It’s 7.58am, and you’re in your kitchen. The air is dry. Your lips are craving a glass of water, as tall and wide as the arid landscape that sits beneath your window. However, as your lips touch the cup, you taste poison, salt, and bore water.
Your glass falls to the floor. It shatters. This is the fifth year in a row that your taps have been diluted with brine. Five years of wasting your wages on bottles of water.
Who is responsible for fixing this mess? Is it the government’s? Is this a problem you’ll have to amend yourself? Or is this an issue that Network 10’s Amazing Race should solve?
Now, the answer to this question is likely obvious, and yet, this is a conundrum that the NSW town of Walgett is currently ensnared in. Located eight hours from Sydney, Walgett is a town where fresh water, a fundamental human right, doesn’t cascade through the taps.
Part One: Dane’s Amazing Race
Dane Simpson is a First Nations bloke, Wagga Wagga comedian, and a longtime Amazing Race fan.
“I love the show,” Simpson told The Latch over the phone. “I think it’s a really cool show, I love the challenges.”
So, when Simpson scored the opportunity to star in The Amazing Race: Celebrity Edition, he signed up immediately, ready to make his dream of competing on the series a reality.
Additionally, Dane Simpson made his dad, Bow Simpson, his teammate. Bow is a First Nations elder who, up until this point, has never had the chance to leave Australia. For the most part, Bow travels between his homes of Walgett and Wagga Wagga.
“Taking Dad, this Aboriginal man from a small country town in rural NSW, and showing him some other countries, I thought that would be really fun,” Dane explained. “Really fun television. It was really cool for my Dad to leave and see some stuff.”
“His idea of other places is very limited,” he continued. “Even his ideas of capital cities — like Melbourne and stuff — is very limited. So again, taking this man to somewhere super exotic was going to be really fun. And I thought capturing that on camera was going to be a little bit educational.”
A cynical person might presume that Dane’s Amazing Race motivations were mainly about the money. After all, on a bog-standard season of The Amazing Race, each team is competing to win $250,000.
However, such a critique can’t be leveraged at Dane, as this season works a bit differently. In this season, each team is competing to give a charity of their choice a whopping $100,000.
Dane and Bow are competing on behalf of the Dharriwaa Elders Group, an organisation that’s close to their hearts. This brings us back to the town of Walgett and its long standing water crisis.
Part Two: Walgett and the Bore Water
For a historic amount of time, the water in Walgett, NSW has been both unpleasant and unhealthy to drink. It’s an issue that the Dharriwaa Elders Group, a Walgett cultural organisation, is keenly aware of.
According to Virginia Robinson, a Gamilaraay Elder and the Secretary of the Dharriwaa Elders Group, Walgett’s drinking water is currently being extracted from a precarious source.
“For more than five years now, Walgett’s drinking water has been sourced from Great Artesian Bore water, because the Namoi River is drained by cotton irrigators upstream of Walgett,” Robinson told The Latch. “This bore water is high in sodium, which we know is not good for our health. We also don’t like its taste, and so most of us buy drinking water from the shop, and increasingly we turn to sugary drinks.
“If the river is running and the Council sources our drinking water from it, we are worried about pesticides and other chemicals used by the industries upstream,” Robinson added.
Additionally, the NSW Government knows that there is a problem with Walgett’s water. While they’ve stated that it’s safe to drink, they have historically been against people using it in their air conditioners.
In Dane’s stand-up comedy, he’s alleged that the government asked Walgett’s public housing not to put their water through their air conditioners, because there’s a chance that the bore salt could damage these machines.
“You can’t run the water into their air cons,” Dane joked to The Latch. “It’s good enough to drink, but apparently, it’s not good for their air cons. That blows my mind.”
However, while this snippet of irony is delicious, some other aspects of Walgett’s water problems are just straight-up crushing.
“Elders have been concerned about the water quality in the rivers since the 1980s,” Robinson said. “The rivers used to be clear and flowing — you could see the bottom, and they were full of native fish, mussels, and other river foods, platypus, water rats, water spiders. Now, there is mostly carp, and the rivers are muddy drains.”
