Watermelon plan could spell trouble for iconic Mataranka Hot Springs

Published: October 6, 2023

There are growing fears that a major agricultural development slated for the Northern Territory could threaten the future of Mataranka Hot Springs.

The ABC reports that the Territory Government is in the process of assessing an application to clear just over 450 hectares of land at Roper Plains Station near the iconic hot springs, which are a major drawcard for grey nomads and other tourists.

If approved, it would allow the owners of the station to use the full amount of a lucrative water licence which would have a huge knock-on effect for the springs.

The ABC reports that, since 2016, a forestry company has grown Indian sandalwood trees at the site, but last year the station was put on the market.

It says that, according to clearing application documents, the new owner wants ‘to fully utilise his existing water licence’ to grow watermelons and pumpkins.

The licence would allow 5,800 megalitres of water a year to be extracted from the aquifer – an amount equivalent to 2,300 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Des Barritt, who runs the campground next to the hot springs, told the ABC his livelihood relied on the tourists they drew in.

“If the hot springs stop, then people won’t stop here,” he said. “There’s nothing for them.”

Groundwater expert Matthew Currell, from RMIT, has been researching the aquifers that snake through the Mataranka region.

He told the ABC that 5,800 megalitres was a ‘really significant’ amount of water, and if the licence was used to its full extent it would ‘undoubtedly’ have some level of impact in the hot springs and the Roper River.

“Such a large water licence, so close to these really significant sites, is a real red flag … we have to start thinking seriously about what our priorities are,” he said. “Do we want to make sure we’re protecting these springs and these sites for future generations, or are we more interested in the economic gains that can come from agribusiness and other developments that are steadily creeping into this region?”

NT Environment Minister Lauren Moss Moss is expected to make a decision on the land clearing application in the coming weeks.

“We are, I think, well-advanced in terms of our understanding of a number of our different aquifers and our water allocation zones,” she told the ABC. “And we’ll be making decisions based on the evidence before us.”

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Do I have fond memorys of the springs: Yes of course I do, I don’t know anyone who’s been out that way who doesn’t. I’ll be stopping there again next year. When I was there last, the place was chockers with O.S. and Aussie tourists and the hot springs were the no1 draw card.

Such happy memories of swimming in Mataranka springs – just beautiful

For ‘water melons’ surely this is a joke!!

I have stayed at Mataranka springs a few times and to have a greedy developer take all the water is wrong. Leave that place alone. It is such a special place and a welcome break for travellers. HANDS OFF!! If the water goes so will the tourists. No No No

Another case of one Company’s GREED vs the beloved environment of ALL Australians!
Both Mataranka and Bitter Springs are iconic destinations for visitors to NT, enhanced by the sites nearby of both graveyard and homestead springing from another iconic classic : “We of the Never Never”.
It’s not just we GNs who enjoy these sites… it’s also our overseas guests plus the warm and friendly parents and children of NT.
Wake up, desk-bound NT Beaurocrats and take your snorkel to Bitter Springs… the experience beats a ton of bloody watermelons!

When ever we pass through we always stop for a swim in the hot springs. It would be a shame to have it messed up because of a water hungry crop.

No doubt the owners paid good money for the water licence and therefore entitled to use that water. It is like saying to someone who purchased a vehicle to do several laps around our country and then being told that they can could do only 5000km each year. Go the watermellon farmers and everyone else that is willing to try and make a living in agriculture.

I would agree with you except the body making the decision is also one receiving the money from the water licenses.

Bitter springs is one of my favourite places to visit! Such a beautiful natural oasis in the hot dry environment.
Would be interesting to find out if buyer was an Australian company or Foreign owned!

We always stop here for a few days on our travels and love it especially when we go at dusk for a swim when the crowds have gone and then to watch the stars come out. Love Bitter Springs too. Last year our daughter and 2 grandsons joined us and it was one of their highlights in the NT.

Water melon water.dramatic headline, story lacks details to be fair. Is the water being extracted up stream or down stream from popular areas. What percentage of flow does it represent? How much water is currently be used? Don’t get me wrong I love the place, been there a number of times and would hate to see it negatively effected.

