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By Warwick Lorenz, Managing Director, Australian Pump Industries

A few years ago I picked up a book at a second hand book shop called Australia Replanned. Thumbing through it I noted that it was written in 1944 and published in January 1945. What drew me to the book was a fold-out map of Australia that showed an inland sea in the north east of South Australia, with rivers draining into it fed from the north east sectors of Northern Queensland.

Warwick Lorenz.

Warwick Lorenz.

The book was written by a gentleman writing under the name of Veritas. Veritas was a pseudonym for a journalist called Luscombe who also, as I recall as a kid, was writing for The Truth newspaper in Sydney.

The book is a call to arms, warning Australians that they need to get with it and do something with this wonderful huge country of ours. Here’s the key points he makes:

Our opportunities

Luscombe points out that in 1944, the war is effectively over and that we need to start thinking about what to do with our country. He draws a parallel with the United States, a country of three million square miles and a population of 130 million.

Australia, he points out, is 2.9 million square miles with a population of seven million. Of that seven million, approximately one million were in uniform or working 100 per cent in the war effort.

Luscombe also points out that in the years of the Second World War we tripled the productivity of the country, which leads to the obvious question – what next?

The dead heart

Luscombe, who of course was writing long before climate change, refers to the central regions of Australia as the “dead heart” of the country.

He points out that this was once fertile land covered with dense and luxurious vegetation, evidenced by the fossilised remains found in the Diamantina and Lake Eyre districts.

Creating a vast live heart

It should be pointed out that Luscombe wrote at a time when horse-drawn graders were not that uncommon and crawler dozers used cable controls to raise and lower tractor blades.

In spite of that, he dared to dream that the parched and arid dead heart of Australia could be brought to life.

The vision was an inland sea of approximately 50,000 square miles. This sea would be fed by northern and north eastern rivers, and the flood waters diverted back across the Dividing Range to flow along the dry central river beds to the inland sea.

Examining the scheme

The original scheme for drought proofing Australia.

The original scheme for drought proofing Australia.

In 1944, almost 90 per cent of the total land area of Australia was put to very little use. Those huge areas of land, mainly arid, barren and useless, needed water security.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we ready to carry out projects like that in Australia?

Ion Idriess, one of the great Australian writers of the 20th Century, used the slogan ‘Water is Life’ in a number of his books.

In Luscombe’s plan, an inland sea would be created and connected to the Great Southern Ocean by a canal from the head of the

Spencer Gulf via Lake Torrens. The canal would be up to half a mile wide with a depth of around 25 feet! The bed of Lake Torrens might be excavated, and locks and pumping stations would be required in order to provide a shipping passage similar to the Panama Canal.

Luscombe, of course, is writing at a time when the greatest civil engineering feats the world had seen were considered to be the Panama and Suez Canals.

He must have been conscious of the Hoover Dam, draining approximately 1,000 square miles across seven states and capturing up to 740 billion cubic feet of water from the Colorado River each year.

When you consider the fact that the Hoover was built in around four to five years, with the primitive equipment and methods of the time, Luscombe’s plan, or something like it, seems absolutely achievable.

However, whether the drought proofing of the country, or large sections of it, can be achieved with an inland sea is questionable in today’s world with our 70 years of additional knowledge.

What is beyond dispute is the fact that water storage and water security are essential for the progress of our agricultural industries and to foster population growth in the years to come.

Why bother?

In a world where Australians appear to enjoy higher wages than just about anybody else on the planet, we are sitting on the biggest piece of unused real estate in the world.

It is also possibly the greatest opportunity to provide food resources for a growing world population. It seems there’s plenty of good reasons to provide farms and cities with water security.

From a political perspective, governments of either persuasion are and will be faced with financial challenges that must be addressed.

The country clearly can’t rely purely on commodity prices to maintain our lifestyle, create employment or sustain our welfare programs. In other words, something has got to give.

Imagine a drought proof Australia where we brought life back to country towns, provided farmers with water security, built processing plants to value add raw product, and at the same time, provide the Greens with an environmental wonderland.

Going back to Luscombe’s dream, he envisioned forests throughout the centre of Australia – all in a time before we had to worry about greenhouse gases.

Is there a market for what we produce?

When Luscombe wrote his book in 1944, the global population was three billion. Now we are seven billion and heading for ten, so it is highly likely there will be a market for top quality food and agricultural produce for at least the next thousand years.

The Prime Minister preaches jobs and growth. Well here’s a package that will deliver both.

I’ve discussed this idea with civil contractors, farmers, irrigation specialists, water well drillers and a whole wide range of folk to test the water.

What I get in return is astonishment that somebody had thought on this scale 70 years ago. I get excitement at the possibility of a vision that would change the country forever. I get 100 per cent unqualified support of the vision.

Of course the question everybody asks is, “Who is going to do it?”

Gina Rinehart would do it! Barnaby Joyce would do it! Most of the people I talk to in the pump industry would certainly not only support it but would be happy to be deeply involved.

Would it rebirth our pump manufacturing industry? Maybe it would.

Think about these statistics:

  1. China had the same sized economy as Australia in 1990
  2. Twenty-six years later, their economy is 16 times ours and they are number two in the world
  3. They have 1.3 billion people, we have 24 million people. We produce approximately 60 million people’s worth of food per year (my rough calculation) and they produce 1.3 billion. In other words, they produce 22 times more food than we do but from about the same landmass

Let’s assume we drought proof Australia and can produce five times more food than we do at the moment (i.e. $300 billion worth).

That’s bigger than the iron ore business. Not only that, but it’s a much bigger employer and there are loads of benefits that we will get from employment, not the least of which is lower taxes for the rest of us.

Let’s go

Luscombe prefaced his book with the comment that if he was wrong in his ideas, he would welcome correction.

He also stated three principles that appear to be just as relevant today as they were in 1944. Here they are:

  1. Think clearly, without prejudice
  2. Think fearlessly, with regard for nothing but the truth
  3. Think big, with the knowledge of the almost limitless possibilities of technology

As a simple pump man, I welcome the comments of my peers. Copies of Luscombe’s map are freely available from Australian Pump Industries and may serve to inspire some of the readers of this magazine. Bring it on!

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