And you just look at them all these people on about?" "What the hell are They're beautiful things. rank as a lot of other flying foxes. I think their smell is not quite as They've got a nice nose on them. That's true.

found nowhere else. Unique to Australia, Very special animals. OK. Birds I like, bats I hate. And I was beginning to hate bailing. heart of Queensland cotton country. We're approaching St George in the in a drought seems unlikely, The abundance of so much water here of St George Mayor Robert Buchan. so, too, does the appearance How're you going, mate? G'day. How're you going? Good to see you. Welcome to our shire. a look at a bit of cotton, mate, Well, we should have

because that's been a big industry for this part of the world. There's a cotton farm not far off the river down here, but I don't know whether the bloke's home but I could visit him. Of course, you're the mayor. I'll take you over there. Righto. We'll go and see if we can find him. Good on ya. Robert's shire is charging along. St George boasts an abundance of doctors, car dealerships, high schools, fast food, motels, tourism and recreational boating. All thanks to irrigation.

Right, well this is most impressive, Robert.

Extraordinary landscape. Developed over probably more than 20 years, this land.

Nothing overnight. A lot of time and money has gone into it. Even today's paper, the great water war issue, your front-page. Now, you wouldn't like that sort of publicity, I don't suppose. Well, somebody once said, "Whisky was for drinking, "water was for fighting over." (Laughs)

I think it's probably true no matter where you go. Yeah, but I tell you what, I bet, I can guarantee, that in the next couple of days when we get our tinnie heading further down the river we're gonna come across some poor bugger who hasn't got any water and he's probably only about, I don't know, 20-30 kilometres from here. What do you say to him? What do I say to him is, this water here, which you see here, is probably been guttered for some time. If these dams are not here, the water would have run through, run past his place and he still wouldn't have any water and there wouldn't be any here. Mmm. Yep. Mmm. That's what I'd say to him.

If you want inland Australia developed somebody's got to have some reason to be here. The majority of these people have come here of their own volition,

or have stayed here, put their all in here as far as finances and everything go. And it'd be nice if some of our political masters came here one day and said, "Gee, you're doing a good job." Instead of just trying to kick us between the big toes all the time. Is that what they're doing? You've gotta go for higher office then. I don't think so. (Chuckles) We've got Barnaby looking after us, we'll be right. (All laugh) Robert's understandably proud of the weirs and dams

that bring enormous prosperity to his district. It's all on a scale difficult to comprehend. THUNDER BOOMS We took to the air to take a look at the biggest and possibly the most controversial cotton farm in the Southern Hemisphere, Cubbie Station. It's an irrigators' nirvana. The laser-levelled cotton fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

Cubbie's dams can hold as much water as Sydney Harbour. All this water in the worst drought in 20 years. What drought? I couldn't help but wonder what the folk downstream felt about Cubbie's water. How deep do you reckon this is? Deep enough to drown both of us, I'd say.

(Both laugh) So this is 150,000 million litres of water in this pond. Yes. It'd be a bit of a fork in the road for farmers. Would you stay grazing cattle or sheep or would you go into this? Yeah, well, I look at this and there's something, I think,

personally speaking, I'd derive more comfort from cattle. Yeah, that's right. Low-tech. Low-tech. Just me, a horse, a dog and a few steer. That's right. (Both laugh) Day four and we navigate the 'Bismarck' across the Queensland border. Down here, just south of Cubbie, the Culgoa does have water in it but it's not flowing.

We'd heard some of the flood plain graziers feel they were being well and truly kicked between the big toes by the irrigators upstream, so we drop in on Peter and Pop Petersen,

who hold water records for Brenda Station going back 150 years. Do you want to have a look around the place? We'd love to, if that's alright. No, no trouble. Come on. Peter and Pop's property relies on regular floods to give the land life and feed their stock. In the last 100 years they've had 111 floods, but haven't had one now for seven years. It has been dry, it's alright to blame the drought, but our records will show the '43-'46 drought was far worse than anything we're experiencing now and the river ran all through that period. Our problems really started here with the building of the Cubbie weir. That was the start of them. And then the government, in its wisdom, allowed them to double the size of the weir. And that just compounded the problem, as far as we're concerned.

