Right As Rain Part 2 - Transcript ©
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 13 July , 2009
RAY MARTIN, PRESENTER: Hello I'm Ray Martin. Tonight the concluding episode in the extraordinary saga of a man named Peter Andrews. Peter Andrews is a bushie who was born in Broken Hill, he spent most of his life as a farmer and a horse breeder. And over 30 years of trial and error, Peter Andrews has come up with a way to water the dry Australian landscape and maybe even revive our dying rivers.
I've been following Peter for about 10 years now, it seemed to me that no-one cared about his simple ideas until about four years ago when ‘Australian Story’ featured Peter Andrews. So tonight, the final episode, we begin with a quick recap.
(Excerpt of footage from last week's episode)
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: The whole story began more than three decades ago. When he purchased ‘Tarwyn Park’ it was an environmental wasteland. And within years he transformed it. He was planting willows when you get Government grants to take them out. He was planting reed beds when people thought you pulled them out of swamps. Everything he did was contrary to what everybody was being told by the authorities.
PROF. DAVID MITCHELL, WATER ECOLOGIST: And yet, if you go to the properties where Peter Andrews has been working, those properties from the air are green. The neighbouring property is brown.
STUART ANDREWS, SON: When dad lost the farm it was like someone had just torn the ground out from underneath him.
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: His son Stuart was able to arrange with the bank to buy a part of the property. The rest was sold to other people. Gerry Harvey took Peter on and it’s paid off.
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: And I’ve backed him over all these years.
PROF. DAVID GOLDNEY, LANDSCAPE ECOLOGIST: I think it’s the most significant contribution to landscape restoration that I’ve seen in Australia.
PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: It’s resulted in a river recovery to our knowledge unprecedented in Australia.
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: I’ll back him til the day I die. I know that what he’s doing makes a lot of sense. I’ve witnessed it for years.
(End of Excerpt)
STUART ANDREWS, SON: Dad, he spends all of his time I think away from his residence. He is always off doing jobs for people. He works all over the countryside. He works with people in Western Australia that have wheat farms, another group up in Queensland who have fruit. He’s worked on places around Dubbo. I mean vastly different country to here, completely different, and yet it still works. People still ask him to come back and do more and more and more.
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: After the last ‘Australian Story’ the floodgates opened. People were jumping on the bandwagon. A lot of people really wanted to help or felt they had something to contribute. People with all sorts of skills were volunteering their times.
DR SANDY CORNELL, VETERINARIAN: Driving around with my work as a vet all I see is degradation, eroded gullies, top soil blowing away, bare hills, animals grazing paddocks that are mainly dirt. It's everywhere you look. Our country's crying out. Our rainfall has lessened over the years. It's just getting harder and harder to make a living off a property. People on small acreages who have horses and what have you, are finding they have to buy more and more feed in. It's harder and harder just to support a few animals on a piece of land now. It's just getting tougher all round. And it’s sort of gotten to the point where I’d really like to do something. I like Peter Andrews’ approach because it’s holistic. It doesn’t just address one aspect such as vegetation. Peter’s work looks at the hydrology of the land, the vegetation, correcting erosive forces, the whole picture.
PETER ANDREWS: You know we’re doing things and we’ve had a chemical farming system which has just ever increased the cost to the farmer and ever reduced the asset backing of the landscape.
Spraying, fertilizing, ploughing, burning. Each one of those things mines the reserves that we had, or releases them to the erosive processes. The biggest issue in this landscape is erosion.
(Excerpt of footage of Sandy Cornell standing waist deep in a hole)
DR SANDY CORNELL, VETERINARIAN: This paddock is full of these holes, these travel up the water line and this whole paddock in this line is going to have this subsistence type erosion. And eventually this top layer will break down and drop in and we’ll have a big eroded channel like what we’re seeing in the background. In this area this process is really common, probably every 50 to 100 acres you’ll see a process going on like this because of the extreme lack of organic matter in the paddocks.
(End of Excerpt)
PETER ANDREWS: What happened in all those cases, were people took out plants mostly to grow wheat, and then they didn't want any other plants but the plants that they were trying to grow as a crop. They've had years of drought, and unfortunately, they don't realise that all the time while plants are not growing, those landscape processes are becoming more and more sensitive. And then we get a wet period and suddenly there's tens of millions of tonnes of soil and nearly all the organic fertility disappears. We are sitting right on the precipice of that happening in huge areas of this country.
(Excerpt of footage of Greg Donoghue, Sandy Cornell and Peter Andrews in eroded gully)
GREG DONAGHUE, LAND OWNER: When you actually come into the, and sit in the thing, you know, it’s two metres deep this bloody thing and it’s 20 metres wide.
