Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Water Diviner

Sometimes known as dowsing, the art of locating underground water with the aid of a divining rod has been subjected to scepticism, disbelief and often ridicule over the years. I listened a few years ago to some scathing Melbourne shock-jock enjoy himself on the airwaves, ridiculing the art, until I realised that someone must have accidentally bumped the dial off the ABC and then I got rid of him.
But I can understand people being sceptical. The process requires a person to walk across the ground with a divining rod - sticks or wire - until the rod of its own accord pulls unmistakably downwards, giving a clue to the diviner that there should be water in that place somewhere below ground.

My Dad was a water diviner though as far as I can remember he never said the words. It was just something he did. We lived out in the country with a bank of willow trees growing down past the back stairs. (It was under these willow trees that beloved cats would be buried when their time had come and where I would weep and wail and lay flowers for weeks on end until someone inevitably found me another.)

But the first my mother would know about Dad's next assignment (he never took, nor was offered, money) was when he would come up the steps stripping bark off a forked willow stick with his pocket knife. Then the conversation would begin with something like -
'Yeah, old Bluey Traves has got hold of a new bit of land up the back of Chillingham. Wants me to see if it's got water.'

And sometimes, if I pestered long enough, I would be allowed go with him. The stripped willow stick always had a distinctive smell that I couldn't describe now but could certainly recognise. Why it had to be stripped of bark I don't know. So once on Bluey's land Dad would start to walk very slowly, holding the forked stick exactly as above, pacing back and forwards across the acreage until, hopefully—not always—the stick would start to quiver then be pulled down unmistakably towards the earth. After he'd checked and double-checked he would give a nod to the men waiting away at the fence line and some time in the next few days the digging would begin.
The deep freshwater well on our own property back then was found this way shortly after my folks had bought the land but before they'd built the house. Spring water was the prize, supplementing the tank water that might be erratic in both supply and quality - wrigglers and the occasional dead frog notwithstanding.

So I get a bit tetchy with the sceptics. My Dad's water divining services were taken for granted for years. It's just one of the things he was called upon to do. He was the only one I knew in the district but there could have been others. No-one made a fuss, plenty of sources of water were found as new land was bought up around the district.
It was a long time ago and Dad is long since gone. I never heard of any scepticism at the time and if he was present to hear it now he'd just shrug, grin and not waste a word in defence of this old, old art. Which is what I do too.
 I know what I know.


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