A book detailing the history, wildlife and struggles of the Murray-Darling Basin is set to be sent to about 4,000 primary schools ahead of the new school year.

Key points:

  • A recently-released book about the Murray-Darling Basin will be delivered free to about two-thirds of Australian primary schools
  • The book detailing the three longest rivers of the basin is believed to be the first-of-its-kind
  • The book was commissioned by conservation group, the Jane Goodall Institute  

The book, aimed at students aged between, 10 and 12 is thought to be the first primary school reference book about the basin.

Principal author Adrian Wells said it was an important topic as the young generation were not future custodians but, in fact, the current custodians of the rivers.

“A lot of students today take a vital interest in the health of their rivers,” Wells said.

“The Murray Darling Basin is a fantastic classroom.”

The book, The Rivers and Wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin, was commissioned by the Jane Goodall Institute in London and three philanthropic organisations in England funded its printing.

Wells works for the Petaurus Education Group based in Albury in southern New South Wales. 

Students are spellbound by projects like this solar tracking system on parrots.(Supplied: Adrian Wells)

The authors consulted government departments, Aboriginal elders, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), agricultural businesses, environmentalists, state water managers, community groups and scientists.

Wells said debate about water politics could get heated but it was important to have a balanced view.

“Sadly, there’s a lot of shouting and yelling [that] goes on about the Murray Darling Basin,” he said.

“We need students to hear all [the] points of view.”

Complex issues need simple explanations

The MDBA, an independent authority that reports to the Commonwealth about the basin, contributed to the book.

Chief executive Andrew McConville said while the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) was far from perfect, it was important for children to understand the perspectives that contributed to the health of the rivers.

“We really need to be engaging kids at that school age in order to give them a passion for what is really one of Australia’s most iconic environmental, cultural, social and economic resources,” he said.

“There are no easy answers, but we need the future generations to be engaged with it.”

The Murray River near Murtho Murray-Darling Basin. (ABC News: Jessica Schremmer)

The basin contributes $22 billion of agricultural output to the Australian economy, produces 40 per cent of Australia’s food and $15 billion worth of tourism.

The river system almost entirely collapsed at the end of the Millennium drought in 2009.

Then in 2019, millions of fish died at Menindee, which brought international attention to the Murray-Darling Basin.

Mr McConville said the story of the basin was about managing a scarce resource.

“But for many years, we did so in a way that was irresponsible,” he said.

“So the MDBP is about how we address past overuse [and] how we address the problems of the past.”

The basin authority said its team of regional engagement officers had completed several hundred presentations to schools within the past 12 months.

Map of the catchments, rivers and tributaries feeding into the Murray-Darling Basin.(Supplied: MDBA)

Reaching those outside regional Australia

Mr McConville said if the basin, and local communities, were thriving, so too did the rest of the country.

“It’s initiatives like [the new book] that can help strengthen that connection and maybe create an energy to get out and be in the country,” he said.

Wells, who is so passionate about the inland river system that he proposed to his wife under a river red gum at the confluence of the Murray and Barka/Darling in southern New South Wales, said getting students from across Australia engaged with issues about the basin was crucial.

“We want more people from across Australia to actually come and visit and listen and learn about the Murray-Darling Basin,” he said.

“Most people today would have sat down at a breakfast or lunch [and] eaten something that came out of the Murray-Darling Basin.”

The book also comes with classroom activities and teaching notes.(Supplied: Adrian Wells)

He also said the book was about breaking down stereotypes that city people might have about farming communities.

“Most farmers that I’ve ever met are very concerned about what’s going on in the basin,” Wells said.

“They live with a drought, they live with the bushfires, they live with the floods, so they know how it works.”

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