Between one appointment and the next – all the descendants of Ticino emigrants to Australia want to meet the journalist from Switzerland! – I take time out to visit the town of Ballarat (Victoria). I decide to miss out on the Victorian buildings in the town centre, dating from gold-rush times, and relax on the shores of Lake Wendouree. But, on arrival, I am dumbstruck: what has become of the lake?
A boy tidying the yacht club store-room, explains that normally the water is two metres deep. But for the last couple of years, the lake has barely survived the (southern) summer and those who have rented moorings along the jetty are having second thoughts about their investment. A change (of course) brought about by climate change.
Steve Moneghetti, an iconic Australian marathon runner with roots in Ticino, is very familiar with Lake Wendouree. In the days when he was competing in marathons all over the world, he would train on the path beside the lake. He won so many trophies and such prestige that the town of Ballarat named the running track after him. With the lake now dry, the circuit is a lot shorter.
After exporting yellow gold in abundance, Australian now finds itself short of the blue variety. The driest states are importing water from the wettest areas. Desalination plants are springing up along the coast. Brisbane has decided to recycle its own sewerage. And when there is no water, forest fires rage unopposed, as February’s disaster demonstrated.
Ian Tinetti, another Australian with Swiss roots, has no fear of drought. On his plot of land at Hepburn Springs, 50 or so kilometres from Ballarat, where he has been proudly manufacturing cricket bats all his life, he has solved the water problem using techniques handed down by his ancestors: hooking up storage cisterns. “My cricket pitch is always green and, if a fire breaks out, I am ready for action”.