South Australia’s Riverland region is coming back to life after flooding

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More than a year after floods inundated this arid landscape, birds are still benefiting.
Last summer only the treetops were visible here.
Today rangers Lucy Sumner and Thomas Kurt make their way through the mud at the edge of a lagoon.
Indigenous rangers from the River Murray and Mallee Country Corporation are working with ecologists to monitor how the environment responds to this influx of water.
Lucy Sumner is a senior ranger with the group.
“For me it’s like entering a new dreamtime, the beginning of a new dreamtime, from here and beyond… I haven’t seen Redfin in about twenty years – and we caught this all the time on the riverbank of the Renmark. But when we were out here monitoring the fish, the redfins came back in abundance. There were collabs, there were silver linings, all kinds of things – all the little important fish, like the gungeon and stuff, that was. all of them I came back in abundance. And like I said, I hadn’t seen the red fin for a while, so it was good to see it in the river again.’
It means the community can return to cultural practices and eat a diet rich in native fish.
“That’s our usual food source, and it’s healthier for us than going to the store. So the more tucker – natural tucker – we can get through the river, the better for us; our soul, our culture and our spirit. “
Thomas Kurt, another ranger, left the area as a teenager – and things looked very different then.
“When I left we were in the middle of a drought and it was quite bad. Like they had closed off all the lakes – Lake Barmera is etched in my memory – and it had gotten so bad it was like 20.30 meters beyond the jetty , the big cod dies, all the turtles die.”
When he came back, there was water everywhere.
“I think when I came back and saw everything so green and so much water, it was a big difference from when I was growing up here, because yeah, all my childhood it was a very dry place. Like, there wasn’t much water. Not much at all. rain. And yes, coming back after all these years and just watering like you wouldn’t believe. So growing up fishing, it was quite depressing; it’s good to see the river is so healthy. And there also seem to be many more yabbies among the yabbies.’
Large areas of saltbush now populate the floodplains.
Lucy Sumner collects seeds of a flat-topped variety.
This saltbush is a favorite foraging food of the eastern regent parrot, which is nationally recognized as vulnerable.
“This is their favorite food, these little salt bushes. And after the flood it all just comes back. So we hope it will attract the birds and over time they will make it their refuge.”
Both rangers are surprised at how many black boxwood trees sprout here.
A small forest of seedlings and saplings grows on the pike’s floodplains, but they require regular high-water events to survive.
Then water flows above the bank.
SBS visited an ancient boxwood forest nearby by boat at the height of the flood, together with tourist operator Tony Sharley.
It was the first decent drink for the trees in decades.
Tony Sharley organizes walking tours of the area.
“Twelve months ago we were in a boat going through this boxwood forest and the water level was up to my shoulders, on the tops of these leaves. What an amazing event brought new life to the whole valley. It’s given – it’s given this boxwood forests, the old trees, but it has produced the germination of seedlings, a whole new ground cover in our floodplains, which is the habitat for insects, which is the food for birds.
Vibrant greenery in the foliage and ground cover shows how the water has stimulated abundant growth.
These low-lying areas in South Australia’s Riverland are subject to regular flooding.
But irrigation in upstream states has meant these floodplains no longer get the water they need, and Mr Sharley says the flooding has shown how much a flood event can achieve.

“And that has supported a large-scale bird breeding event. It has supported fish farming throughout the river valley. And now we are seeing the benefits of that flooding. There is life everywhere. There are fish in the river system. But what it has really shown , is the And we must maintain this ecological watering with water that can come over the banks, so that we can continue to activate this life pulse every two or three years.’