During the 2020 lockdowns, as many Victorians took up baking or gardening to beat the Covid blues, Tuesday Browell launched her own DIY project: building a solar-powered boat.
“It took three of us six months to build the Wanambe,” says Tuesday, who lives in Torrumbarry, on the Murray River. “I use the boat to walk my talk. I love the river. With an electric motor, I’m not putting fossil fuels into the water.”
Living by the Murray for 40 years, Tuesday has become a passionate defender of this ancient waterway. Encircled by Richardson’s Lagoon, her 100-acre property is a haven for native critters, including platypus, echidnas, goannas and sugar gliders.
“It’s pretty much undisturbed native bush,” she says. “It’s a very special place.” The protected wetlands are home to more than 130 bird species, many endangered or vulnerable. The land is also rich in cultural history. An important meeting place for local Yorta Yorta clans, it’s dotted with more than 120 scar trees.
Tuesday grew up in Malta, Kuwait and Port Moresby before emigrating to Australia in the 1960s. She came to the Murray in her early 20s to help build the paddle steamer Emmy Lou. “I learnt on the job, working with skilled shipwrights. It really inspired me.” Named after a dreamtime serpent, her new boat the Wanambe is virtually silent, enabling her to witness wildlife up close.
She’s seen a lot of rivers in her life – the Nile, the Suez Canal, the Laloki – but says the Murray is unique. “There’s no other river like it in the world.” It’s also the region’s lifeblood, providing fresh water, enabling food production and supporting livelihoods. “Without the river there’d be no community here. Every business and town relies on it.”
But that vital lifeline faces multiple threats. “Our summers are getting hotter and drier, and we’ve seen an exponential growth in corporate farming.” In the past five years Tuesday has seen more than 50 struggling family farms vanish, many bought out by big corporations.
The Murray is too often treated as a lucrative resource, she argues, instead of a precious ecosystem. “We’re managing the river to death. These massive water systems are made by nature, for nature. And we’re selling off the water as a commodity.”
Many wetlands now rely on managed environmental flows. Richardson’s Lagoon is kept dry for two years, then allowed water for three years.
These dry spells can spell death for vulnerable wildlife. Three endangered turtle species live in the lagoon, returning to their birthplace yearly to lay their eggs. But to reach their nesting spots safely, they need water.
“When there’s no water, the turtles have to walk across open ground, where they’re open to predation,” says Tuesday. Over the past two “dry” years, she’s found 140 dead turtles on her land, all gutted by crows and foxes. “The [water] management plan doesn’t factor in water for those turtles. They had no refuge. That’s how extinction works.”
Erratic flows are also affecting plant-life. Tuesday distils small-batch essential oils from traditional bush medicine plants growing wild on her property. Local clans used Old Man Weed to treat complaints, River Red Gum for infections, and River Mint for congestion. Some riparian plants are now disappearing, causing riverbanks to erode.
Wild places meet a deep human need, says Tuesday. “Many of us have a hollow inside of us that we try to fill. I think nature fills that hole.” She sees this when her grandkids visit. “They love spotting kangaroos, listening to the frogs and kookaburras.” But she worries about the future. “Our wild places belong to every Australian. And they’re disappearing.”
Storytelling is one way to convey this urgent message. In 2021 Tuesday hopes to sail the Wanambe down the Darling River, collecting river tales from locals. She is excited to be involved in Environment Victoria’s rivers storytelling project. “I want to share everyone’s stories. Rivers are not just delivery systems for irrigation. They’re important, and we need to protect them.”
Your support will kick-off a long-term collaboration across the Basin states to change the story. You’ll help build a powerful movement capable of shifting water politics and saving our Murray-Darling.