It would appear that the level of fear of an ecological apocalypse in the Australian inland — and the level of faith in the possible panacea of a vast irrigation scheme of the type proposed by Jack Bradfield — waxes and wanes in a labile fashion that parallels the tendency for inland Australia to shift in and out of periods of major drought over the medium to longer term. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we are once again in a period in which political, media and public interest in the state of our inland waterways has intensified during a prolonged drought. Have we simply descended once again into a state of panic, which will be dispelled as soon as the drought breaks, or have we managed this time to instigate a national policy process, which will lead us to an objective and emotionally balanced approach to managing the land and water of inland Australia? It is too early to say for certain, but we can perhaps be encouraged by how rapidly the proposition was removed from the table after being raised by Premier Beattie in February 2007.

It is impossible not to be impressed, and perhaps even inspired, by the grandeur and daring of Bradfield’s Scheme as a nation-building vision for the future of Australia, and by the energy and enthusiasm with which he and others promoted it. But, as is the case with many other problems facing inland Australia, the issue of how to manage — and possibly augment — its limited supply of water is far too intricate and complex to be fixed simply by reaching out for a grand solution: no matter how tempting this might be to us in our urgent need to quell a rising state of panic.

The dilemmas currently facing inland Australia arise from aspects of the physical environment which date back many millennia (and, in some cases, millions of years), combined with problems of our own making which have arisen over the past two hundred years. Having taken a long time to develop, these problems are not capable of being solved through a single engineering blueprint. They will only be overcome through the slow growth of insight and a sustained and concerted effort on behalf of governments and the inland’s inhabitants.