PETER ANDREWS: I would think as an experiment, if we were to put, and let’s just go for something like gorse and broom into this area. Right, just to get everyone really upset. And if we brought a big truckload of gorse and put it in here maybe gorse and a bit of pig manure to help break it down. And I didn’t actually tell you to plant gorse but I said it would be interesting if we brought a big truckload in here and saw what happened. So you have to start considering which plants have that dynamic capacity to bring it back. I mean and I don’t doubt that there are plants in Australia that will do it. No doubt in the world.
(End of Excerpt)
DR SANDY CORNELL, VETERINARIAN: Even if Peter’s stuff isn’t 100 per cent correct, we can’t be any worse off than we are now. We’re at the tipping point of turning this country into a desert. The reasons it hasn't been widely implemented is because Peter has two main stumbling blocks in that it is illegal to allow weeds to grow on your property, particularly the prohibited weeds, and also it is illegal to fiddle with water courses.
NOEL KESBY, SOUTHERN RIVERS CATCHMENT MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY: The work of Peter Andrews is like an evangelist coming into the neighbourhood with a really great message that people want to hear. Water is a problem. And with global warming on every media voice in every avenue right across the nation, right across the world, people are looking for someone with answers. Peter comes in with these answers so the groundswell of interest in this work is phenomenal. This is putting a lot pressure on authorities to do something because the farmers and the landowners, they want action, they want stuff to happen on their properties and that’s why we took on this job to actually do a scientific trial. It’s the biggest trial in Australia, and it involves the Australian Government and Tony Coote - the landowner’s put in a lot of money.
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: My property, ‘Mulloon Creek Natural Farms’ is about 6,000 acres and we have set up something called the Mulloon Institute which is a not-for-profit, for the purpose of education and idea exchange and research. I’ve had this farm for about 40 years and over this period of time we’ve shifted from conventional agriculture to doing everything totally naturally and I could see that no matter how good, how well you managed your land, and how good a farmer you were that you cannot do it unless the land is hydrated. And that is really Peter Andrews’s key philosophy - it’s hydrating the landscape. He has a skill in repairing riparian systems like nobody else that I have come across has. He can read how the water flows, and how to use engineering through leaky weirs but in a natural way, just like the beavers do in nature in North America. And so I didn’t want this genius that he has, to be lost in any way.
DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: The Southern Rivers CMA (Catchment Management Authority) I think were very responsible. They took an opportunity to explore and implement Peter’s work in a way that could be properly and thoroughly tested. I think it’s exactly what needs to be done. What was done in the Mulloon case - it’s a one-off case. There was special permits developed that allowed the experiment to be conducted.
(Excerpt of footage of Tony Coote at Mulloon Creek)
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: We built this structure in a very short time. It’s just from some rock off the property. And the matting of these willows is in amongst the rocks cushioning the rocks so that it gives them more stability. We’ve put mulch in here as well, so the reeds have really grown themselves. It does require the skill and the natural engineering ability of someone like Peter in this case to do this sort of work. Don’t just feel you can go home and do it.
(End of Excerpt)
NOEL KESBY, SOUTHERN RIVERS CMA: Some of the ways that he does it, is risky for a, a Government agency and a Government established Catchment Management Authority. But there’s no denying that, you know, he’s getting results. We’ve put in a fairly sophisticated monitoring regime on Mulloon Creek and we’re measuring flows above the property of Tony Coote’s and below the property. And bearing in mind that we’ve done this work in the middle of a drought, we had zero flows coming in above Mulloon Creek works and then coming out the other end was a two mega litre a day flow out of the property. The leaky weirs have actually retarded water and stored water. So it’s rehydrated the floodplain ground water system in the Mulloon Creek valley. That’s really the jewel in Peter Andrews’ work, is that the rehydration of the immediate floodplain stores water when there’s good rain on, and then releases it when it’s dry. So the river stays healthy and it’s always got a supply of water.
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: All of his work now is being corroborated by scientific assessment.
(Excerpt of footage from amateur video)
WOMAN: I'd like to have vegetation around the farm dam, what are your thoughts on that?
PETER ANDREWS: Absolutely, essential. This landscape can't run without plants all the time and everywhere. There should never be any exposed water in the Australian landscape.
(End of Excerpt)
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: The last field day that we had here, we must have had 250, 300 people. And with Peter and others we went through the whole system and people were so enthusiastic. They’d walked the whole creek and I had to say to them, "As good as all this is, and you can see it working, I’m sorry guys, but don’t expect to go home and be able to do anything." They can’t put structures in the creek, they can’t put willows in, they’ve got to get rid of their weeds, they can’t allow the blackberries to grow which help to hold the banks together - a number of other things they can’t do because the regulations won’t allow that to happen.
