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Basin facts for kids

Murray–Darling Basin is Australia's largest and most iconic river system, and is one of the biggest systems in the world. It covers over a million square kilometres in south-eastern Australia  an area larger than the combined size of France and Germany.

The Basin is home to over 2 million people and covers about 14% of Australia's landmass. It includes a range of diverse landscapes and complex ecosystems, including over 77,000km of rivers and more than 25,000 wetlands. These landscapes are home to at least 35 endangered species of birds, 16 endangered species of mammals and 46 known species of native fish.

The Basin is Australia's most important agricultural region, producing around one-third of the national food supply.

The waterways of the Basin have a long history of management and development, and the health of the Basin and its dependent ecosystems is integral to the future wellbeing of Australia – its people, its economy and its natural environment.

The Morgan-Whyalla Pipeline

On average, the River Murray supplies about 40% of the water needed for South Australian communities – much of this water is delivered through pipelines.

The Morgan–Whyalla pipeline is one of five major pipelines linking the River Murray with the communities of South Australia.

The Port of Echuca

The Port of Echuca is Australia's paddle steamer capital. During the late 1800's, it was Australia's largest inland port.

Today, the Port of Echuca is an authentic working port on the River Murray in Victoria.

The use of rivers for transportation made a major contribution to settlement in the Basin, with paddle steamers reaching as far as Albury, Gundagai and Walgett.

Tauwitchere Barrage and the Murray Mouth

The Tauwitchere Barrage separates fresh and salt water environments of the Lower Lakes and Coorong, near the Murray Mouth in South Australia.

The Barrage is 3658 metres long.

The Tauwitchere Barrage is one of five Barrages, designed to keep seawater out of the lower River Murray and maintain its freshness for drinking.

Locks on the River Murray

There are a number of locks along the course of the River Murray. They help to make the river navigable to boats as they travel up and downstream.

The water on the upstream side of a lock is at a higher elevation than the water on the downstream side; the lock acts like a step or elevator for boats as they travel along the river.

Salt interception schemes

Salt interception schemes are used to remove salt from groundwater. Saline water in the Murray–Darling Basin filters down into underground aquifers and is a problem for agriculture, regional communities and infrastructure.

Salt interception schemes pump saline water from underground aquifers and dispose of the salt by a process of evaporation and crystallisation.

The Snowy Hydro Scheme

The Snowy Hydro Scheme is one of the most complex water and hydro power schemes in the world.

It captures water which would normally flow east to the sea and feeds it into the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. This water is then used to supply water for irrigation downstream.

Purnong, South Australia

Purnong is a small town on the River Murray in South Australia.

The River Murray is the most important water resource in the south-east region of South Australia. On average, it provides about 40% of the water needed for the urban centres of South Australia, although this can be up to 90% in dry years.

Where the rivers meet

The Murray and Darling rivers are two of the major watercourses in the Murray­–Darling Basin.

The two rivers meet at Wentworth, NSW.

Some of the Basin rivers often carry water only during times of flood – for the rest of the time, they may be dry riverbeds or creeks.

Canola in Cunningar, NSW

The Murray–Darling Basin is Australia's most productive agricultural region.

Canola is one of the many crops grown in the Basin and is produced in many areas. It is more reliable than many other oilseed crops and has gained increasing popularity since it was introduced to Australia in the late 1960's.

Melting snow in the Australian Alps

Much of the water that falls in the Snowy Mountains finds its way into the Snowy River.

The Snowy Mountains scheme is the largest hydro-electric scheme in Australia. It diverts water from the east-flowing Snowy River into the Murray–Darling Basin. The Scheme provides electricity and extra water for the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

The Coorong and Murray Mouth

The Murray Mouth is where the River Murray meets the sea. It is the only passageway to the ocean for all of the water that falls in the Basin. Because the journey to the sea is so long, hot, flat and windy, only 4% of the rainfall in the Basin will every find its way to the sea – the rest is diverted en-route for irrigation and agriculture, or evaporated by the sun.

Hume Dam

Hume Dam is named after Hamilton Hume, the first European explorer to navigate the River Murray upstream of Albury.

Hume Dam is jointly managed by the New South Wales and Victorian governments on behalf of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.

Lake Hume, as it is otherwise known, is the major water storage facility of the River Murray.

Lake Victoria, NSW

Lake Victoria, located in south-western New South Wales, is one of the four major water storages on the Murray–Darling River system and is the main water reserve for South Australia.

