Jeparit now suffers from a foul-smelling odour from the pollution that sits on the dry river bed. It is worse in summer, but even on milder days with the right winds blowing, locals are forced to endure the rotten egg smell that comes from the river. It’s a far cry from the fond memories David has of the way the Wimmera River once was.
“I have always had boats ever since I was about 12. When I was a kid the river was marvelous,” recalls David
“We had lights on the river so we could swim at night, back then it was a fun place to be. We even used to have inter-town swimming carnivals and there was always plenty of fish around.”
Over the years David was also a regular visitor to one of the region’s premier swimming, fishing and boating areas “ Lake Hindmarsh.
“Lake Hindmarsh has been absolutely bone-dry for the past six years, it filled up in ‘96 but within four years it dried out.”
David remembers when the river and lake were big tourist attractions.
“When the lake was full there were at least 1000 people there during the Easter and Christmas holidays and we had lots of professional fishermen as well. Those days are definitely gone, but you still get people picnicking there.”
David says the Wimmera River system is unique to Australia as it is landlocked and doesn’t run into the sea like other rivers.
“Both the Wimmera River and Lake Hindmarsh were assets, it really is a great shame to look at them now.”
David is working on a book that tells the history of people who have lived, worked and played on the Wimmera over the years. Along with a couple of others, David is now collecting stories and photos of what the river was like 100 years ago, including pictures of the different fish and bird life.
“We will have stories of the people that relied on the river and lake to exist before the channel system came through.”
“The big drought in the ‘40s is the worst I’ve seen, but the river never went as salty as it has now, that is why the trees are all dying. It is twice as salty as the sea.”
Despite the current condition, David has a strong belief that the mighty Wimmera River will return to the full-flowing conditions of years past.
Like most people that live in the region David prays for a good solid drenching from the gods above. He blames the lack of water in the river on decades of tapping of water and in more recent years, on the growth of vineyards.
David believes the Government’s promised pipeline is the number one priority and hopes that the water it brings will revive the reed and weed-infested Wimmera River.
Story by Adam Olive, December 2006