How have stock numbers changed for you in the last... Oh, that's changed dramatically. Particularly cattle because the number of cattle we run is based entirely on the country we get flooded. And it's probably cut our carrying capacity for cattle by 45% and sheep numbers by 30%. What do you think this country will be like in 20 years time if things continue like they are? I don't know, Tim. At the moment it's growing roly-poly and onion weed mostly and nothing, even goat's won't eat onion weed. And it really is tragic. Coolabah trees and river red gums are icons of the bush, yet out here, they're having a hard time of it. It does look pretty crook. And it's right on the bank of the river. That's a tree that we call a 'nearly dead'. It's dropped all its limbs and it's lost most of its leaves and it's obviously dying. So it's not a case of it's just naturally come to the end of its life? If you look at the context it's growing in, you can see what's happened is that it's just not getting the floods anymore to top up its water supply. And it's probably never had to work too hard for its water, it's a bit shallow-rooted. But I think this tree would have had many decades of life left in it if the water regime hadn't changed. So, really what we're seeing is a tree that's dying of thirst. But the really sad thing is that trees like this are the kind of embodiment of life along the river. Without these river red gums you wouldn't have the birds and the possums and everything else that lives along here.

So they're the sort of foundation stone, really, of life on the inland rivers. Well, Tim, if you think that's bad have a look at these ones over here. This tree's died in the last couple of years just through lack of water and flooding. It's not the only one, is it? No. There's a forest of them up there. There certainly is. There's been a big acceleration of dead trees in the last four or five years. It'd be extraordinary, wouldn't it,

if we were witnessing the end of an era here? Where these red gums dominated these inland rivers for so many... ..probably millions of years. Tim, I honestly believe we are. Mmm. You know, you can't replace something that's 300-400 years old. Well, this old bugger's gone. It certainly has. Along with plenty of mates. Mmm. There's bugger-all water in the Culgoa so we head overland and launch the 'Bismarck' on the Barwon as we make for the Darling. This is Brewarrina Weir, John. OK. Now, mate, what would be our chances if we took the 'Bismarck' back and hit it at speed? Would we broach these stones here, do you think? Oh, I suspect we could. It's probably been tried before. Every settlement on the inland rivers seems to have a pub, a racetrack and a weir. Brewarrina was no different. But just downstream are some of the oldest human structures on the planet. We're meeting Ernie Gordon, a man keeping alive these spectacular remnants of Aboriginal occupation.

What are we looking at here? We're looking at the fish traps that my people built 40,000 years ago and they've stood the test of time where you can see that the remnants of them are still there. So, Eddie, the idea was to drive the fish

up into ever diminishingly sized ponds? Was that it? They'd start them down in the shallow water, called a 'sandy bank' and they drove them up into, the 'corral' they called them, into the bigger ones, and as they went up the river they got smaller and smaller. So you could almost just literally grab them out of a small pond? Yeah, grab them out of a small pond. Amazing. Ernie, have these rivers changed very much over recent decades? Yes, they have. Like, we've got three rivers now that don't flow no more. Like, we got the Culgoa, the Biri and the Bokhara. We don't get no water down them at all since the cotton irrigation happened up on the Queensland border. But when it rained in Queensland, it would always add water down in New South Wales. But we don't get it anymore.

Well, they're saying it's not to do with irrigation, Ernie, they're saying it's to do with less rain. Not less rain. It's the irrigation. They're blocking the water up there, that's what they're doing. That's why we can't get no water down here. Everyone's got an opinion on water

and the general rule is that people downstream are dirty on people upstream. And that means everyone's dirty on Queensland. But as we head down the Barwon towards the start of the Darling proper there are fleeting stretches of almost pristine river. Pockets of magical beauty.

This is paradise, isn't it? Absolute paradise. It feels like I'm just tootling through a 19th century oil painting. Yes. Nothing's changed. That's right. 'Cause this is the healthiest part of the river we've seen. It is. It's magnificent, John.

