The Water of Life

Folks, on family driving holidays in the 1970’s, it was my job to fetch a billy of water from the nearest freshwater creek when we pulled up for smoko. 

Sudden death by croc attack was definitely worth the extra bikkie I got paid.  (Note: usually a Monte Carlo but I’d settle for a Short Bread Cream if my brother had raided the biscuit tin while I was off risking life and limb). 

For some reason, I was a tad reluctant to fill the billy that day…

Also, for those of you not familiar with saltwater crocodiles, they’ll happily paddle about in freshwater creeks too, especially if there’s a plentiful supply of fish, wildlife, farm animals or daydreaming boys filling billy cans. 

Anyway, some forty years later, I’m struggling to remember the last time I plunged a billy into a creek and sang as it boiled, let alone quaffed from a stream, creek, river, pond or lake.

I think it was around 2003.  I’d pulled up at a freshwater creek near Bundaberg, herded my children from the backseat with a cattle jigger and frogmarched them to the waters’ edge.  “Have a drink kids!” I beamed scooping up a handful of water.

It tasted a little brackish, but I heartily downed a couple more refreshing gulps of cool, clear, water. 

Judging from the expressions on my girls’ faces, it was clear they thought I was swilling toxic waste. 

“C’mon, plenty for everyone!” I urged.  My eldest daughter shook her head in horror.  “Look, it’s clean and pure,” I added, ignoring what clearly looked like a clump of blue green algae bobbing by. 

Middle daughter pointed upstream to where a cow was contentedly emptying its’ bladder into the creek.

This not only explained the brackish aftertaste, but also killed any chances of my daughters partaking of nature’s liquid bounty that day or, possibly, ever after. 

Plus, I had to wait until we pulled into Bundaberg before I could rinse my mouth out as none of my children wanted Dad’s cow pee lips slobbering all over their plastic water bottles.

Buttercup straining some water through her kidneys

So now I’ll ask the question:  Would you drink from the nearest creek to your home? 

I’m guessing ‘no’.  Unless you live on a farm in the wilds with a spring bubbling at your doorstep.

Because even the dimmest water imbiber knows that pretty much any waterway within coo-ee of a city, town or hamlet are contaminated to varying degrees, with pesticides, herbicides, fuel/oil and other unmentionables which can seriously hinder your ability to enjoy things certain things, like, growing old.

Honestly, croc attack is the least of your worries.

Happily, our tap water is filtered and treated to make it safe for human consumption; no matter what bottled water sales folk try to tell us.

But it’s my hope that one day (soon), I’ll be able to slake my thirst once again from any creek on the highway, safe in the knowledge it isn’t tainted by chemical nasties and preferably hasn’t been recently strained through a cows’ bladder either.

Am I asking too much?   

Anna watching me partake of the water near Babinda recently

This article first appeared in the Regrow Queensland e-zine. Check it out!

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