By Anika Molesworth
The images of dust storms across Far West NSW have spurred me to write this article.
If you’ve ever stood before an approaching dust storm, you will know what I mean when I describe it as a formidable dark beast crawling along the landscape. Bellowing a low grumble as it makes its way across vast stretches within minutes, unfolding to the heavens and engulfing everything in its way.
It’s a sight we out west have seen numerous times during this drought. A powerful reminder of one’s insignificance in the face of Mother Nature – and simultaneously our impact upon her.
But dust storms are not new to this region. Broken Hill township was established in 1883, and by the early 1900s overgrazing and mining operations had denuded the landscape. Sand drifts and dust storms threated the town, and rags were regularly jammed under doorways and along window seals to prevent red dust creeping into one’s house.
Images of this time period remind us of how bad it got. And how, in the face of such adversity, locals banded together to fight for their future.
Led by Albert and Margaret Morris and William MacGillivray, the Barrier Field Naturalists club was established and one of the earliest known ecological regeneration projects in the world began. The vision for a set of regeneration reserves started in the early 1920s, and by 1936 the first had been established. The benefits of the reserves in reducing dust became clear to the townspeople, and the scheme was soon being championed by locals and community groups.
More than 80 years since the first reserve was established the benefits of the regeneration reserves to wildlife, vegetation and the town are still clear.
Take a stroll through the natural green belt that wraps around the Silver City, and see the striking red flashes of Sturt Desert Pea and the bedeared dragons lounging on Ruby Saltbush.
But despite a harsh exterior, we are reminded that this landscape is incredibly fragile. The recent dust storms highlight just how vulnerable these special places are if we do not look after our common home.
In a region that is projected to become hotter, drier and experience more frequent and intense droughts and dust storms, what does the future hold for towns like Broken Hill in semi-arid inland Australia?
Our future rests in our hands.
Just like the courageous people who defiantly changed the trajectory before, so again the outback people stand with their home and fight for its future.
Whether it’s to save the Darling River, the Menindee Lake system, endangered wildlife or farming families, the power and might of dust storms rolling across the landscape remind me of the groundswell happening in these rural communities.
Outback people have resilience and fight imprinted in their DNA.
Our climate and environment are changing rapidly and we will not sit quietly and accept inaction.
Hear the rumble, cause we’re fighting for our future.