For more than half a century, Cohuna’s Russell Crichton has been a proud food producer.
But for the first time in all those years, he has joined the ever-lengthening list of farmers unable to pay their Goulburn-Murray Water bill.
And this year he won’t be paying his.
Mr Crichton is among an increasing number of landholders flying the Eureka flag as a sign of rebellion on his property and refusing to pay his water rates.
“I believe through no fault of my own, and not due to drought but caused by the continued implementation of the ludicrous Murray-Darling Basin Plan, I can no longer afford to pay my water bill,” Mr Crichton said.
“G-MW's inaction to protect its customer base and inability to denounce the MDBP implementation, along with inflexible tariffs based on historical use, not current use will, inevitably, bankrupt irrigators and your own authority due to both requiring coexistence.”
Mr Crichton said he was watching a once thriving irrigation area wither and die.
“Land prices are dropping, the Gunbower Forest is being destroyed by environmental watering and the community has gone from one with excitement and potential to depression,” he said.
Just down the road at Gunbower, dairy farmer Mick Farrant has also had enough.
“We have had no relief from the Gannawarra Shire or G-MW and we have our backs to the wall, we have been forgotten about and there has been no support from state level,” Mr Farrant said.
He said while he appreciated funding going to mental health, he said all he continued to see was the same dejected farmers looking at dry paddock after dry paddock.
“We have to continue to pay delivery shares for a system we can no longer afford to use because water has become too expensive — other states are getting help but we have been abandoned,” Mr Farrant said.
He said the Eureka flag was a bit of an "up yours" act of defiance because farmers have been thrown to the wolves.
Leitchville dairy farmer Doug Fehring said he was fighting to defend his liberties under the Eureka flag because water has become the new gold.
The Eureka flag represents radicalism and is a symbol of protest. It was flown by gold miners during the Eureka Stockade in 1854 when miners refused to co-operate with unfair government laws.
“Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack have demonstrated abject ignorance to the quiet devastation imposed over the past decade and in particular on Southern Riverina irrigation communities,” Mr Fehring said.
He said lack of leadership, despite numerous meetings, had allowed water to be traded as a commodity for investors to hold food and fibre production to ransom.
“Water is a basic human need now largely controlled by corporate and international investors and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, who correct their own homework of mismanagement and continue to spend billions of taxpayer money with no regard for accountability.”
Mr Fehring is calling for a federal royal commission and requested Gannawarra Shire Council and G-MW take a public stand.
“If you feel strongly enough about the future of your community, I would invite you to consider withholding your payments and fly a Eureka flag in support of the injustice this MDBP has imposed on our community,” he said.
In a letter to Mr Crichton, G-MW said it was committed to supplying a high level of service.
The letter said G-MW was currently investigating his complaint and would be in touch within the next 10 business days.