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Memento : Issue 28
amounts of water in dams, piped it long distances across the country, pumped it from below the ground and even dragged it down from the clouds. Water management in Australia is generally understood to be a state function yet the Commonwealth has had its spanner in the waterworks since Federation. In fact, the waters of the mighty Murray River were so important they were included in Federation arguments. This exhibition follows the journey of water through the Australian landscape -- falling as rain, caught in dams, flowing through rivers and pipes, and rising as groundwater. In Australia, we store more water per person than any other country in the world and have made the windmill a landscape icon. By following paper trails in our collection we have been able to map the journey of Australia's most precious resource over time. One such trail reveals the social history of our water management -- and mismanagement. In times of drought, As an exhibition curator at the National Archives, I often find myself searching for a document in our collection that truly represents the exhibition I am currently working on. Our forthcoming exhibition, Just Add Water, Schemes and Dreams for a Sunburnt Country, has proved no exception. When I began searching, I didn't know precisely what I was looking for, although from experience I knew I would know when I found it. My search ended high on a shelf in the Archives' repository with an unassuming brown paper parcel, nearly a metre long. Inside the parcel were rolled documents, neatly tied with string. When our conservator carefully unwrapped the bundles, she was probably the first person to do so since a long-ago clerk tied those precise knots. The documents were a series of maps and graphs related to planned work on the Murray River. One document in particular spoke to me. It looked fairly ordinary -- just two bar graphs, one above the other. The first graph showed the heights of the Murray River in the fir st two decades of the 20th century. It looked like a cross-section of the Himalayas -- towering peaks and deep valleys. The other graph was of an imagined future, showing the projected heights of the Murray River after a planned series of weirs and locks had been built. It looked like a picket fence -- a neat row of bars all the same size, with a few missing pickets and only one very high point. That 100-year old graph in the Archives' collection embodied for me exactly what Just Add Water is about. The exhibition looks at how, over the last 100 years, Australians have been very busy replumbing Australia. We've caught vast desperate farmers wrote letters to the Prime Minister begging for a 'Day of Prayer' to bring the rain. Photographs show happy soldier settlers on irrigation blocks but letters from disgruntled settlers give another view. The trail reveals how old some of Australia's seemingly 'new' problems are. Our documents show that salination and the problem of continuously flowing artesian bores, seen by many people as contempo- rary issues, were recognised in the 1920s. Vast infrastructure propositions and big ideas about 'turning the rivers inland' also appear in our records from early last century. Suggestions to help Australia manage its water came from all over the world. From Italy, Enzo Tortolina sent us a helpful diagram showing how we could build a canal to flood Lake Eyre. Schemes and dreams -- some implemented and some not. Some have brought huge economic benefits to Australia and others have exacted a price we have only begun to pay. The graphs of Australia's mightiest river, the Murray, capture on just one piece of paper so much of what the exhibition is about -- the dreams of water management that became working schemes and changed the face of Australia. The graphs also illustrate how determined we have sometimes been to work against the natural flows of Australian rivers. Australian rivers naturally flow with the high peaks and deep troughs of the first graph, not the regular streams of the second, which resembles the flow of a European river. This document, preserved in its brown-paper bundle, reminds me once again of how central our collection is to understanding Australia and Australians -- our dreams, our illusions, our plans -- and in this case, our changing understanding of Australia's unique environment. The predicted effect of the Hume Dam on the flow of the Murray River, c1920. NAA: MP146/4, 7 Australia's new water ski lake, Queensland, 1971. NAA: A1500, K28405 (opposite) Sign pointing to water, Murray River, 1946. NAA: A1200, L7328 Summer--Autumn 2005 MEMENTO 11