Is this the worst address In Australia?
AS HE scans an endless dust bowl of thorns and thistles from his second floor balcony, Ross Leddra can't help but pine for the days of yore.
"Back in the day when there was water, this used to be for the elite," he begins, casting his eyes across the once majestic Menindee Lake.
"Nice house on a lake, 100km from Broken Hill, waterskiing, yabby'ing, golf course up here … mate this was heaven," Ross said.
A few short years ago, this vast outback oasis had teemed with exotic birdlife, plantlife, wildlife, fish, mussels and yabbies. It was the lifeblood of a thriving agricultural hub in nearby Menindee and mining operations in Broken Hill. It also provided clean drinking and bathing for surrounding towns and properties.
Now, for the second time in three years, the lake and several others nearby, are either dry or on their last legs.
Kangaroos and emus are dropping dead of thirst and a mysterious parasite. Local women complain of the stench of "death" coming from their taps. Others have developed serious skin infections and illnesses from bathing and drinking the water.
The Darling River, which relies on water from the lakes, is being devoured by dreaded blue-green algae. The bustling agricultural hub of Menindee is a ghost town full of dilapidated houses, boarded up businesses and rotting vineyards.
Homes and livelihoods have been rendered worthless with no mention of compensation and locals feel like they've been abandoned.
"Every time I read something (about it) the anger comes right up but you just say, 'What can you do?' 'Cos they won't listen to you," said Catherine Cox, 65, as she packed up sandwiches at the Menindee Community Center.
How this once thriving waterway, ecosystem, tourism hotspot and agricultural hub became a dust bowl in the space of a few years is as murky as the current state of the river itself.
At 130 million years old, the Murray-Darling Basin and its many lakes and tributaries are one of the world's great natural features.
Since the 1960s however, numerous dams and weirs have been erected along it to regulate the flow of water downstream and maximise so-called efficiency, resulting in serious controversy and allegations of corruption between farmers and government.
In their natural state the Menindee lakes were what are known as "naturally occurring ephemeral lakes." That means during floods they would fill up before water slowly trickled downstream or evaporated.
During times of drought - as we're in now - the lakes were prone to running low or dry, which is what the government blames the current situation on.
But that doesn't fly with locals who point out that while their outback utopia has been left to perish, big-time cotton irrigators at the head of the Murray-Darling system store billions of litres of what they say is theoretically their water in dams, and produce billions of dollars worth of cotton crops.
"(Water) is supposed to be free but what are we doing?" said Catherine at the community centre. "The cotton people have been allowed to buy it back from people along the river.
"They've obviously got the rights to the water and we haven't and we just gotta let them do what they do, because poor people don't have the money to buy the water."
In the eyes of farmers and workers down here, billions of litres of water meant for the entire Murray-Darling Basin are being siphoned off by big business interests who - they claim - have paid to have bureaucrats and politicians in their back pocket.
John Williamson even wrote a song about it.
"Can you imagine water up to your front step? Speed boats, jet skis, grandkids running around, people sitting here on the beers - all gone 'cos of these greedy c**ts," Ross said.
That perception has only been reinforced over the last 12 months, first by a Four Cornersinvestigation into water theft along the Murray-Darling. Second by a CSIRO admission that their scientists were swayed by "political pressure" and "intellectual suppression" into skewing the outcome of a crucial report into the river system.
"This act of intellectual suppression was the outcome of scientists succumbing to the temptation of advocacy for environmental flows, the CSIRO wrote in April.
"In the end the clear contradictions between the published evidence and the advocated interpretation has diminished credibility in the science behind the Basin Plan and acted to fuel discontent in those affected by water reallocations."
Most recently, the Commonwealth Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) attempted to prevent their employees from giving evidence at an ongoing South Australian Royal Commission into water management along the Murray-Darling.
Anger is now at fever pitch around Menindee.
"We've really gotta get to the people in the cities and say do you understand your food supply is under total strain?" said Rob McBride, patriarch of the Tolarno Sheep Station just south of Menindee.
"We can't feed you if we can't water our stock. Sustainable irrigators on the Murray-Darling and sustainable farmers on Murray-Darling will collapse under this catastrophic destruction of the river system. We can't eat cotton balls!"
For a look at what exactly has become of Menindee, Ross and I go for a whip around town in his red F-150.
Along the way he tells me of his declining fortunes - his freight and storage business is down 40 per cent as are the many businesses he supplies - a fact that seems confirmed after we find one of his employees asleep in a company vehicle on the banks of the Darling.
"Have a look at this bloke would ya. He's getting paid to do that!" said Ross, as he leans on his horn, startling the worker.
Menindee is a dying town, there's no doubt that. Vineyards full of dead grape crops surround the outskirts of town. Dozens of caravans that once housed seasonal workers drip into disrepair. Tourists numbers are down and those that do come, leave disappointed.
"It's a bit sad the water isn't here that we're expecting," said Peter Tunstead, 61, a tourist from Port Macquarie.
Ross can't believe it. He watched paradise dry up in front of his very eyes.
"They're letting millions go 'cos some pricks up north want water. F**k me. This area could be bigger than the lot of em, the lot of em!" he fumed.
"But we don't have the population and we don't have the votes."
News.com.au approached the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Federal Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud MP for comment. The MDBA declined but Mr Littleproud maintained he was "confident the Basin Plan is legal and valid," despite the CSIRO's admission.
He would not comment on the government's decision to prevent employees from testifying at the Royal Commission, pointing to a public statement in which he justifies his decision on the basis "there are sufficient avenues already available for reviews to be undertaken on all aspects of the Water Act 2007 (Cth) (Water Act) and the Basin Plan 2012 (Cth) (Basin Plan)."
- Jed Smith is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twiter @Jed_J_Smith