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Menindee locals take break from fish kills, drought to dance by Darling River and hope for brighter future

Aimee Volkofsky, Monday June 3, 2019 - 14:44 EST
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Susanna Havili (left) and her daughter Shantae are both singers from Menindee. - ABC

Amid the mass fish kills and the ongoing drought, Menindee locals hope a festival will be the first of many positives to draw tourists back to the area.

The far west New South Wales town was the site of what is believed to be Australia's worst-ever fish kill, when in the Darling River between December 2018 and January 2019.

Before the kills and since, the drought has seen tourism and employment decline, in recent years, making the town a difficult one to live in.

In the months since, state and federal funding has been announced, including , $25 million for the sealing of the Menindee to Pooncarie Road, and $15,000 towards a free festival to provide some much-needed respite for the community.

On the weekend people from far and wide gathered for the Dancing on the Darling festival, featuring a mix of local performers and bigger headliners like singer-songwriter, Neil Murray.

Festival organiser and Menindee tourism operator Graeme McCrabb said the day was an important part of remembering what was good about the town.

"Obviously the fish kill was pretty horrific, and the water issues are still there, but it's nice to have a day where we can kick back and relax.

"It's nice to show people the good parts of Menindee instead of just the bad."

'Something different to the heartache'

Anne Baker travelled to the festival from the neighbouring town of White Cliffs, which has faced its own challenges during the drought.

She said the day was a welcome relief.

"There's nothing like music to lift your spirits," she said.

"It's something totally different to the heartache with what's been happening with the drought and the river. It's a good outlet for people."

Menindee has a long history as a tourist town. For generations, its lakes, the Darling River and Kinchega National Park have drawn holidaying families as well as fishing and bird enthusiasts.

But it is many years since the town's campsites have been full.

Geoff Spangler, who travelled to the festival from nearby Broken Hill, said he wanted to show support for a town he had enjoyed visiting for many years.

"Menindee Lake was the place I went sailing every second weekend for two decades," he said.

"I'm really sad about what I've seen in the last two decades by way of Lake Menindee being empty, the whole river being empty. It's a shocking state of affairs."

He said he hoped tourists would see through the doom and gloom around Menindee in recent times, to see what it still had to offer visitors.

"That's my wish: that people come to this area and participate in what's actually here, because the desert can be wonderful, even when it's dry."

'Nothing without water'

Larry Webster, who grew up tin shacks on the banks of the Darling River in Menindee and Wilcannia, said he was pleased the festival gave people a reason to celebrate.

But he also said he hoped people kept sight of the fight to see the river flow again.

"It's good that we've got people here having a good time, hoping for the day we get our river back," he said.

"The whole community is depressed; today will bring their spirits back, though it won't be fully back until the water is back."

Menindee local Susanna Havili performed at the festival and said she was pleased local children got to experience live music, some for the first time.

"It's really important to lift spirits especially of the younger generation," she said.

Ms Havili said that was especially important when they faced what she saw to be a grim future in the town.

"Without the water here, they've got nothing," she said.

"For black and white and all cultures, we're all one out here, if we don't have that water there's no chance for the kids here to sustain anything or strive for a future."


© ABC 2019

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