Burke and Wills: Water Ways
Water is essential for life, and water management can be contentious.
The 1860 Burke and Wills expedition passed through the various climates of the Australian continent: from the temperate south, to the arid interior, to the tropic north.
On the northward crossing, the expedition’s advance party (which included Burke and Wills), experienced a verdant environment. Just three months later, the supply party following behind struggled to find enough water to sustain themselves.
Seasonal changes in Australia can be extreme and are influenced by ocean currents, such as the Indian Ocean Dipole. Coupled with this, Australia is said to have one of the least fertile soils of any inhabited land. In spite of this, Indigenous Australians have survived here for many thousands of years.
Recent farming practises and technologies, such as irrigation, have enabled the production of food and other commodities on a scale never seen before, but these practises are coming under increasing scrutiny as pressure on the availability of water increases.
Ludwig Becker documented the rivers and landscapes he passed through (including, at over 2,000 kilometres, Australia’s longest river, the Murray). His sketches show some of Australia’s rivers before irrigation changed their flow.
As the Burke and Wills Environmental Expedition (BWEE) progresses, images and footage will be uploaded to correspond with Becker’s drawings. Due to seasonal change, the material will not provide a direct comparison, but it will document changes to the landscape following 150 years of large-scale settlement.
The BWEE will also interview Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, scientists and farmers, about water management techniques, seasonal variability, and ways of living on a fragile land.