Steve Posselt, the environmentalist who paddled and dragged his kayak from Brisbane to Adelaide in 2007 to highlight the parlous state of the Murray-Darling river system, is gearing up for another long haul — this time from Brisbane down the coastline to Sydney.
Posselt, a 55-year-old retired civil engineer who spent more than 30 years in the water industry, is making this second epic journey to highlight concerns over the construction of the Traveston Crossing Dam on Queensland’s Mary River — a dam which could endanger the survival of the prehistoric lungfish, which Posselt says outdates the dinosaur.
Now living at Alstonville after moving from Brisbane, the Grafton-born Posselt plans to leave Brisbane on Saturday, October 4, and arrive in Sydney on November 1.
He hopes to present the signatures of thousands of dam opponents — many from members of the Save The Mary River group — to Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, in a bid to stop the dam’s construction.
He describes the effects of the dam’s construction as being ‘the worst thing I have seen in the water industry in my career’.
“It would be much worse than the Franklin River Dam,” he says, referring to the proposal to dam Tasmania’s Franklin River, which was scrapped after massive protests in 1983.
Posselt’s trip down the Darling and Murray rivers to Adelaide involved 2150km of paddling and 1080km of walking. “That gives a good idea of the state of the flow,” he says.
Posselt doesn’t hold back when he describes the state of the Darling. “It’s f…ed!” he says.
“There’s no way it can be fixed.
“We now have to decide which parts of it we want to live and which parts we want to die.
“It’s quite depressing. I’m ashamed to be part of a civilisation that’s done that.
“Almost everyone down the Darling thinks the answer is to dam the Clarence River and divert the water flow.
“My response was that, being born in Grafton, there’s no way I’d let that happen.”
Posselt says the Save The Mary River group is well-organised and there is overwhelming opposition to the Traveston Crossing Dam.
He acknowledges water shortage problems in south-east Queensland, but says the water from Traveston Crossing will not be needed for another 25 years.
The decision to press for a dam on the Mary River is political and not an engineering decision, Posselt said.
“The Queensland Government’s attitude has disgusted me,” he said, adding that the dam would be a major emitter of greenhouse gases and that it could lead to the extinction of the lungfish.
The website Native Fish Australia says the Australian lungfish belongs to ‘a very ancient group Sarcopterygii (fleshy finned fishes). Fossil members of this group have been dated at over 400 million years’.
Similar lungfish fossils found in northern New South Wales have been dated at 100 million years, during the early Cretaceous Period, making this species a member of the oldest extant vertebrate genus, the website says.
“It was originally thought that this group of fishes were direct ancestors of amphibians, but now it is recognised that amphibians and lungfishes share a common ancestor. Nevertheless, lungfishes evolved early in the history of vertebrates and do provide at least a small window into the distant past,” it said.
Posselt says: “The lungfish lives for 100 years and is found nowhere else in the world. The Mary is its last full natural habitat.
“I think that once people understand, it (the dam) won’t happen.
“It (extinction of the lungfish) will shame Australia.”
Posselt will have one simple message if and when he gets to meet Peter Garrett: “Extinction is forever.”
NOTE: Steve Posselt expects to make landfall in Ballina around October 10 or 11.
About Steve Posselt:
The Grafton-born Posselt now lives in Alstonville.
He graduated as a civil engineer in 1971 and worked until recently in the water industry.
His career took him on an 18-month stint to Libya, and he lived in Queensland from 1979 until this year.
“I used to build sewage treatment plants. That was my forte,” he said.
In 1985 he became a director of a water-supply equipment company. “I bailed out of that in 1994 and bought into Valveflow Engineering,” he said.
“I sold that in 1998 and started Watergates company in 1999, then sold that to do the Darling River trip.”
That trip down the Darling almost didn’t happen. A motorcycle accident in Central Australia in 2006 left him fighting for his life. His recovery from that is indicative of his fighting spirit.
He had always been passionate about water, but Tim Flannery’s book, The Weather Makers, convinced Posselt of the urgency of the threat of climate change and of the need to raise awareness.
“I started to think that climate change is serious and that we need to phase out fossil fuels,” he says.
He was a surfer in his younger years until he came to the realisation 20 years ago that ‘you need to do it every day’ to stay fit enough to surf. Hence the change to a kayak.
He warmed up for the coming Brisbane-Sydney paddle by this year paddling up the Brisbane River, dragging the kayak over the Conondale Ranges, paddling the length of the Mary River and returning to Brisbane via the ocean. In less than a year he covered more than 4000km.
He’s hoping for a north-easterly wind on his trip, in which he will have a back-up vehicle driven by John Schulstad, a Woodburn-born man who is now retired in Perth.
He plans to hug the coastline, but if there’s a big swell, he’ll ‘hug the coastline a bit wider’.
Once he gets to Forster on the mid North Coast, he’ll ‘lake-hop’ through a series of inland waterways until he gets to Sydney.
Once the journey is over, he’ll return to Alstonville (by road).
“I’ve always hankered to live here,” he says. “This place is fantastic.”
On his return he’ll continue his fight to save the Mary River, and also has another ‘enemy of the land’ in his sights.
“I’m gonna get rid of those camphor laurels,” he says, pointing to the trees on his property which have been declared a weed in parts of Australia.
About the Traveston Crossing Dam
The argument for:
The Queensland Government says the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam will be located 16km south of Gympie in the Mary River catchment.
Covering approximately 9800 hectares at full capacity, it will be the second largest dam (after Wivenhoe Dam) servicing the State’s south-east.
The first stage of the dam will be constructed by the end of 2011, with the second stage to be completed by 2035, if required.
At the completion of stage one, the Traveston Crossing Dam will deliver an additional 70,000 megalitres of water a year.
The argument against:
Steve Posselt says the Traveston Crossing dam will obliterate lungfish breeding grounds. “This creature is much older than the dinosaurs and it only lives in south-east Queensland, with the Mary River breeding grounds being fundamental to its viability,” he said.
Paul Marshall, a Greens candidate for Gympie in the 2006 Queensland State election, said during campaigning: “The proposed Traveston Crossing dam would tear apart the social and economic fabric of the Mary Valley communities, including Gympie.
“It would drown some of Queensland’s best farming land under a huge, but very shallow, lake that would soon become choked with water weeds.
“It would drown key breeding habitat areas for the endangered Mary River cod and the threatened Queensland Lungfish.
“Downstream effects would be felt as far away as the Great Sandy Straits and Fraser Island.
“The disruption to normal environmental flows would have a huge impact on fish and prawn spawning and would devastate the recreational and commercial fishing industries.”