National Geographic : 1967 Nov
him, against his will, down that mountain to have his foot properly looked after." The town of Bourke appeared as an oasis after all the desperate country we'd flown over. It lay neat and green as a cabbage patch, straddling the Darling River, 300 miles north east of Broken Hill. The river, flowing from a well-watered corner of Queensland, proved a blessing to this drought-surrounded but irri gation-conscious community. We looked down on healthy orange groves and verdant lawns and playing fields and a municipal swimming pool reflecting the blue of the sky. The refreshing isle of 3,350 people 628 indulged in an extravagant display of un- limited sprinklers and garden hoses that streamed like fountains. "Thanks to the river," said Shire Clerk Bob Reynolds, who met us at the airfield, "Bourke has the largest per capita water consumption of any town in New South Wales -up to 720 gallons a day. Care for a beer?" At the pub, men of Bourke drank beer, as Australians have always drunk beer. But the usual lightheartedness was missing; the funny stories didn't flow with the brew. Men spoke of the drought and of little else. "I've lost between 16,000 and 17,000 head," said one grazier whose property carried 40,000 sheep in happier times.