Back in 2006 John Doyle and Tim Flannery made a mini-series entitled ‘Two Men in a Tinnie’ in which they travelled the length of the Murray-Darling River system.
That year was hard. In December we were told that Australia had suffered the worst drought in 1,000 years.
The Guardian reported that “David Dreverman, head of the Murray-Darling river basin commission, said: “This is more typical of a one in a 1,000-year drought, or possibly even drier, than it is of a one in 100-year event.” He added that the Murray-Darling river system, which receives 4% of Australia’s water, but provides three-quarters of the water consumed nationally, was already 54% below the previous record minimum. Last month it recorded its lowest ever October flows. Inflow this year was just 5% of the average.”
In an interview in 2007, Flannery said, “We’re already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush. If that trend continues then I think we’re going to have serious problems, particularly for irrigation.” 
I wonder what he’s making of the current floods, caused by a third year of La Niña in the Pacific and a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The Murray-Darling System is bursting its banks all along its length and receiving a good flushing as the water pours into the sea in South Australia. All over the country the underground aquifers and the hollows in the hills have been replenished, setting up for the next inevitable drought. All across southern Australia people have been impacted by floods.
The weather systems haven’t finished rolling across the country. Where we live we’ve been spared from the rain so far but we’re expecting we’ll get our turn in due course. In fact, that should be starting next week.
Three La Niñas in a row doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened before. 1973–1976 and 1998–2001 in recent history and I have no doubt before that, when we’d never heard of La Niña or the Indian Ocean Dipole.
Needless to say, the continent has suffered crippling droughts on a regular basis. One of the worst in our short recorded history was 1895-1903. Then there was 1928-1942, 1949 -1957 (1950s drought), the recent drought of 1996 -2014 (despite the weak La Niñas) and a few other, less severe, droughts interspersed.
As mentioned, the Murray, Australia’s largest river, is in full flood and affecting the homes and livelihoods of people along its length. We have the deepest sympathy for all the people in the water’s path, adding another brick to the wall of misery so many have suffered over the past few years. But I feel we also have to remember that until the new settlers from Europe intervened the Murray, like the vast majority of Australian rivers, regularly became a chain of deep pools separated by sand bars. Such is the nature of the continent. The river is navigable these days because of a series of locks along the river. Learn more here.
Australia is a land of extremes. Increasing populations will put even more stress on its fragile systems. But Humans are ingenious. I’m sure they’ll learn to adapt.
I’m still having fun with the art AI Midjourney. The more it’s used the better it gets.