Australia's dramatic water shortage, and New Zealand gears up for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
A 3,000-litre beige plastic rainwater tank is neither the prettiest nor the most discreet of garden features but that doesn’t bother Sean Hegarty. His water-collecting device in the front yard of his Melbourne home advertises his water credentials to passers-by. “When people can see it they don’t abuse you for washing your car or watering the garden,” he says.
Melbourne has been hit hard by drought (at winter’s end its water reserves were 37 per cent capacity – 9 per cent below the same time last year), but all big cities on Australia’s eastern seaboard are entering summer with severe water restrictions in place. Worst hit is Brisbane where public debate rages around the inevitability of drinking treated effluent if things get worse. The city is parched; its parks brown, its lawns dead.
Brisbane stockbroker Simon Reed – “sick of carrying buckets around” – has just moved his family to the small inland town of Armidale, between Brisbane and Sydney. He still works for ABN AMRO via the net, but on the temperate New England Tablelands he lets his children play – without fear of prosecution – under a sprinkler system which irrigates a garden three times bigger than the one he watched wither in Brisbane. Locals say Armidale’s Malpas dam has never fallen below 85 per cent capacity. “I reckon this dry cycle is with us for a while and this will change people’s psyche,” says Reed.
Property analyst Terry Ryder’s consultancy hotspotting.com.au has identified Armidale, as well as Townsville in north Queensland, Darwin in the Northern Territory and Hobart in Tasmania, as towns attracting investors factoring water security into their property search. He coined the phenomenon “oasis change”.
As for Hegarty, he reports 2006-2007 tank sales at the giant hardware retailer Bunnings where he works increasing “multiples and multiples on the previous year”. The most popular models are slimline, hold 2,500 litres and are beige (to match the landscape) or, more optimistically, “mist green”.
Heaven has shifted hemispheres. At least, that’s the way it looks from New Zealand, where religious fanaticism begins and ends on the rugby field. With the final whistle blast fading on the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, New Zealanders have four years to prepare for the bliss of hosting the next global showcase of the game that true believers say is played in heaven. “The game seemed to suit the New Zealand landscape somehow,” muses Bob Luxford, curator of the New Zealand Rugby Museum, of rugby union’s transplantation from England’s manicured turf to farm paddocks Down Under in the 1880s.
Prime Minister Helen Clark herself went to Dublin in 2005 for the bid presentation before the International Rugby Board. Analysts predict that the seventh Rugby World Cup will pump NZ$507m (€270m) into the economy and attract up to 70,000 foreign visitors.
Martin Sneddon, chief executive of the organising body, Rugby New Zealand 2011, has said he expects the tournament to touch all “4 million fans” in New Zealand (population 4.2 million). Schools have been notified by Rugby World Cup minister, Trevor Mallard, that 2011 term times will be shifted so that religious obligations (watching the game) don’t clash with state requirements (attending classes).
There’s been unseemly squabbling between Auckland’s secular authorities (the Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council) and the priesthood (the New Zealand Rugby Union and its patron, the Clark government) about upgrading the city’s Eden Park or building a more lavish expression of the faith. Funding is still shaky but Scaffold Stadium, as some wits call Eden Park, is pushing on with a NZ$190m (€101m) refurbishment to increase capacity to 60,000, and is the expected venue for the semi-finals and final.
Where do you turn to first for news? At home over breakfast while I’m getting my family ready for the day, I read the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. Between them they set the day’s agenda for NSW. I listen to the ABC’s metropolitan radio station 702 for news updates, rather than turn on TV.
And at the office? I scan the national dailies, The Australian and the Australian Financial Review. A media monitoring service sends through clips from the regional papers, which my media advisor filters for relevance, as he does headlines on the BBC and the American Public Broadcasting Service websites. Time is of the essence.