Towards the end of the Millenium Drought (1997-2009) we visited the Tolderol Game Reserve, which on the northern shore of Lake Alexandrina and is east of Pt Sturt. We wanted to see what had happened to this migratory bird sanctuary as a result of this decade long drought. This was more than a standard dry time which are the settings of the state and government’s drought policy responds to: ie., –immediate drought relief measures for people on the land who have been suffering with the reality of a dry period.
The various shallow basins in this game reserve are linked by connecting channels and levee banks, thereby enabling the manipulation of water levels to create rich foraging habitat for migratory wader birds.
We visited the reserve in 2009, and the shallow basins and channels in this wetland were bone dry. No birds were to be seen. It was a silent landscape. No water could be seen. It was a desert landscape.
It was very depressing walking around this part of Lake Alexandrina.
Drought is serious or severe rainfall deficiency – essentially a period of prolonged dryness; rainfall deficiency as it were. The recorded history of droughts in Australia (eg.,Federation drought (1895-1903), the World War II drought (1939-45), and the recent Millennium drought (1997-2009) shows droughts to be quite diverse in terms of spatial footprint, duration, and intensity.
The Millennium Drought was the driest period since 1900 by several measures in southeast Australia with consequences for ecosystems, economy, and society. The Millennium Drought was larger in area and longer than any other drought in southern Australia over the last 400 years. It was unprecedented in terms of intensity and duration.
The end of the drought came with a strong La Niña event in early 2010, which brought very high rainfall and large‐scale flooding to many parts of southeast and east Australia.
We now know that the climate in the Murray-Darling Basin is changing: in northern Australia in the warm season, it’s getting wetter than ever before whilst southern Australia is getting less rainfall, especially during the cool season.
There needs to be a recognition with climate change that a warmer Australia means that southern Australia has a drying climate where wet seasons are the exception rather than the rule. Drought-proofing the country is a form of dreaming.