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: There are so many people flying under the radar and using Peter’s techniques, it’s amazing. I can’t report on these things, even though I’ve seen a lot of them, because they contravene Government regulations and the people would be prosecuted if anyone found out about them.
(Excerpt of footage of Peter Andrews talking and yelling on the phone)
PETER ANDREWS: I don't care if it's six o'clock in the middle of the night, you've claimed these things have failed, of course they haven't failed. Well after 30 years you would think you blokes would realise that there was something serious going on out here. They’re pioneering species that are in there to do a job. Surely if you're a geomorphologist of any real character you'd take the trouble to look.
(End of Excerpt)
DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: There’s a lot of opposition in mainstream geomorphological, riverine rehabilitation science to what Peter is talking about, or is it, I think, more often an objection to the way Peter operates? But there’s tension. There’s jealousies, Peter, if he holds a field day, can attract a hillside of people. If many geomorphologists hold a field day, often to address a similar thing, they’re lucky if they get a ute full of people.
ANNE ANDREWS, FORMER WIFE: And he certainly sees a lot of the country. He’ll come back and be quite frustrated about – he’ll say "Oh, I’ve just seen such and such a part of the country and it’s just dreadful. It’s just so bad there" and really concerned about it.
PETER ANDREWS: Mad. Absolutely. … I don’t know why we don’t, I’m happy to get out there and give it a real burst and show you that exactly what all this means and how this kind of stupidity took this country from where it was 60,000 years ago to where it is today.
STUART ANDREWS, SON: Our neighbour was burning sections of the creek because he had some dry weeds and things growing there. He’s probably grown up, if there’s a problem there, burn it, get rid of it. And that’s his, that's all he knows.
PETER ANDREWS: He asked me to fix the creek. I’m saying, "You’re kidding me". Why would I fix a creek that a bloke like you hasn’t got the most elementary common sense as to know how to manage it? And that’s what’s going on all over this country. That’s why I won’t do these things. You teach people, you tell them you turn your back and suddenly they do the dumbest thing that could ever happen.
STUART ANDREWS, SON: If we say, get a flood in the next couple of weeks, then there’s nothing left to help control the flow of the water. Therefore, that’s just how erosion starts.
PETER ANDREWS: If they realized that the environment has one single function, to recycle everything, and as soon as you burn it, it’s gas, it’s gone off, you’ve lost it. It’s all written in this landscape, can be deducted from self-evident truths and these imbeciles are just dismantling it.
STUART ANDREWS, SON: What made it worse is that dad used to own it. The creek portion that this neighbour was burning, it was an eroded gully and dad rehabilitated that and brought it back to being something that was pristine. I can understand why he gets so upset with seeing those things happen and obviously even more so on a farm that he used to own and I’m sure in his heart he would dearly love to own it again.
JOANNE STAR, PARTNER: He means well, he’s a very caring person deep down under. But he’s very passionate about his horses and his environment. He’s very patient with horses - got all the time in the world. When he works with them, it just takes your breath away. But with people if they don’t toe the line just how a horse does, he really goes cranky. He suffers from losing that property a lot. He said to me that there’s a lot of good horses that were worth millions that went to the doggers for nothing, and some of them were generation after generation of breeding that went to the doggers.
It’s always in his mind, but very seldom mentioned, ‘cause it hurts too much. It hurts too much.
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: There are hundreds of thousands of people around the country who can see that what Peter Andrews is doing makes sense to them and they want to get on with the job. Unfortunately there are a few individuals in the bureaucracy and in power who can’t stand him.
PETER ANDREWS: But who's wrong? This place is a wreck and every day we wreck it a bit more and I complain. Why should that make me be the one that's wrong all the time? Alright, I'm prepared to accept that, yeah, I'm abrasive, I'm awful, I'm probably everything, but I'm also telling them the truth. I mean I don't see that if they don't want to listen to what I'm telling them that that should be my fault.
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: But let’s not shoot the messenger. He’s got the message and we’ve got to listen to that and then learn how to manage around that.
PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: Our research has been met favourably by some scientists and it’s also been met unfavourably by other scientists. But I must say that the people who haven’t received our research well, or who think that it’s not correct haven’t really come forward and debated this. It’s been very much just discussed in the background. We’re pushing to deliver our final report later this year to the Federal Government. Ultimately the State and Federal Governments really were asking the question, does it work, is there credibility to what Peter Andrews is saying and can it be used elsewhere? Peter Andrews certainly has credibility behind some of his ideas from a scientific perspective. And most definitely from our analysis, this can work in other parts of the country.
TONY COOTE, ‘MULLOON CREEK NATURAL FARMS’: He’s not necessarily the total panacea. He has particular skills and he has a lot of weaknesses as well. There are other people that need to be involved in the team to do this rehabilitation, but he certainly is a critical contributor to what needs to be done.
