Tue | May 23, 2017

Fond memories of a dying Cabarita River

Published:Tuesday | May 19, 2015 | 5:00 AM
Hosea Whitelock (right), steers his fishing vessel up the Cabarita River in Westmoreland, while the faces of his colleagues Sefton Gunnes (centre) and Carlton Forrest tell a story of worry and unsightly stench.

The Cabarita River in Big Bridge, Westmoreland, holds many pleasant childhood memories for 65-year-old Hosea Whitelock, who is from one of more than 40 families that comprise the Big Bridge Fishing Group.

"My father and my grandfather fished this river ... . We built our houses from the river," said Whitelock, who is distressed by what dunder from the nearby Frome Sugar Estate has done to the river. "This (fishing) is our job. It pays school fees, buys clothes for the children, pays the light bill, and provides food on the table."

"Look at it now - dead, lifeless. They have wrecked our livelihood," said Whitelock, staring at the river as the mid-afternoon sun bounced off his milk-white hair. "It's a shame. I have been doing this (fishing) all my life and my sons come and are fishing, too, but our lives will not be the same again because of the dunder pollution of the river."

With fishers no longer able to have the huge hauls they once enjoyed from the river, commercial activities in the area are coming to a standstill as large numbers of buyers no longer visit the community.

"This river used to be healthy ... . Fisherfolk were accustomed to catching big fish and selling them to make a decent living," said a reflective Whitelock. "Now, everybody is lamenting. They are losing financially, and the general fear is that the toxic nature of the river will destroy our health also.

"I believe that some of the recent deaths in the area - especially those caused by cancer - bear the telltale signs of being caused by water pollution generated by the dunder flowing into the river," stated Whitelock.

"These chemicals and the dunder which flows into the river have been devastating ... . They kill everything in minutes. We cannot continue to allow these rich people - wherever from - to pollute the place like this. It is us - the poor people - who are feeling it," he added.

SUFFERING FINANCIALLY

Reflecting on the economic fall-off, Whitelock said his son, who is now fishing in the nearby Long Water River, recently made $11,000 selling fish he caught there.

"Whatever he caught at Long Water River would have easily been doubled in a healthy Cabarita River," said Whitelock. "We are suffering financially because of what has happened to the river. "

Despite being on the verge of giving up hope, the residents want Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Wykeham McNeill and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to give the matter some attention.

"We are in danger of losing our way of life because of this dunder situation. The MP, the people at Frome, and NEPA must come to talk to us ... . We are suffering! The situation is altering our heritage as fisherfolk here at Big Bridge," Whitelock told Western Focus.

- P.C.