I drove through Mildura in north-western Victoria a few years back and was surprised at the opulence and general prosperity of the town. It was a contrast to smaller towns in western NSW and Victoria. It is very much an oasis in the desert compared to the the devastated landscapes north of the town between Mildura and Broken Hill. There are many rabbits and the semi-desert country runs right up to the fringes of the Darling River. I am a big fan of the huge, magnificent neighbouring mallee parklands at Hattah-Kulkyne, Wyperfeld and the vast Murray-Sunset*.
But tariff cuts, low agricultural prices and the drought are destroying Mildura. For the most part – 45% of the town depends directly or indirectly on irrigated agriculture - Mildura relies on water-intensive agriculture that is unsustainable given likely future trends in climate change. Orange orchards that require continuous water supplies if they are to survive – irrespective of water availability – are not a viable longer-term agricultural option.
The local council has a program to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That is creditable but not the main policy issue confronting this town which is adaptation to the effects of permanently reduced water supplies and greater drought frequencies. The appropriate adaptation is to help marginal farmers shift out, to encourage farmers who remain to shift to more flexible production options and to encourage water savings where possible. Maybe too the tourism resources the town possesses are worth emphasising in future development plans.
*Wary of these places too – a loss of concentration and not having a compass in homogeneous, flat, low, mallee eucalypt country at Wyperfeld a few years back got me seriously lost.