Aboriginal people have lived on the shores of Lake Victoria over many thousands of years, making it an important cultural heritage site for the Aboriginal community.

Barmah Forest National Park

Barmah-Millewa Forest is the largest river red gum forest in Australia and covers an area larger than 66,000 football fields.

Many threatened native plants and animals make this forest and its wetlands their home.

Spring floods keep river red gums healthy and allow waterbirds to breed and raise their young.

Cotton harvest – Darling Downs

The Darling Downs is a farming region in southern Queensland, on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

Cotton is a popular crop in this region, however many other crops are grown, including grains and vegetables.

Cotton is mostly grown under irrigation and is one of Australia's major agricultural industries.

Dartmouth Dam

Dartmouth Dam is located in north eastern Victoria. It is the largest capacity dam in the state and helps to provide a reliable water supply for downstream farms, industry and communities.

While Dams do not help to increase the total amount of water in the Murray–Darling Basin, they help to provide a reliable water supply when flows are naturally low.

Rice crop, NSW

More than half of the world's population eat rice at least once per day.

Enough rice is grown in Australia to feed almost 20 million people, every day.

Rice is the main irrigated cereal crop grown in the Murray–Darling Basin and is mainly grown in the Riverina region of NSW.

Grain harvest in Jerilderie, NSW

Jerilderie is a small town in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Jerilderie Shire and the neighbouring districts in the Riverina are responsible for the production of a large proportion of Australia's grain.

Over half of Australian grain is produced in the Murray–Darling Basin, much of it by irrigation.

Water primrose

Water primrose is a native aquatic plant that can be found on dams, pools and slow moving streams across the Murray–Darling Basin.

Despite its beautiful flowers, water primrose is considered a weed in many areas and can be a problem in areas with high nutrient levels.

The long stems of the water primrose can pose a problem for irrigation pumps.

Eucalyptus blossoms

Eucalypts are common throughout the Murray–Darling Basin. They are present in almost all Australian environments in one variety or other and play an important role in ecosystem processes.

Unlike many flowers, gum blossoms do not have petals. Gum blossoms produce large amounts of nectar which attracts pollinators and is important for plant reproduction.


Avocados are fruit, which grow on trees. Avocados are most commonly grown in sub-tropical climates in Australia. In response to increasing popularity, however, they are being increasingly grown across the Murray–Darling Basin.

Managing avocado production with limited or variable water supplies can be challenging as they typically need regular, plentiful supplies of water to flourish.

Granny Smith apples

Agriculture is the dominant economic activity in the Murray–Darling Basin.

The Basin is Australia's most important agricultural area and produces over one-third of the national food supply.

Over half of Australian grown apples are produced in the Basin, including this Granny Smith variety. Batlow, in south-east New South Wales is the most well-known apple-producing region in the Basin.


Along with citrus, pome fruits (apples and pears), grapes and vegetables, stone fruit such as nectarines are the most commonly grown horticultural crop in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Nectarines and other stone fruit crops cover a very small proportion of agricultural land in the Basin, with most being grown in irrigated areas.


The Murray–Darling Basin generates over 30% of the national income from that comes from agricultural production.

A large number of different types of vegetables are grown in many parts of the Basin for the domestic market and for export.

The largest individual crop is potatoes, although many other vegetables such as these eggplants are grown in the Basin.

Pistachio nuts

Many tree nuts, including these pistachio nuts, are produced in the Murray–Darling Basin. Other tree nuts produced include almonds, chestnuts and pecans.

The majority of Australia's pistachio nuts are grown in the northern River Murray area.

The pistachio is suitable in semi-arid conditions and has deep-growing roots.

Globe grapes

The Basin is a region of high-value agriculture and supports many different products including red globe grapes.

Because of its association with agriculture, the Basin is commonly referred to as the nation's 'food bowl'.

The Basin is naturally a hot, dry region with high rates of evaporation and slow flowing rivers. Water is supplied from the major rivers via irrigation, to support much of the horticultural industry in many regions in the Basin.


Plums and other stone fruit are grown in the Riverina and southern regions of the Murray–Darling Basin.

Like all stone fruit, plums require a cold winter and sunny position to grow.

Plums often receive water from irrigation and require a reliable water supply throughout the year.
While plum yields have decreased over the last decade, they are an increasingly sought-after fruit for export overseas.