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: The Prime Minister has got to say, "Listen, this is something that’s of a national significance and as such, we will put the resources into it and make something happen." And for that to happen you’ve got to overrule all these authorities. And that’s fine for the Catchment Management Authority or the fisheries or whichever authority we’re talking about because, "Oh, that’s been taken out of our hands. We’re not responsible anymore." So they can let it happen.
(Excerpt of footage of Peter Andrews, Major General Michael Jeffery and Gerry Harvey walking around a property)
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: And there's not an ounce of fertiliser or chemicals or anything else.
PETER ANDREWS: No you didn't need anything and that's the oldest secret.
(End of Excerpt)
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: The bureaucrats in Canberra can’t believe he’s coming back again. This time not only with some of the wealthiest people in Australia supporting him, but the former Governor-General.
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: That's a really good result isn't it?
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: Oh it's a magnificent result.
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: And again you've built the pond, and you've stepped it down.
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: I mean in a few years time we might get that another two years higher.
PETER ANDREWS: Well in actual fact it's just that this was covered with reeds, and we've had a couple of recently hard floods and they've just pushed them down, but they'll grow back when the warm weather comes, they'll grow back and this will close off again.
(End of Excerpt)
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: I’ve always been very interested in rural Australia, outback Australia from the time I was born in the desert and then when I was Governor and Governor General I did a lot of travelling throughout the country, so I’d seen farming conditions of every type, and every shape and every condition.
PETER ANDREWS: Something like seven times water can be recovered and recycled you know, between rain events. Now we're probably getting almost none.
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: And that's what we've got to do to this country.
PETER ANDREWS: Absolutely.
(End of Excerpt)
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: Of our 500 million hectares or thereabouts of land under some form of agricultural development, we’ve got about 370 million of those hectares that are degraded in some form. Patently we haven’t yet struck the right solution, and I think Peter’s got it in part with his holistic approach to looking at Australia as a total environment. And I don’t say necessarily applicable to every square inch in the country, but by gee, if it’s applicable to 50 per cent or 60 or 70 per cent, what a difference that would make. The first thing is to have done the reconnaissance and that’s what I spent the last three months or so doing, visiting properties right around Australia, talking with scientists, talking with Catchment Management Authorities, talking with politicians, talking with permanent heads of departments.
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: A couple of weeks ago, Michael Jeffrey organised some of the most powerful bureaucrats in the country to visit Peter at ‘Tarwyn Park’. It was amazing. Everything was just run by military precision. He's passionate, absolutely as passionate as Peter about the survival of our landscape. He doesn't have to be doing this - he's retired. He told me that he's never been busier and, when you take Peter Andrews on, I can guarantee you, you will be busy for the rest of your life.
PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: But he’s the farmer that had a vision and he’s the farmer that had no, he had no stop button. He would just go and go until he realised that vision.
GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: When he said to me the Saudis are talking about me greening the desert, I said, "You’ve got to be kidding", you know. But they were serious. I said, "Can you cure the, can you green the desert - the Sahara Desert?" He said, "Well I’ll give it a go. I can do certain things that might help or get the process going." And the Sahara Desert, to green the Sahara Desert? I think we’ll stay with a few little problems in Australia first.
JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV DUBBO: International financiers and I've talked to them, I've done a story on them they want to take Peter over to Saudi Arabia and green the Sahara desert. That's how confident they are that his ideas work, and he's confident because he said if he goes over there, they've given him the undertaking that he can use any plants he wants or any measures he wants, as long as he fixes things. They just want it to work and yet here, he's held up by so many regulations. In his own country he's not allowed to fix it and that is enormously annoying to him.
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL JEFFREYS, FMR GOVERNER-GENERAL: I think we’ll see it happen successfully in his lifetime. I’m sure of that. When he passes on, as we all eventually do, I think he’ll pass on a very happy man because he will have done one of the really, really great things for this country, and that’s why I’m keen to help him along for heck or high water.
PETER ANDREWS: There’s a big chance that if I’m not able to continue, that Stuart’s boys are very keen, they're always wanting me to take them on landscape walks, and you know Olivia and Archie, they’re into it all the time. And so there’s a lot of people who probably can fill my gap, maybe better than me, because they probably get on with people a bit better than I do. So you know that’s my, that’s been my, I suppose my record, my legacy to say that if I don't do it, there’s probably people who still will be able to.
‘Australian Story’ approached a number of Peter Andrews’ critics to be interviewed for tonight’s program but all declined.
Maj. Gen. Michael Jeffery is now suggesting the urgent establishment of an independent task force to deal with what he calls the ’land care emergency’.
He says sites should be set up around the country to openly test the initiatives of Peter Andrews and other interested groups.