Water for wildlife: Macquarie Marshes

By Tom Rayner 30 January 2015
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Photographer Tom Rayner’s new book takes you on a journey through the Macquarie Marshes and their revival from years of drought, to brimming wetland oasis.

DRY RIVERS. DEAD TREES. Missing animals. Pests and weeds. How did we get into this mess?

When Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin was ‘discovered’ by a bunch of British convicts and their wardens, society pushed to open the west. Explorers set off on daring overland adventures, forging new paths through mountains passes and over floodplains, searching for arable land and inland seas. Soon after, land and water were portioned out. Agricultural production expanded, habitats changed, water was taken from rivers and ecosystems declined.

Today, modern explorers, including grey nomads, families, hunters and 4WD enthusiasts, follow in the footsteps of the early explorers at 100 km/h. They stop to boil the billy in rest areas, looking to reconnect with the national identity, our shared history and environments. Most of the whistle-stops are underwhelming – an abandoned gold mine, a cave, an old pub, a soggy chicken schnitzel and a cold beer.

Given the generally sorry state of the environment and a palpable sense of underlying conflict, it’s pretty easy to get depressed. But, in reality, there are hugely-positive programs underway to restore, protect and enhance the Basin’s natural capital and its scenic riverscapes. Various government departments, researchers, habitat managers and community groups are striving to redefine how we care for, and interact with, nature.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority now administers one of the world’s most advanced water-trading schemes, with a key aim being to return water to the environment. Water licences are being purchased from willing sellers, banked in dams and released to priority biodiversity targets – hotspots of native plant and animal diversity. One of these targets is the Macquarie Marshes, a sprawling wetland system at the downstream end of the Macquarie River in central west NSW.

Photographs showcase an iconic wetland

I spent years working in the Murray-Darling as a fish ecologist – researching how environmental flows can be best delivered to get the best bang-for-buck. It was here in the Macquarie Marshes that I picked up a camera and became more interested in documenting the spectacular effects of floods on the Marshes.

My latest project is a photo book showcasing the transition of the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve from a parched desert, at the height of the millennium drought, to a soaked oasis. The images reveal a revival of the local flora and fauna – flooded forests, colonies of breeding waterbirds, turtles, snakes and, of course, fish.



Water for Wildlife: a photographic journey through the Macquarie Marshes provides a rare glimpse into an area that is closed to the public in order to protect its natural inhabitants. The project is currently being crowdfunded by enthusiastic supporters. More information is available on his website: www.tomraynerphotography.com