Angry Australian Outback Town Feels Abandoned After Mass Fish Kill

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.
March 24, 2023Updated: March 24, 2023

Menindee locals say they feel abandoned and have no idea how they will recover from a record mass fish kill on the Darling-Baaka River.

Police and water authorities held a second community meeting in the outback New South Wales (NSW) town on Mar. 24 after millions of fish washed up dead.

Local Graeme McCrabb went to the meeting and said many voiced concerns about the quality of their drinking water and the future of Menindee after the second major fish kill in four years.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency could not provide water testing results at the meeting.

“Not having any results for the community just added to the layer of frustration,” McCrabb told AAP.

“You could hear the anger, the frustration and the disdain. They’ve just had enough.”

A spokesman for the agency said water samples were collected from six sites on the river on Mar. 21 and delivered to Sydney for testing.

Despite being fast-tracked, some of the tests for pesticides, metals, nutrients, algae and algal toxins would take several days.

The results may be available late next week.

The local council has been carting fresh supplies to residents who rely on the river water.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Brett Greentree, who is overseeing the emergency operation, said residents connected to the town’s treatment plant could be assured the water was safe to drink.

“That said, we would encourage anyone who is concerned or feels unwell, whether that be physically or mentally, please contact the local health service for assessment, advice or assistance,” Greentree said.

McCrabb said the clean-up efforts, involving nets and the use of booms, were “beyond a joke” as dead fish were spotted 120 kilometres downstream.

“Twenty million dead fish are flowing down the river and we’re trying to clean up at the tail end of it.”

NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann and local independent member Roy Butler have visited Menindee but locals felt otherwise ignored, McCrabb said.

“Where’s our support to try and recover? Abandoned is the only word,” McCrabb said. 

Authorities estimate up to 20 million fish died because of low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, known as hypoxic blackwater, which was exacerbated by floods and heatwaves.

The kills were worse than other mass deaths in the same region during a severe drought in the summer of 2018-19.

Faehrmann said the state government’s lack of response to an enormous ecological crisis was farcical.

“The world’s eyes are upon us in terms of how this happened and how we’re dealing with it. It’s a complete failure by the government,” Faehrmann told reporters in Sydney.

“What we’ll be doing in the next parliament is making sure we get an inquiry established into what went wrong with water flows, what water was released and how was it released.”