Eagle takes flight
Neil James Eagle AO
Born: August 20, 1933
Died: June 19, 2022
‘To see the community and regions being prosperous instead of being diminished will always bring me happiness.’ - Neil Eagle OAM
The world lost a beautiful soul with the passing of Neil Eagle, a determined, passionate and knowledgeable man, filled with a drive for a sustainable prosperous basin for all the communities who rely on their land and waterways.
Born in 1933, Neil was the third child of four, born to parents William and Marjorie.
The Eagles were raised on the orange grove on East Barham Rd, where hard work and dedication were instilled watching their father work tirelessly to build the business and shape the Barham community.
Neil’s involvement in water policy started in the early 1960s.
The group that formed was the Murray Valley Water Diverters, which covered from Albury right up to the Menindee system.
From the outset, Neil was the secretary of that organisation, a role that continued for 30 years before becoming chairman, continuing to advocate for sensible water policy and a fair go.
The first real issue that Neil recalled getting involved with was the debate over building Dartmouth Dam or the South Australian proposed Chowilla Dam.
During the process, each state had a veto power under the River Murray Agreement.
Eventually, after six to eight years, an agreement was settled on.
Dartmouth was to be built, and SA would give up on Chowilla.
But it came at a cost - the loss of water being divided equally.
Under the River Murray Agreement, the water resources were divided into thirteenths - three to South Australia, five to New South Wales and five to Victoria.
Neil could never understand how the upper states agreed to South Australia’s terms for the Dartmouth agreement.
They gave up equal rights to the water and put South Australia and their 1,850 gigalitres of entitlement ahead of any allocation to NSW and Victoria.
It was a decision Neil felt really showed itself in the Millennium drought.
Neil’s water career continued, chairing the Lower Murray-Darling River Management board for 11 years.
It was at a time when NSW wrestled with the implementation of carryover, a policy that Neil said carried a lot of angst for district irrigators who were concerned about the taking up of dam space.
Initially, carryover was trialled at what Neil described at a sensible level of 10 per cent.
This implementation was on the basis that as dams spilled, carryover would be lost, and the water would progressively go to allocation.
With the success of the trial, the carryover limit was soon increased to 30 per cent and then later increased again.
Neil described the real devastation of carryover as a fundamental flaw when changes allowed carryover not to be lost on a spill, essentially carrying more rights than someone’s allocation.
We now see this play out as water traders and Australia’s largest irrigator, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, hoard dam space with carryover, limiting the ability for allocation growth, even when the dam is spilling.
These are just a few glimpses of the wealth of knowledge and integrity Neil carried in the core of his being.
He is simply irreplaceable, he exemplified everything a leader should be.
I once watched a federal minister treat Neil with such contempt, I surmised the treatment must be the only recourse today’s ‘leaders’ have when faced with real substance.
All I know is that the fields and rivers of heaven will have never looked so good with their new angel.