News

Benjaroop eight years on from flood

By Sophie Baldwin

For four months back in 2011, the only access Lindsay Schultz had in and out of his Benjeroop property was by boat.

The mixed farmer and his family had never seen anything quite like the amounts of rain that fell over that period, and eight years later the watermarks from the record flood are still visible on the pump shed and are a reminder of just how much water inundated the picturesque property that overlooks the Murray River.

The floods might have been a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, but what has happened to this once productive and vibrant area since is an ongoing tragedy.

The water and agriculture minister at the time, Peter Walsh, led the charge to strip the area of water under a buyback scheme — and now, nearly a decade later, Mr Schultz cuts a lone farming figure.

He refused the buyback and instead continued farming in the area he loves.

But it hasn't been easy as he has watched the former productive farm land surrounding him — dairy farms and profitable farming businesses — turn to dust without access to irrigation water.

“What has happened to Benjeroop is an absolute disgrace,” Mr Schultz said.

“Farmers were forced out and the government will tell you it was all voluntary, but I can tell you for a fact that wasn't the case, and many were forced into signing forms they didn't want to.

“We had flood studies done and there were other alternatives but all of a sudden this buyback popped up to strip the area of water and now we know why they pushed so hard to make that happen,” he said.

Mr Schultz has very real fears that what has happened to Benjeroop is being repeated across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and southern Riverina, as the government continues to strip water from productive agriculture under the guise of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“This basin plan is the greatest social, economic and environmental disaster of all time,” he said.

“The money that has been wasted on this could have been better spent on schools and hospitals but instead all they have managed to do under this plan is kill a heap of trees and fish, destroy rural communities and their ability to generate food and fibre through irrigation, and it is all based on fraud — we all know the lakes in South Australia are estuarine, the evidence is there in scientific studies by Peter Gell.

“You have really got to start to wonder why our state and federal governments don't want Australian agriculture, and what their motives really are.”

Mr Schultz said Federal Water Minister David Littleproud saying the basin plan was not the best plan but it was the best they could do, was infuriating.

“I owe it to my grandkids to give them a future. They are entitled to eat good quality home-grown Australian food, not something imported from China or some other overseas country — and that's why this plan must be scrapped and thrown out.”

Mr Schultz still has access to irrigation on his property — he pumps straight out of the river from a pump he installed 20 years ago.

This season production is way down and he has only been able to water a third of his property.

Driving down the road to enter his property, the land tells its own story: on the left there is irrigated pasture hay waiting to be baled; on the right, on non-irrigated land, is dead grass and dead trees.

“I don't want to complain because I know people across the river have no water and are worse off than me because I will get something off my paddocks this year, but this is just a disaster and our politicians are still refusing to listen.”