Drought and water mismanagement along the Darling River has left scores of fish dead and hundreds of locals without water. For one Bendigo couple, enough is enough.
Bendigo’s Eileen Ballangarry believes in the power of community. And as soon as she learned that people in Pooncarie – a town on the Darling River, her country – have no access to clean drinking water, she and her husband Robert, decided to take matters into their own hands and organise a water drive.
“It’s a humanity thing,” says the 71-year-old Barkindji woman, who’s lived in Bendigo for 39 years. “It’s my country, and Aboriginal people are always connected to their country, no matter where they are. I still have lots of relatives up there along the Darling. But even if I wasn’t related to those people or it wasn’t my country, they need help. I would do it anyway. Everybody has a right to clean drinking water.”
It’s widely known that the Darling River System is currently suffering from ongoing drought and in particular that it has resulted in mass fish kill. It’s been all over the news, and rightly so. But, something a little less publicised is the many homes that have been left with limited access to clean water.
In Pooncarie, some 150 people currently have no or limited access to water for drinking, bathing or for babies’ bottles. After following the issues on the Darling, and specifically Pooncarie, online, Eileen and Robert decided they had seen enough.
Across Australia, over 100,000 litres of drinking water have been donated for communities on the Darling via water drives. Eileen and Robert’s bottled water drive, which they initially thought would be small, picked up steam after she posted about it on social media and local TV and newspapers ran stories praising their efforts.
The couple initially planned to drive up as much bottled water as they could fit but, after the news segment aired, Damien Power, owner of a local transportation company, got in touch and said he’d take all of the donations up to Pooncarie, free of charge. “It’s grown so much bigger – we’re pretty excited about that whole thing,” says Eileen.
The water is due to leave Bendigo on Wednesday then 27th of February and arrive by Saturday the 2nd of March, and Eileen hopes to be there to witness it herself. “I want to see the people and take photos of my Darling River,” she adds. “It’s one thing to see it on TV, but seeing it in person is different.”
Eileen and Robert have been Bank Australia customers since 1981 (even before it was called ‘Bank Australia’, she notes). And Bank Australia Chief Strategy Officer, Rowan Dowland, thinks Eileen and Robert’s efforts are indicative of the type of customers the bank attracts. “It’s an amazing example of the great things our customers do to create a positive difference in the world we all live in,” he says. “We couldn’t be prouder to have them as customers and part-owners of Bank Australia.”
Despite all of the attention, as far as Eileen’s concerned, she’s just doing her bit. “Aussies help each other,” she says. “It’s always been like that. Always since I’ve known, anyway.”
If you’d like to donate to Eileen and Robert’s water drive, you can call Eileen on 0427 151 947.