Water

Stunt highlights woes

By Sophie Baldwin

Stephen Black and his partner Melissa Portingale got more than they bargained for when they recently put a rare Simba Ooshie up for sale online.

Ms Portingale posted the Ooshie with an unusual request: to trade it for irrigation water to use on their dying farm due to what they say is government mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin.

The post went viral and the couple was inundated with media requests.

Mr Black simply could not believe the response — so he decided to use the publicity to shine the light on the socio-economic effects of the basin plan and poor water policy.

‘‘I can’t understand how a piece of plastic could be more interesting than the issue of water,’’ he said.

‘‘We have both been blown away with the whirlwind but at the end of the day it has become an opportunity to get our message out there — the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is flawed and must be paused.’’

Last Friday, out of frustration, Mr Black destroyed the Ooshie with a pair of scissors while being interviewed on national television.

As a hay contractor at Katandra West, Mr Black has watched his customer base shrink in line with the demise of the dairy industry as irrigation costs have skyrocketed.

He lays the blame firmly at the feet of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

‘‘I have thought about nothing other than water and about how to get through the season for the last two months.

‘‘My son works here on the farm and I can’t even tell him what this year will bring because I just don’t know — potentially it could be bugger-all.’’

Ms Portingale thought selling the Ooshie, which she picked up at Yarrawonga Woolworths two weeks ago, could help generate some much-needed cash.

Initially she posted it for sale on eBay where it attracted a bid of $9500.

She contacted the bidder who turned out to be bogus and said ‘you stupid farmer b**** did you really think someone would pay that sort of money?’.

A change of tack saw her post the Ooshie on Buy Swap and Sell where she again received death threats and criticism.

It wasn’t until she changed her post asking for water instead of money that it took off.

‘‘If something doesn’t change soon there will be no irrigated dairy farms left in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District,’’ Ms Portingale said.

‘‘The ripple effect will be enormous and if you think it won’t affect you, think again.

‘‘Food prices will get dearer, not cheaper. Food will be imported and who knows what it will be grown in because other countries don’t have the strict guidelines that we have here in Australia.’’

Mr Black grows a mix of lucerne, rye-grass and oats on 120ha.

In 2018, his water rates were double the cost of anything he’d ever had before.

He shudders to think where they could end up this season with temporary water prices currently sitting above $600/Ml.

He said the system needed to be more equitable and costs should be shared across every water owner, not just those with delivery shares.