Look at this, all these snags in it. Yeah. These beautiful old trees that have fallen into the river. You know, without those, you wouldn't have the cod. Tim reckons snags are a really good habitat for native fish. But they're not so good for the 'Bismarck'. HULL CRUNCHES Careful there, skip. Yes, the hidden snags. Snags are good. HULL GRINDS We've hit a snag. Yep. Oh. Just slide over, we'll be right. The 'Bismarck's' a robust vessel. (Laughs) Neither snag nor slime will stop her in her progress. Now theoretically we should be close to the meeting of the Culgoa and the Barwon. Ah, right. That is a decent river system coming out through there. The Darling begins at this point. Welcome to the Darling, mate. This is the Darling. (Both laugh) We've made it. But look at that. Yeah, right. But I'm thinking there should be a bit of water here. You'd have to say the Culgoa doesn't have a lot at the moment though. Coming out of Queensland as it does. (Both laugh) No surprises there. No, that's right. "There is no life upon its surface. "The stillness of death reigns in its brushes and over its plains." Sturt was the first European to discover the Darling in 1829. If Sturt wasn't impressed with the place, later visitors were. Yeah, gee. "In memory of Bill Wellard - 'Wilbur'." Plaques. Isn't that amazing, hey? Deceased fisherman by the looks of things. Yeah, from the Quirindi... Quirindi Fishing Males by the looks. Which must have been some sort of club. Or 'Mates' it is. Mates, is it? Maybe from his Quirindi Fishing Mates, yeah. That's lovely, isn't it? It is. And it's not the only one either. There's one up there. Yeah. So this is the spot. This is sort of like an altar, isn't it? This structure here fashioned out of what looks like red gum. Yeah, no, it's beautiful red gum. Red gum. But doesn't it say something about the place, you know? Life doesn't get much better than this. This is probably where all those blokes really relaxed... Yes. ..and enjoyed life. That's why the plaques are here. Yeah. They want to be remembered for the times they had here. Yeah. Understandably. It's a paradise. It is. It is. In fact I want to get up there and have a bloody look at that. Up you go. Biffo Smith! (Laughs) (Both laugh) Don't laugh too much. No worries. Biffo Smith. Biffo. (Laughs) The river here's just so beautiful. It is beautiful. To just see a healthy river again is certainly a breath of fresh air. When Henry Lawson first saw the Darling he called it, "Either a muddy gutter or a second Mississippi." In the late 1800s, it still held the promise of becoming a second Mississippi. Now the river looks more like his muddy gutter. But there are still reminders of that grand but faded dream. A lot of construction here, hey? It is. The first bridge across the Darling. Yeah, yeah. First bridge. The raised section there just to give them that extra height,

I guess in a flood, the flood and the steam boats. Made in England, shipped out. Yeah. It's got a few cockies up in it. COCKATOOS SCREECH That's great. So solid. Those Victorians they were so confident. They were, weren't they? The confidence of construction. Coming out here, thinking, "We'll invest in the bridge." Yeah. "Make it a big one. A drawbridge." Day seven and we've reached the biggest town on the Darling - Bourke. Here we are, mate. Bourke. Bourke Wharf. Is that the old wharf? The old wharf was used by the paddle-steamers coming up from far downriver in South Australia. I'm assuming they'd come right in here. I think so. One would hope so anyway. I'll put it into neutral just in case. Either someone forgot to tell them to stop building or they used to have very big floods. Gee, she's some structure, John. Yes. Look at that. Very optimistic. Yeah. VERY optimistic. I think you've been here before. Oh, yeah. "Doylie and Kylie". Yeah, well, that was another adventure. Was it? Yeah, it was. (Both chuckle) Yeah. Alright, let's do Bourke.

You get an idea, don't you, of the scale? Oh, yeah. And you can imagine the bales of wool being brought down... ..loaded onto the vessels. And the kegs of beer being loaded up. Yep. Like the Mississippi, the Darling was to carry goods and people into the inland and bring back great mountains of wool from the vast sheep stations on fleets of paddle-steamers. And for a short while it did. Well, I'd say as an immediate observation, mate, this is a town that's had some wealth.