Fortunately though, the Dharriwaa Elders Group isn’t going to take this issue lying down. They have plans in the works that could fix things.
Part Three: How to Fix a Water Crisis
As it stands, we don’t know if Dane and Bow Simpson will win this year’s Amazing Race. But, if they do succeed, all of the winnings will go to the Dharriwaa Elders Group. A percentage of this money will be used to buy the people of Walgett bottled water.
“Providing people with water is a gift,” Dane said. “If I can just do that, if that can be something that I can strive for through The Amazing Race, that’s great.”
However, while Dane knows that buying bottled water for the people Walgett will be life-changing, he also knows it’s a quick fix. He believes that the NSW Government needs to take on a more active role in solving this problem.
“We’re just trying to raise some money and be people that help each other,” Dane explained, adding: “I feel like that’s very Australian, isn’t it? It’s also very Country, where we look after our community, and I love that. But this work should be done by the state government.”
Likewise, the Dharriwaa Elders Group also believes that this issue should be solved by our politicians. In fact, they are in talks with NSW’s Minister for Water, Rose Jackson.
“Walgett Shire Council must be supported to install and operate a water treatment plant that works equally well on river or groundwater, just like the one in Bourke, and that delivers a sodium level that is no greater than 20 mg/L,” Robinson stated.
“We are asking Minister Jackson to make sure that the Council is resourced better, so that it can operate our water supply sustainably and safely in the future, including to administer fluoride. It is hard to attract skilled workers to live and work in Walgett, so there has to be better wages that take into account water operators responsibilities.”
If Jackson is able to help Walgett receive a water treatment plant, that would be mint. She could help make Australia a place where you don’t have to win all your drinking water.
Part Four: The NSW Government’s Response
Now, it’s worth noting that the NSW Government has tried to fix this issue on multiple occasions. In 2019, the Berejiklian Government installed a reverse osmosis system in Walgett. This reverse osmosis system was meant to reduce the amount of sodium that was in the town’s bore water.
However, there was a massive issue with this system. The government hadn’t designed a method of getting rid of the brine that the reverse osmosis machine created.
“We were told that no one made sure that they could dispose of the brine waste that it produces, so it had to be shut down once the existing sewerage ponds they were using were full,” Robinson said.
“They were in a hurry to make it look like they had answered our concerns, but too much of a hurry to design the system correctly, so it was shut down in four months.”
What’s more, this wasn’t the last time that a government would try to fix this issue and then fail. In April of 2023, Jackson announced that Walgett’s drinking water would no longer be bore water. It would instead be sourced from the Namoi River, thanks to the employment of a water treatment plant.
However, this water treatment plant couldn’t process all the floating debris that’s currently in the Namoi River. So, in June, this water treatment plant was switched off. The citizens of Walgett are now back to drinking bore water that contains too much sodium.
According to Dane Simpson, it’s completely absurd that tangible solutions were provided to Walgett and then were swiftly taken away. He just doesn’t understand how this actually happened.
“Aren’t you meant to fix this so that people can have fresh water?” Dane asked. “That just doesn’t seem to be a priority, which blows my mind. I genuinely can’t get my brain around it.”
Prior to publication, The Latch asked Minister Jackson for comment. They have not replied at the time of publication. We’ll update this article if we hear back.
Part Five: Systematic Failure
Dane and Bow Simpson are two First Nations men trying to score clean drinking water for Walgett.
The Amazing Race is doing a great thing by platforming this issue, but the fact that a commercial TV series has to highlight this problem is completely unacceptable. This is a governmental problem. It needs to be rectified yesterday.
“We need people to understand what is happening to the rivers up here, in the northern Murray Darling Basin,” Robinson said. “The rivers are dying, and it’s not from the drought, it’s from the cotton industry. We are trying to save the rivers, so future generations can enjoy living here in Walgett.”
“We know what needs to be done, if governments choose to work for the public benefit and the wellbeing of people and Country.”
If you want to donate some money to the Dharriwaa Elders Group, click the link here.
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