City slickers can easily forget the extent to which Outback dwellers are dependent on rainfall – which in most parts of the Outback is a rare event. I can remember visiting an Outback hotel which had signs in the bathroom saying “No washing hair”. Nevertheless one visitor from the city told me “I had to wash my hair – it was an emergency.” One person’s emergency is another person’s bloody stupid behaviour.
Sometimes there is bore water available, but often of a quality you wouldn’t want to drink, and you probably wouldn’t want to wash your hair in it either.
A friend who lives on an Outback cattle station wrote a few days ago:
“It’s really dry at home. We still have rough feed in areas and water from bores/pipelines, but all fresh water is long gone … this includes at the homestead. [A] has been water-carting to keep as much of the garden alive as he can. We’ve had very little rain, and none that ran water… I’m so sick of drought so have come to Broken Hill to get away from it being in my face all the time where we have a beautiful garden … and what happens? … Broken Hill will be out of water before the end of the year if there is not substantial rain in the water catchments … 😦 ”
Here in Sydney we’re insulated from all except the most severe droughts by massive dams. Warragamba Dam alone has a capacity of 2,027,000,000,000 (that’s more than two trillion) litres, and is currently 87% full.
I’m reminded of a true story I wrote in the Bobby Dazzler Newsletter (issue #30, August 2008), entitled “No H2O at the Inn”, as follows:
It’s quite the norm to be told at Outback locations that the tap water is unsuitable for drinking. Not that it’d kill you, but because it has come from an artesian bore, it contains a cocktail of assorted minerals which might not sit happily in the average city slicker’s stomach.
Drinking water will normally come either from jealously guarded rainwater tanks – replenished at the whim of the weather – or from bottled supplies trucked in at considerable expense. When the weather has failed to deliver the precious liquid for long enough, the tanks run dry, and there’s only one option.
Earlier this month, after a long run down the lonely Strzelecki Track, we arrived at the Marree Hotel where we were to stay the night. As we carried our bags in, someone expressed a desire for a glass of cool water. I directed them to the water cooler at the top of the stairs, but it was found to be empty.
Obviously an oversight on the part of the management, I assumed, and duly reported the problem to mine host, whose quick response was “We’ve got a drought on here. You can buy a bottle of water at the bar.”
My immediate inclination was to take on this bloke, who apparently didn’t know – or didn’t care – that the law requires hotels and public eating places to provide free drinking water for their customers. And if he’s going to charge us for accommodation and a meal, you’d think the budget might stretch to including a glass or two of drinking water. But I bit my tongue and paid for a bottle of water.
Before I went to sleep that evening, I found myself reading from Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner. The passage was about the innkeeper at Bethlehem who told Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary that the inn was booked out, and that they’d have to doss down in the animal shed out the back. He’s often characterised as the villain of the piece, the heartless one who denied some comfort and dignity to Mary and her baby.
Buechner imagines the innkeeper’s reflections years later: “I didn’t lie about there being no room left – there really was none. …. And when the baby came, I was not around, and I saw none of it. As for what I heard – just at that moment itself of birth when nobody turns into somebody – I do not rightly know what I heard. But this I do know. My own true love. All your life long, you wait for your own true love to come – we all of us do – our destiny, our joy, our heart’s desire. So how am I to say it …. when he came, I missed him.”
I repented of my attitude towards the Marree publican. The following morning, he told me that guests, needing to replenish their water supplies as they headed off into the desert, had been surreptitiously emptying the entire 15 litres from the water cooler into their jerry cans, and the cost to him was becoming prohibitive.
As my mother used to say, “To know all is to forgive all.”