Valerie Yules Letters

June 8, 2011

Filed under: conservation, social problems — valerieyulesletters @ 2:06 am

It’s time for a history of water supply In Victoria, Australia
A great deal about our world-pioneering past that needs to be known in these timid days. It’s surely time to review the history of water supply in Victoria and how its early pioneering has been betrayed.
The history of water supply in Victoria includes world-pioneering early legislation, forward-looking vision and achievements by Alfred Deakin and the State Rivers organization he helped to found, and its continuing bedevilment by politics and private interests.
Yet there is no book focussing on the political and organizational aspects of Victorian water supply to my knowledge. I have offered documents for anyone wanting to write one. My father wanted me to do my History MA on ‘The disastrous effects of the Country Party on the history of Victoria’ but lecturer Geoff Searle ruled it ineligible.
In 1884 Alfred Deakin’s support and royal commission on water supply led to the epoch-making Irrigation Act of 1886 designed by water engineer Stuart Murray, which restricted riparian rights of landowners by vesting in the Crown the sole right to use and control practically all surface waters. The 1905 Water Act vested in the Crown the beds and banks of all streams despite opposition from landed interests. The State of Victoria led the world in laws to keep the beds and banks of all streams and coasts owned by the Crown (except what was already alienated, as at Portsea). Since Premier Kennett these laws have been seriously eroded. The State Rivers & Water Supply Commission which sprang from the 1886 Act has also been disbanded as ‘no longer needed’ and its work fragmented. Its part in the early history of the River Murray Commission needs to be better known.
State Rivers fought a running battle to try to prevent irrigators misusing water, to save environmental flows, and for drainage to prevent salination. It offered irrigators rights to a fair share of the water available. Those rights have since been translated into ownership of the water, which has led to the rule of the market.
The Commisson did not realise the value of swamps and went about draining them to reclaim land and prevent mosquitoes. They did not realise all the effects that dams could have, but tried to minimise adverse consequences. Nevertheless,Victoria led the world! The single authority in Victoria replaced all the messy Trusts before it – and has been replaced by mess afterwards.
Now, however, we have the privatisation of water, and the business of trading in it, the extension of privileges to encroach on banks and coasts, and the inability to control the Murray-Darling Basin river flows in the public and environmental interests.
Valerie Yule (writer of the entries on Stuart Murray and Hugh McColl in the Dictionary of National Biography).


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