Saltbush flowers

Saltbush is found across arid and semi-arid areas of the Basin.

There are many different varieties of saltbush adapted to dry, saline conditions.

The Murray–Darling Basin naturally has high levels of salt in the landscape as it has been deposited by rainfall over many thousands of years; salt can only naturally leave the Basin when it is carried to the Murray mouth in South Australia. Natural salt levels have been enhanced by land clearing and diverting water for irrigation.


Banksia are a well-known plant group and are common across the Murray–Darling Basin.

Banksia species are used by Aboriginal people as a source of nectar. They are also an important source in the food chain and are a food source for animals including birds, bats, rats, possums, bees and invertebrates.

Most species of Banksia are adapted to regular bushfires and require heat in order to release their seeds and reproduce.

Citrus blossoms

Citrus fruits grown in the Murray–Darling Basin include oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemons.

This flower is from an orange tree. Oranges are the most common citrus fruit grown in the Basin and are predominantly grown in the Riverland, Sunraysia and Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area regions. 95% of Australia's oranges are produced in the Basin.

Broughton peas

The Broughton (or Swamp) pea grows in grasslands and grassy woodlands prone to flooding across the Murray–Darling Basin.

The pea can survive temporary flooding and is well-adapted to the natural cycle of drought and flood typical of the Basin.

Wildflowers such as the Broughton pea play an important role in ecosystem processes in Basin environments.

Craspedia flowers

Commonly known as billybuttons or woolyheads, Craspedia species are found across Australia and New Zealand.
There are 13 species of Craspedia in Australia and many of these grow in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Plants, including the billybutton, are important parts of the natural ecosystem and may provide food and homes for native animals, such as this well camouflaged spider.


The many wildflowers in the Murray–Darling Basin play an important role in ecosystem processes.

Plants play an integral part in the carbon/oxygen cycle, converting carbon dioxide from the air into oxygen (which we need for breathing). They also serve as food sources for many animals, including invertebrates, birds and small mammals.

Wildflowers need water to survive and reproduce and continue to benefit natural ecosystem processes.

Swamp Lilies

The swamp lily grows in slow-moving freshwater ponds, dams and watercourses across many areas in Australia, including regions of the Murray–Darling Basin.

In nutrient-rich water, such as pools containing animals waste or fertilisers, the swamp lily may form large colonies.

Like other native plants, the swamp lily plays an important role in ecosystem processes.

Water hens

Water hens are common across the Basin. There are several types of water hens found in the Basin. Most water hens live in or around wetlands, including swamps, rivers and lakes.

Conserving our precious wetlands is important to allow for birds to feed, reproduce and survive in the long term.


Possums are common throughout the Basin and play an important role in natural ecosystem processes.

Possums typically live in trees in woodlands. Some species, such as the squirrel glider, like to live in hollows as they provide protection against threats such as predators.

While some possums like to live in urban areas such as cities and towns, natural possum populations rely on a healthy environment with plenty of trees in order to survive.


Corellas are among the most playful of wild birds.

They often stay in large flocks and feed on grass seeds, especially along watercourses such as rivers.

Because there is more food available in agricultural areas than in the bush, corellas can become a problem for farmers, particularly when they travel in large flocks.

Cape Barren geese

Waterbirds such as Cape Barren geese typically breed in wetland areas in the Basin. The Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth are the most significant waterbird breeding grounds in the Basin, and are particularly important in times of drought.

Maintaining waterbird diversity is important for ensuring a healthy working system in the long term.


The pelican is one of the most iconic bird species found within the Basin.

Australian pelicans have the longest bill of any known bird and use it to catch fish in waterways.

Australian pelicans are not migratory, but move from place to place depending on the availability of food.


The brolga is one of the stateliest birds found in the Basin and grows up to 140cm tall. As part of its mating ritual, the brolga performs an elaborate dance, involving grass throwing, wing flapping and leaping into the air!

Brolgas like to live in wetlands, grassy plains, mudflats and irrigated areas across the Basin and beyond.

Rainbow lorikeets

Rainbow lorikeets, like other birds in the Murray–Darling Basin, need food and a suitable habitat to survive.

Taking appropriate steps to protect our environment is important if we are to maintain biodiversity into the future. Ensuring that our natural ecosystems survive is important in order to provide a healthy, working Basin for the benefit of all Australians.

Laughing kookaburras

The laughing kookaburra is native across eastern Australia and is a common bird in native bushlands.

