FROM THE ARCHIVES

Charles Sturt believed at one time there was a permanent Australian inland water resource and determined to prove it.   He was right, if it was to be only when ALL the inland rivers run concurrently.    When the streams join in torrent two or three times each century the filling of Lake Eyre occurs, which is the ultimate waste.  While the Murray-Darling Basin Commission concentrates on the lower-eastern corner of our country, the six risks to shared water resources it has identified and the possible solutions to emerge apply equally to other parts of Australia suffering similarly from poor water delivery.

Just who, and where and for what purpose, gets the water we save from waste is a highly contentious issue.  Solutions of a kind in the past have drawn heavy criticism from vested interests.  The risks short-listed by the Commission are climate change, increased groundwater use, increased number of farms dams, bushfires, afforestation and reduced flow from irrigation.  The wunderkind of critics include those who believe in sucking coastal water back over the ranges and because many of their supporters say evaporation is a real worry they propose the water be drawn in plastic piping.  One wonders where these people think rainfall enjoyed in one part of Australia comes from, if it doesn't come from evaporation in another area of our huge territory and out of its surrounding oceans.  Nature has no need for piping, just a gentle slope for rainfall to run down and further distribute its flow.

These momentary displays of rural interest have the effect of dampening again for many years any practical solutions to the equitable supply of water throughout Australia and our ability to move around the country in times of flood.  The answer lies in the control of water so that it may flow where we want it to go and no longer dam it where we want it to stop.


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Trans National Causeway

Rail, Roads and Rivers Rejuvenated

My proposal is not about reversing or inhibiting the primary flow of northern Australian rivers but about sharing and preserving the maximum amount of the downstream overflow in the most beneficial direction.   Controversially, it is about the construction of a 1600km x 3m high multi-purpose causeway from Tobermory NT to Barham in Victoria, to be carved out of the sands and gravel and capable of carrying rail and road traffic alongside a source canal, excavations of which will divert much of otherwise wasted floodwaters and carry them to where they have topical value.   Only excess waters are diverted to refresh those courses downstream that otherwise would go without.

It better utilises river transportation systems, flood control and national defence readiness and allows for the sale of water surplus as well as the harnessing of electricity from waterpower resources.    The photo at top left shows the German Army in retreat from Holland during WWII, along a causeway.   Using a simple displacement causeway platform they hastily brought up and rearranged and with dredged materials at hand, the Germans recovered massive inventory and manpower, retiring safely and with great speed and so, managed to fight on, a logistical win if not a dastardly retreat in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Algae Alongside the Causeway


When but one mighty river runs the result can only be measured in wasted resources.   If harnessed, it could do much good for the refreshment of our eastern inland river systems and the causeway itself will provide constant access by road and rail diagonally across the country, joining up with any north-south streams created in the future.

My credentials for such a project as this come from my experience as administration manager of the bulldozing team that built the French Line across the Simpson Desert in 1963.   The pathway still works without much maintenance.   I like to say whenever I go across that I am a pathfinder, perpetually promoting passages.   I trust I can help to keep the French Line open to all who respect the crossing.

The photo at right shows what happens when rivers go awry and blue-green algae takes over.    Scenes much worse than this are commonplace on the western river systems of country NSW.

Causeway Break in the 'Ghan


Engineers building South Australia's old Ghan railway overcame the flooding problems in low-lying areas by building a causeway with regular breaks that allowed floodwaters to proceed naturally, pictured left.

The Pituri and Georgina rise from Mt Hogarth and the Selwyn Ranges, together forming Eyre Creek.   The Hamilton takes other precious water perhaps later, from east of the Selwyns and carries the Georgina on past Bedourie to again find the Eyre Creek at Kaliduwarry and all might meet the Diamantina at Goyders Lagoon in SA.    Might meet, because the Diamantina is subject to the force of the 'Gulf monsoonal rains spooning it through the neck above Winton.

Nevertherless, the Diamantina is the most consistent of all the back Queensland waters.    It will always run when the others may not.

Roundabout Leading to the Causeway


Causeways are major means of providing economical all-weather links between two points, as shown in this magnificent structure in Bahrain.    Back home in Queensland, Farrars Creek has the habit of joining the Diamantina impishly from its headwaters from a spur of the 'Divide near Hegemont, as does the Mayne while further east the Thomson and Barcoo, rising definitely from the Great Divide, will chime in up to two months later and rush headlong towards Coopers Creek.

