When the district was first set up, we had a water right. That is, we had X amount of water that we were provided by right for the property. As time went by, that was changed by government … where we don’t have the right anymore. We have a license and that license figure relies on an allocation each year. And in a drought, the allocation might be 20%, 50%, 75%… And so it was impossible to continue watering the vines unless we brought in temporary water… The year of that drought we’re mentioning , I paid $1,100 for one megalitre, which I look back now and it just seems impossible, ridiculous, et cetera. But that’s what we did just to be able to keep the vines alive for another year.
This is an extract from an oral history interview with Ian Cook, a ‘blockie’ – a local term for an irrigated fruit grower (typically on a block of 10- 20 acres) – from the Mildura/Red Cliffs. area. It reveals Ian reflecting on the allocation of irrigation water and how this has changed in his lifetime. It also suggests how cultural understandings of drought might differ between horticulturalists and dryland farmers. In the experience of fruit growers such as Ian, for instance, irrigation had largely protected them from dry conditions until the Millennium Drought resulted in years when there was not enough water to supply the full range of competing demands. Ian’s interview extract hints at the anxiety and financial strain of trying to adapt to this shift in environmental reality and government policy and to keep his vines alive.