The laughing Kookaburra lives in forests, open woodlands, or on the edges of plains. It requires a large variety of food all year round, and a suitable nesting site in order to breed.

Ensuring that our environment receives enough water will enable kookaburras to contribute to biodiversity across the Basin.

Intermediate egrets

The intermediate egret can be found across the wetlands, mudflats and watercourses of the Basin.

Wetlands are of great importance to birds like the intermediate egret, as they provide an abundant source of food and a place to rear their young.

Preserving our wetlands helps to provide a habitat for birdlife.

Little pied cormorants

Little pied cormorants rely on aquatic ecosystems in the Basin, including natural and artificial wetlands and coastal bays. They live on fish and crayfish that they capture from the water.

While the little pied cormorant is found across Australia, colonies within the Basin play an important role in their local environments.


Wombats are an iconic Australian animal.

There are two types of wombat commonly found in the Basin – the bare-nosed and the hairy-nosed wombat.

Wombat numbers across Australia have been decreasing as a result of habitat destruction, droughts, disease, competition with other animals and other threats.

Like other animals, wombats rely on a healthy Basin ecosystem to survive.

White-bellied sea-eagles

Despite their name, white-bellied sea-eagles live in both coastal and non-coastal areas across the Basin and beyond.

Interestingly, as the white-bellied sea-eagle grows older, it becomes lighter.

The Basin's many rivers, lakes and reservoirs provide important habitats for the sea-eagle – one of Australia's most spectacular birds of prey.

Jacky Winters

The Jacky Winter or 'post bird' is found across mainland Australia and is common in woodlands and scrub.

These small birds eat insects – invertebrates – and play an important role in natural ecosystem processes.

Providing birds with a natural habitat is important for the long-term health of the Australian environment.

White necked herons

The white necked heron is one of the many waterbirds that call the Basin home. While white necked herons sometimes live in coastal areas, they are often found in farm dams, flooded fields and even roadside ditches.

Farm dams and irrigation systems provide good feeding habitats for the white necked heron; however, herons rely on wetlands and natural flows in rivers in order to breed.


Koalas are one of Australia's most iconic native species and are found in many areas of the Basin. They live in certain types of eucalypt forest and eat gum leaves.

Koalas and other native animals need natural, uncleared bushland in order to survive. Since European settlement, around 80% of Australia's bushland has been cleared; conserving what we have left is of great importance.

Eastern grey kangaroos

The kangaroo is one of the most recognisable of all Australian animals and is found in habitats across the Basin.

Kangaroos, like all animals, need water to survive. Following the end of the millennium drought, kangaroo populations in areas such as the northern Basin grew massively, thanks to plentiful water and food supplies.

Azure kingfishers

The azure kingfisher is a relative of the kookaburra and is one of the smallest kingfisher birds.

Kingfishers prefer dense bushland close to wetlands, lakes and waterways. Their habitat includes creek banks, trees on the edges of swamps, lakes and dams and estuaries.

Farm animals such as cattle and sheep can trample the vegetation around waterholes and can have a detrimental effect on azure kingfisher populations.

Feathertail gliders

Feathertail gliders are the smallest of all gliders. They are found across eastern Australia and live in bushland. They build nests high in tress and use debris, feathers and bark to line their nests.

Like other gliders, feathertails are nocturnal, meaning they are awake and feed at night. This is an important adaptation and it helps them to stay alive in the tough Australian environment.

Earless dragons

There are eight species of earless dragon in Australia – several of them are threatened or endangered.

Earless dragons, along with other animals, are threatened because of the continual pressure on their favourite habitat – grassland. Because their habitat is particularly useful for agriculture and other human needs, very little remains in its natural condition.

Saw shelled turtles

The saw shelled turtle gets its name from the rough, saw-like edges of its shell.

In the Basin, they are found in freshwater aquatic ecosystems in QLD and northern NSW.

Saw shelled turtles are one of the few species that can eat the poisonous cane toad.

While diet and habitat varies between turtle species, they all play an important role in aquatic ecosystem processes across the Basin.

Tiger snakes

Although many people see venomous snakes such as the tiger snake as unwanted guests, they play an important role in our environment. Predators such as the tiger snake eat introduced species such as mice and rats, as well as a range of small native animals.

Providing enough water for the environment is important for snakes, as well as other animals; tiger snakes prefer to live in well-watered bushland and agricultural areas.

