Gin Gin Weir on the Wambool (Macquarie) River is getting a face-lift despite protest from Wiradjuri Traditional Owners concerning a cultural heritage site and protected wetlands along the river.
The current weir, near Trangie in central west New South Wales, was built in 1896 and hosts a four metre high wall. WaterNSW hopes to replace the structure 200 metres downstream with 8.5 metre high gates.
WaterNSW, engaged by NSW’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, acknowledged the need to replace the weir to combat recent drought and future climate change risks that threaten water users.
“The proposed replacement structure is a low impact, gated design, which would allow high-flow events and floods to pass through and native fish to migrate, thereby freeing up 140 kilometres of river to native fish habitat,” said WaterNSW in a statement to NIT.
“The proposed weir would also have the capacity to hold small volumes of water that are released from Burrendong Dam, before releasing it downstream to meet demand for both irrigation and environmental purposes, thereby reducing the volume of water lost to evaporation, especially over summer.”
Despite this, community members along the impacted river systems are concerned.
Founder of Healthy Rivers Dubbo and Vice President of the Inland Rivers Network Mel Gray is concerned for the survival of river systems and local habitats.
“It is a huge gated re-regulating structure. It is not a weir. It is basically a dam.”
According to Healthy Rivers, the proposed weir would hold back 6 billion litres of water and drown 32 kilometres of riverbank vegetation.
The weir will also provide a larger pool for irrigators to pull from.
“The gates will be two-and-a-half storeys high; it is going to give WaterNSW more control of the rivers so they’re able to drive it like an artificial irrigation channel,” Gray said.
With natural waterways disturbed and depleted, there is large potential for landscape death — including the Macquarie Marshes.
The largest remaining inland semi-permanent wetlands in southeastern Australia, the Macquarie Marshes are also a Ramsar site, a wetland site flagged to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
“It is cultural genocide first and foremost, complete ecological destruction of wildlife and unique landscapes,” said Gray.
“Towns won’t be able to survive, floodplain graziers won’t survive, smaller irrigators will go and eventually the big players and corporate will crumble too.”
Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Coral Peckham was born and raised on her ancestral Country and has a strong connection to the Wambool River and the Macquarie Marshes.
“When I was growing up, my Elders worked around the [Macquarie] Marshes,” Aunty Coral said.
“We knew those marshes like the back of our hand. That to us, in Aboriginal cultural way and lore, that is our nursery — the breeding ground for the ecosystems.
“From a cultural perspective, if they put this wall in. I can see that the Macquarie Marshes … will die first and then our river.”
Aunty Coral wants the weir knocked down and abandoned.
“They’re going to build a high wall, basically another dam on our river,” she said.
“I was born in 1948, I remember back in the 1950s swimming in the river, and it was so clear. Now, I see my river dying with all the pollution running into it.
“They just do these things without thinking and when it comes to the dollar, the dollar overrides everything.
“I’m not involved only for the river, it’s our land, our sites, our waterways and we are trying to protect that all here on our Country.”
Not only will river systems be inundated, there’s also a registered Aboriginal site 20 kilometres upstream from the proposed weir that will potentially be inundated.
The Terramungamine Rock Grooves sit on the Wambool River and feature 150 grooves that were carved by Tubba-Gah People, a clan of the Wiradjuri Nation.
Tony Lees from Trangie Aboriginal Land Council echoed Aunty Coral’s sentiments and raised concerns for the protection of such sites.
“There are sites that we consider significant that are going to be ruined. Every time this retains water, they are going to be flooded. That is culturally not acceptable to me,” he said.
“It’s always a compromise but people don’t realise that what you get on one hand is taken from somewhere else.”
WaterNSW has engaged the Aboriginal community, consulting with 11 Registered Aboriginal Parties for the Environmental Impact Statement.
“It sticks in my throat a bit that they keep telling us they’ve consulted with Aboriginal groups. Yes, they listen to what we have to say — but they don’t hear.”
Whilst Lee notes Trangie is a town built off the back of the cotton industry, he also knows that for Trangie to survive there has to be an investment in the environment.
“If the irrigators need a weir pool that they can pump out of, what’s wrong with the one they have?” Lees said.
“I’m not opposed to irrigators making money … but a little bit of water won’t make a lot of difference to them. It will make a huge difference to us.”
By Rachael Knowles