4 of us stayed at the Mataranka hot springs caravan park for 8 days in August 23. For 2 of us it was a third revisit and a major reason to visit N.T., as well as being the perfect place to rest up for a week after long distance travels.

The whole Mataranka area was packed with visitors who would have spent much more more in this area in that time than a single farm would return return to the N.T. economy in a year. It would be economic and environmental suicide for the Territory to jeopardise this natural attraction, which will continue to bring tourism and enjoyment for future generations – for one land owner’s benefit?

This proposal doesn’t compare in economic terms, and threatens this amazing natural attraction for all future generations to enjoy, and spend their money in the region.

We have stopped there every year for the last 15 years except the Covid year on our travels from Victoria to Darwin. We always look forward going to the Springs. It’s time these licenses are not handed out willy nilly for the sake of the greedy water melon and pumpkin farms.
No need to grow water melon or pumpkin in the Mataranka area, as there is 14,000 hectares of irrigated farm land existing at the Ord River innthe Kimberly’s WA being used for a variety of agricultural crops including maize, cotton, mango, citrus, watermelon, rockmelons, pumpkin, chickpeas, sandalwood and chia, and that is only in stage one.

A most beautiful place and a draw card for tourist and GN.We have been there several times and it would be a crying shame to have it spoiled. I know that farming is necessary but lets see what the government come up with surely there is a compromise here that would save the springs.

Absolutely beautiful serene springs, it would be a travesty to ruin this unique place. Why can’t these places be left alone.

Food for thought and without it we cannot survive but believe there would be other locations that would be suitable.

We need to save places like Mataranka hot springs

Yet another case of issuing licenses of such magnitude without understanding the sustainability of these aquifers. How many other landholders hold licenses in the area? What are the ramifications if they all decide to utilize their licenses in future? Typical of governments bungling water allocations all over Australia. Look at the mess created with the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

A quick Google search tells me that a Chinese investment company has bought two Watermelon farms in the Mataranka Region. Not for one minute suggesting that the one next door to the hot springs is Chinese Owned but yeah it’s so disappointing.

Is it a Chinese company doing this.

We’ve been to the Springs a number of times. The loss of the Springs would be devastating, not only to people who enjoy them, but also the wildlife in the area. We have also walked many k‘s along the Roper River, the vegetation and wildlife is beautiful. Surely this can’t be allowed, it would have a huge impact on the river.

It’s All About The $$$$ That Matter!. They don’t give a raspberry about the environment or anybody else, and thats why the world is in the dangerous position it’s in…

I have heard that there are 30 pivot irrigators on order and will be broadacre crops as well as melons using the water.
He has the right to do this so I don’t know how he can be stopped.
Maybe NT Agriculture will look at it again?

A similar venture was tried in the now infamous water melon enterprise adjacent to the black mountain area en route to Cooktown, Qld., some 20 odd years ago. The whole shebang was decimated in one night by a wild pig raid. There is an abundance of similar animals in the Mataranka area, so good luck with crop insurance!

The continued failure of governments to manage water rights has come back to bite every Australian, The fact that each property has certain water rights, the problem is these rights can and do get used anywhere the owner wishes, so the water can be taken from any area other than the property they were bought with, so multinational companies can buy a property on the Murry and not use the rights there but can take them to the NT etc. or anywhere to be used for farming, this is not a good use. Water rights are not fixed to the property they have been allocated to.

How come the government allows this type of water agreement. They need to work something out ASAP before the springs are lost. The springs are a great source of entertainment to many people not only the grey nomads and the attraction of these bring much needed money to many businesses in the town via tourism. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there a few years back and will re-visit in the future.

I am just a Kiwi. But having said that we are in line to win our 4th rubby world rugby cup. But enough boasting. I / we have stopped at Mataranka twice while travelling superb country. It is just a wonderful facility. To think it is to be done away with for the sake of some money is nothing less than catostrophic.

I am a retired lawyer and well used to taking on the “big boys” and the bullies of this world. I would quite happily drag these bastards into the highest court in the land in opposition to this bizzare scheme. If that fails – there is always militant action. These people must be taught that they cannot just push people around to get their own way.


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