Bearded dragons

Bearded dragons are a type of lizard and are found in many areas across Australia. Some species of bearded dragons thrive in the arid farmland that covers much of the Basin, but like to live in woodlands where plants, food and water can be found.

Reptiles such as bearded dragons play an important role in ecosystem processes and help to keep our environment healthy.

Golden-tailed geckos

The striking spots of the golden-tailed gecko are one its most characteristic features. While there are many different type of gecko in the Basin, the golden-tailed gecko is a threatened species; populations are now confined to areas in the northern Basin and QLD.

Conserving our natural ecosystems is important for the long-term survival of species such as the golden-tailed gecko.

Eastern brown snakes

Brown snakes are widespread across the Basin and beyond. Many species have benefited from the clearing of bushland and the introduction of the house mouse – a plentiful food source for hungry snakes!

While brown snakes may not be the friendliest of creatures, they play a very important role in the foodchain, eating a range of reptiles, mammals and other animals.

Blotched blue tongues

The blue tongue lizard lives in cool forests and woodlands in southern regions of the Basin and beyond to Tasmania.
Blue tongue lizards need lots of protective groundcover, such as shrubs or leaf litter, to guard themselves against potential predators.

Like all other reptiles, blue tongue lizards have 'cold' blood and needs to sunbake in order to gain energy from the sun.

Freshwater crabs

Very little research has been done on freshwater crabs in the Murray–Darling Basin.

As aquatic animals, freshwater crabs are highly dependent on having a reliable and uncontaminated source of water. Ensuring that sufficient water is allowed to flow through the waterways of the Basin will promote healthy ecosystems for aquatic organisms, including freshwater crabs.


Snakes, though sometimes a little scary, play a very important role in our environment. They are needed in their ecosystems to make sure that populations of small animals – such as mice – don't get out of control. They are also an important food source for other animals such as birds of prey.

Corroboree frogs

Corroborree frogs are small, ground dwelling frogs native to the Southern Tablelands in the Basin.

There are two species of corroborree frog – the northern and southern corroborree frog – both of which have declined dramatically over the past thirty years. One species is endangered and the other critically endangered, so they need our help in order to survive into the future.

Barred galaxias

Barred galaxias are small, strikingly coloured fish native to the Murray–Darling Basin. They are an endangered species and are only found in a limited area of the Basin.

Predation by rainbow and brown trout is the major threat to barred galaxias, and populations now only live in streams where trout are absent.

The estuary perch

The estuary perch lives in tidal or estuarine waters (where the river meets the sea), but can travel significant distances upstream.

The major problem for populations of the estuary perch is the decline of river flows as a result of barrage construction, severe drought in previous years and water diversion for irrigation.

The Rendahl's tandan

The Rendahl's tandan is a small catfish. Like all aquatic organisms, the Rendahl's tandan relies on water in the Basin's rivers, streams, dams and wetlands in order to survive. A healthy Basin is important for the long-term success of aquatic animals such as the tandan.

The Murray–Darling rainbowfish

One of the native fish of the Murray–Darling Basin, the rainbowfish is found in slow-flowing rivers, wetlands and billabongs.

The rainbowfish was once widespread across the Basin, but has declined over the years. Redfin and eastern gambusia are  predators that have led to their decline, as is pollution from cold water.

The dwarf flat–headed gudgeon

This small fish rarely grows longer than 4 cm and is native to the rivers of the Basin.

Small fish such as the dwarf flat–headed gudgeon play a very important role in their ecosystem – not only do they serve as a good food source for larger fish and other animals, but they help to keep aquatic invertebrate (insect) populations in-check.

The tench

Along with many other species of fish, the tench is an introduced, or alien fish – it is native to Europe and was introduced to Australia in 1876.

Alien species are one of the most significant threats against populations of native fish in the Basin as they compete for food and habitat.


Several different species of turtle are found across the Murray–Darling Basin, including the eastern snake-necked turtle and the Murray River short-necked turtle.

Turtles rely on a healthy, working Basin in order to survive, and need our help to ensure that the rivers of the Basin are preserved into the future.


The many different species of frogs in the Basin all play a very important role in natural ecosystem processes.

As well as keeping insect and other small animal populations in check, frogs are a food source for a range of other animals.

Frog populations in the Basin and beyond are disappearing at an alarming rate because of factors such as pollution in waterways, surface water drainage, land clearing, and population growth.

Updated: 09 Dec 2019