Yes. Some wealth.

The most interesting thing, John, is this Port of Bourke. This idea is was a port. Extraordinary, isn't it? It is. This far inland, a port.

It must be the most inland port in Australia, for sure. Now semis do the carting and the town rides on the back of cotton, not wool. Bourke was an unlikely port but there was once an equally unlikely fort. Well, Tim, here it is.

The historic Fort Bourke. The imposing Fort Bourke. It's tremendous, isn't it? In you go, squire. I'll be blowed. It's a bit small. It is. Constructed by Major Mitchell. Yes, in 1835. 1835. This is the first European structure, I guess, in western New South Wales. Yes, it is. I suppose it is. Well, the thing that gets me about it,

it's meant to be a defensive structure,

like to protect himself from attack by the Aboriginal people... Yeah. And look at this. How safe would you feel in here? Well, I'm telling you, I'd feel safer out of here than in here because in here, you'd feel as if you were a bloody target. It looks like a sort of shooting gallery. Well, mate, I'm telling you this really is very ordinary, isn't it? It is. It's pretty hopeless. Imagine coming out here pushing the bounds of empire further and further. Yeah. Well, that's it, mate. A little bit of history. A little bit of history, yeah... ..a very little bit. (Both laugh) But Tim spotted a far more ancient bit of history in the nearby scrub. Oh, John, this is something special, mate. This is very special. This tree here is called leopard wood. Leopard wood? Yeah... And you see this is an ancient tree that originated in the rainforests of Australia millions of years ago. But look at it, it's so spiny it's almost like a boxthorn down here. And this is to defend it against a whole lot of now long-extinct herbivorous marsupials, things like diprotodon, this big rhinoceros-size thing. But as soon as it gets above diprotodon head-height it turns into a beautiful tree like this one there. There's an adult there as you can see. And this is good sweet fodder. So it's out of reach. This is the juvenile form. Yes. Which protects it while it's... It's using the height to get above. So this tells you that the maximum height of dipro...

Diprotodons. That's right. Isn't it amazing to see something living on the landscape that tells you about a long-extinct giant marsupial? The biggest marsupial that ever evolved. That is fantastic. Isn't it wonderful? It really is. By day nine, we'd travelled 500 clicks from south-west Queensland on our way to the mouth of the Murray. Well, mate, halfway down the Darling. And, you know, I don't think I've seen enough water to run a bloody jet ski since we left the Queensland border. That's absolutely right. Certainly not down at this end. It's almost as if everything on the river flows upstream except the water. So if you impound the water upstream, all of the jobs go upstream, all of the social problems proliferate downstream, and, of course, the political influence goes upstream too. Yes. It seems to me that the Darling River is poorly named. That it's not really a river anymore, it's a series of ponds... ..billabongs, small lakes. There's no real sense of a flow from start to finish. Yeah, I think that's true but in times past I think it was always probably a bit like that it would slow down, dry out and then you get the big flood through, move down through the country, transform it all. And that's just the nature of Australian rivers. But, you know, John, I've fallen in love with this river since I've been travelling down it.

Yeah. I really have, mate. It's just the best of it

is the most beautiful thing you'd ever want to see.

That's right. It's paradise. Cheers, mate. Cheers. A quarter way down. Onwards and upwards. We've survived. We have. Cheers. Bloody hell, a beer tastes good in front of a fire. Doesn't it ever? It's wonderful. would reveal more surprises. Ahead of us, the meandering Darling with no water, We'd visit waterfront homes that once roamed around the place. learn of ancient animals largest kangaroo that ever lived. This is the jawbone of the That's right. Is that right? And as always, upstream are nicking all the water. people downstream reckon people He admitted it. "Well, goody, goody, gumdrop." And I thought, of the 'Bismarck'. So continues the fractured log International Captioning and Subtitling Closed Captions by