These simple river actions may take place over a four-month period.    Their concurrent flow results in the mighty meet of the Diamantina and Coopers Creek to ensure the filling of Lake Eyre - normally a thirty year cycle.    It is all waste to have a flat plain immersed for a short time in a metre of water.    My Trans National Causeway will carry as much of these waters that engineers seek to divert further south, for the greatest benefit.  With regard to Coopers Creek losing its 'S', oldtimers have never used the possessive apostrophe that caused the Placenames people to have it called 'Cooper Creek' universally.  It doesn't cut it with me.  Would anyone be comfortable saying the 'George' for the Georges River in Sydney?

A causeway will divert some of the Wilson and Bulloo Rivers, yet the gates on the riverbeds will deliberately allow enough flow through for stations west of that point.   Some diversion from the straight and narrow path is called for to skirt the foothills of the Grey Ranges, otherwise if Sturt was right it is downhill all the way to the Murray.

Meanderings of the Paroo and Warrego


The causeway will also pick up the meanderings of the Paroo and the Warrego from their headwaters in the Warrego Ranges and carry them both to the causeway junction on the Darling below Tilpa.

Thus we might expect a five-month cycle of regular riverflow being concentrated upon the Darling, which will have the effect of increasing the flow of water through to Wentworth.    Heading due south, the causeway now runs over the same flat country, carrying valuable flow through Ivanhoe, mixing with the Lachlan and then the Murrumbidgee and on to the Murray at Barham, Victoria.

Locks Harnessing Major River Flows


Such a causeway, with locks interspersed at natural watercourses to allow western pastoral access, can carry otherwise wasted water up to 1600km, while some rivers run.   This is surely a more certain source of inland water than we have previously been able to countenance!   And almost year round, considering the natural cycle of the Spring/Summer NSW rivers flowing west of the 'Divide.

Three or four locks could contain the Diamantina when it wants to be 80km wide and a metre deep.   What is left unspilled will travel south along the bank of the causeway, under control and directed where needed.   This proposal expects that the free-flowing bores, the generous dams and the water licences given sometimes in political favours, all along the rivers ought to be reviewed as well as having the purposes looked at more closely, in particular the practices of the wasteful northern NSW and Queensland border cotton farmers who have long enjoyed dream runs at the expense of tax-paying consumers.

Containing the Diamantina


How achievable is this causeway?   The rail line from Darwin to Alice Springs can have a spur to be linked and run parallel to the Plenty Highway.    Tobermory Station is at the Queensland end of the Plenty Highway from Alice Springs and can readily meet up with the new Ghan.   The Trans National Causeway then connects with Boulia and on to Winton.   At Betoota it links with Windorah.    Nockatunga enables access through Thargomindah to Cunnamulla and a Wanaaring turnoff goes to Bourke or Tibooburra and Tilpa leads to Wilcannia or Cobar ... and so on are the connections made well into southern NSW and Victoria.

Rail running atop the causeway?    Yes, indeed.   Two rail lines, an UP and a DOWN are essential to open up enterprise and carry goods economically in many directions from this cross-country, all-year accessible rail- and road-way.  Rights to the numerous locks, weirs and private diversions must be determined to maintain flow in the channel, when the rivers run.  The relatively high ground of the Grey Ranges through which the road track now meanders, presents an engineering challenge the like of which has been overcome in the past.

Why not grow hemp instead of cotton?  Hemp has been used to fashion motor car bodies in times gone by.  Cotton farming wastes water six times more than hemp and is nowhere near as useful.   Rice cultivation in a basically dry country?   We must be nuts.   We should leave rice-growing to rice-eating people who have monsoonal rains close by their markets and cut our cloth from hemp.  In another angle, the Causeway construction process will create a huge demand for labour, equipment and supplies and as it makes ground along its determined path, small townships will rise in support.  These micro-communities, spaced 50kms or so apart, though temporary in nature as crews move on, should be encouraged to be the nucleus for a massive decentralisation campaign aimed at future populations of 50,000 people each, thus providing for a possible one-and-a-half million permanent residents along its length, each town self-sufficient and within easy reach of the neighbouring settlement.

Bulldozing the Causeway


A 1600km major gouge by bulldozers 3m deep by 500m wide across flat country will provide a channel and a causeway of the same height that will rival the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric feat for the greater good, as it will spread wasted water to where it is most needed and minimise the flooded, inaccessible wastes while cleansing and keeping alive the lesser-flowing streams we are so dependent upon.   Controlled flow can be maintained into existing dams on the route or bypassed altogether.

The causeway proposal should not be opposed by landowners or lessees on the route.   A one kilometre swathe through most properties would allow the causeway to be fenced off for feral animal control as well as provide a corridor for native animals across a significant half of the countryside.   Allowing $A6m per km construction cost, that's less than $A10bn for the project altogether.  I'd like to dub this grand road and rail causeway with its accompanying diversion channel, the Republican Way, in honour of another long-sought event.

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