AUSTRALIA - the GREAT DIVIDE - It's all in the bounce.

Oct 31, 2001

The Bottom Line Don’t confuse rivers in Australia with what you call Rivers

I am but one of billions of trillions. I am very small, balloon shaped and free of colour. I have more brothers and sisters than anyone else does on the planet. My father's name is Author, but he does nothing except accept credit. We don't talk about him. My Mother is very big, moody but extremely productive. Mother does not even really exist, for it is me, my brothers and my sisters that together make mother what she is.

You know our mother as "Pacific Ocean". Every hour of every day she gives birth to trillions of us through a process we call evaporation. We all take turns to evaporate and we don't mind because we know we will return to our Mother one day.

I have evaporated many times, and returned many times, but I would like to tell you about the last time because it was the most interesting of all.

A great many of us had drifted to near the Solomon Islands when it happened - up we went, higher, higher and it started to get very cold. We all huddled together for warmth. It's a very strange thing because even though we have no colour when we huddle up tight against the cold we look like a big black mass. It is very dark but every few seconds a big light goes straight through between us and we can see for a moment.

Anyway, all huddled together, with more of our brothers and sisters coming up to join us, we drifted along with the wind. All of a sudden we saw land, lots and lots of land and a huge mountain range that stretched from the south to the north as far as we could see. Because the mountain range is close to the start of the land we started going higher as soon as we reached the coast. Very soon we just couldn't hang on any more and we started to fall.

We were landing all over the place, but I and lots of my brothers and sisters landed right on the very top. We had fallen a long way so we bounced in all directions, some back to the seaside of the mountain and others over the other side. First we made puddles, them a little stream, a creek and eventually we came together at the bottom of the mountains and made a giant river.

On previous occasions I had fallen down the eastern, or sea side of the mountains and joined all the others in a giant river and it wasn't even fifty miles back to Mother. She would let us in when she went down with the tide and we would quietly slip back in to her womb. The big rivers along here are like that all the time and it didn't matter which one I ended up in. It was always wide and deep, all year around and we heard it was called Northern New South Wales and it was like that for two thousand miles to the north.

But this time it was very different for me - I bounced over the other side of the mountains and as I bounced I caught a very quick glimpse of flat land as far as I could see. Lucky I didn't know then it was like that for three thousand miles. Mother was a long, long way away, I thought.

We gathered together like we always do, but there weren't as many of us for some reason. We still raced down the mountain though, and we became a stream, a creek and then a river just the same except the river was only about a third as big.

At the start we didn't really mind the river being smaller, but every day it got even smaller and we really started to worry because when can sink into the ground if it gets too small - and then we don't get back to mother for hundreds, even thousands of years. But oh the relief! After six hundred miles we came to a really big river, and we just couldn't get in there fast enough. Of course being intelligent I knew we had gone from the Darling into the Murray River, but that actually worried me because I now knew I had to travel about two thousand miles. Hopefully I would make it into the Southern Ocean and then drift another thousand miles back to Mother. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.

The big Murray River was much better for us and we all began to relax - until it too started to get smaller, and smaller. And it was about now we all realised it had not rained since we left the mountains. We felt very alone, and none of the others were coming to join us.

Then I must admit I really started to panic. The river had become even smaller and at a place called Mannum in South Australia there were so few of us left those human things were able to jump over us. We made ourselves as big as we could, but still they jumped over the top because the river was now only a few feet wide. Most of our friends had evaporated or soaked into the ground but we were determined not to.

The very next day, or it might have been the day after, we couldn't believe our eyes. Just ahead was the ocean and in we went but something was wrong. There was no salt! Then I remembered there were two huge lakes at the end of the Murray River and just beyond was the "Murray Mouth", the outlet to the Southern Ocean. From there we could easily return to Mother. So with our spirits high we crossed the lakes as quickly as we could, about a week, and headed for the opening to the sea. But oh no, the opening was only three inches wide and there was a small pile of sand about to collapse onto it that would block it completely for months.

Oh boy were we lucky - a slight shift in the current at just the right time sent us hurtling through this little three inch wide, one inch deep gap and as we drifted out into the Southern Ocean we saw that pile of sand collapse!

Now forget the raindrop bit - dry your eyes and come back to reality. Thank you.

Now that is the real Australia. The Murray-Darling River system is one of the worlds longest, but is it really a river when almost every year it can't make it out to sea for several months without human help? Jumping over the River now is not possible - once again humans have interfered. They have erected about a dozen walls across the river at strategic locations ensuring water is always available. But we must never forget the natural flow of this river is as the raindrop described it.

If you look at a map of Australia you will see numerous rivers marked. These so called rivers only flow spasmodically, and often not for years at a time. Two hundred yards from your scribe is the second biggest river in all of South Australia. It flows about three times a year for anything up to a day each time!

In Outback South Australia is Lake Eyre, one of the worlds biggest lakes and with the worlds biggest water catchment area. But there are a couple of slight problems here. In the slightly over two hundred years of white settlement the lake has only filled once, and that was in the year 2,000. From Aboriginal accounts and drawings it appears the lake fills about once every thousand years or so.

But there are two more little problems. Number one it is a salt lake, so the water is unusable for drinking or agriculture. Number two the evaporation rate here is thirty times the annual rainfall, about two hundred inches of evaporation per year. The lake is not very deep for the most part, in fact only several feet. Within six months of that one thousand year filling the lake was back to being as dry as a bone. Hardly a reliable source of water even if there was no salt.

There are no true rivers whatsoever in eighty percent of Australia. There are a few along the Northern Coastal area and down the east coast and that is all.

The likes of the Nile, the Seine, the Mississippi or Missouri simply do not exist.

But that is not to say Australia's rivers, such as they are, are not important. In fact they are vitally important. Even those that flow only every two, even three years for brief periods contain water holes essential for the wildlife. And when the waterholes dry up the animals know that water is not far down, so they dig for it. Kangaroos routinely dig down four feet in dry areas to obtain water, thus enabling them to survive.

An old friend of mine was raised in this area. Before he moved out of the human form, yes, he died, he would often tell how he was terrorised at the age of seven when he saw something he had never seen before - rain! He thought the world was ending. If we can imagine being seven years old again and seeing rain for the first time would it not frighten anyone? That strange thing falling from the sky that shouldn't!

And this seven year olds world was a Cattle Station (Ranch) of several million acres plus the occasional eighty five miles each way trip across the desert to the futuristic City of William Creek. This Outback City is the only city in the world that's one street doubles as the runway for the airport. William Creek is a City on the move with enormous potential. With plenty of land for expansion, it's existing population of ten are steering the city at a slow but steady pace towards a million or so people planned for the year 4,500. Currently the smallest City/Town in Australia as the locals say the only way is up! Hopefully the Airport will be kept downtown.

So the whole point is not to confuse rivers in Australia with what you call Rivers. And secondly hopefully this gives a greater understanding of just how dry the continent is.

And you heard most of it from the ultimate expert, a raindrop!

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