‘Where would we be without water?’

I grew up in the driest state on the driest continent in the world. My childhood was full of drought warnings, water restrictions and murky brown bath water pumped all the way from the River Murray.
Anyone with a television in South Australia in the 1970s will remember the TV jingle about saving water. Even before the ‘Splish Splosh Splash’ campaign, a dad and his daughters – Belinda and Sarah – warned us about the dangers of trying to live without water. It was catchy and quirky, but the message got through. ‘Don’t waste water this summer.’

Today there are reservoirs all over our dusty state: at Mount Bold, Tod River, and Beetaloo to name a few, but I still feel a strong surge of guilt if I leave a tap running or fill a (rare) bath to the brim.

Our nearest reservoir is about twenty kilometres up the road at Myponga. The valley, once known as ‘Lovely Valley,’ was flooded in 1962. It is now the main source of filtered water for the southern metropolitan area and the southern coast. Fed by the Myponga River, the reservoir covers an area of 2.8 km² with a total capacity of 26.8 million m³. At the eastern end, the tiny township of Myponga clusters close to the shore. At the western end, a narrow road skims across the weir, high above the gorge created by Myponga Creek – river seems overly generous – and winds steeply to the top of the hill. Here I regularly park the car and gaze out at the glorious view over the dam to the east, the sea to the west, particularly at the moment, when the reservoir is full to the brim, and lapping at the rim of the forest.

The valley was first settled in the 1840s. Today, two old roads and the original Lovely Valley schoolhouse lie below the calm waters of the reservoir, where ducks and moorhens now bob gently, and bullfrogs croak noisily among the reeds, desperate for love. And long before the Europeans, the Kaurna people roamed this region, along the eastern shore of St Vincent’s Gulf from Cape Jervis as far north as Port Wakefield.

The Myponga dam was opened to the public only last year, and a 5.2km trail has been set up along the southern edge of the water. Walk, run, cycle or skip, it’s an easy stroll, with viewing platforms over the water and picnic tables on the hill. Earlier this year, the reservoir was stocked with more than 90,000 native fish, and for the keen fisherman (or woman) it is possible to fish from the shore, providing you are in the zone and have the requisite permit from www.reservoirs.sa.gov.au. Seven other reservoirs around the state are now open to the public, with more in the pipeline, and many of them have been stocked with fish, too. Unfortunately, it isn’t a place you can take the dogs, as they may disturb the wildlife, but your kids are more than welcome. And it has proved the perfect place for a post-prandial, Sunday stroll.

This week, at the beginning of spring, the landscape is a lush green, although it won’t be long before it has become sunburned stubble, dry and yellow. The paddocks are scattered with mobs of kangaroos: a handful of huge, heavy, square-snouted males, watching possessively over their harems; the smaller, more delicate females whose capacious pouches bulge with growing joeys, back legs protruding awkwardly, or tiny ears poking out of those deep, cosy pockets.

Down by the creek, dark purple grape hyacinths have blossomed in the swampy earth, the wattle is already fading along the banks of the reservoir, and the quiet pine plantations are soft underfoot, littered with a thick, shag-pile carpet of needles. Up on the hillside, a stand of eucalyptus is teeming with parrots – galahs, rosellas and lorikeets, corellas and cockatoos – flashing their paint palette colours as they dive and weave through the sunlit sky. For the keen bird watcher, there are apparently some 120 bird species in the area, so don’t forget your camera. There is also a toilet block half-way round the circuit for emergencies, and a craft beer waiting at the end of the trail.

‘The Smiling Samoyed’ is a family owned boutique brewery behind the old market building in Myponga. It opened in 2012 ‘after a home brewing hobby got out of control,’ and is named for the owners’ thickly coated, snowy-white dogs who feature prominently on the labels. The beer is made and bottled on site, and we found a table overlooking the reservoir, with a view of the brewing tanks through the window behind us. The restaurant, bar and brewery are contained in a vast, rustic, corrugated iron shed, with a playground outside to keep the kids amused, and a wood-fire pizza oven to provide for the peckish.

Now, I’m generally not the person to ask about beers. Pouring countless beers for punters in the front bar of a local hotel for the duration of my student years was enough to put me off for life. Or so I thought. But the One & Only assured me that these boutique beers are rather good, and the view across the reservoir was invitingly serene.

So, last weekend, I headed east with a girlfriend, ostensibly for a walk around the reservoir, but with the thought of trying out a beer or two as well. Unfortunately, the rain set in with a vengeance two hundred metres down the track and we had to bolt for cover. Decidedly damp, we cuddled up to a friendly Samoyed who was wandering through the restaurant like a congenial host. Hoppy or Kent, he never told us which, but was otherwise extremely polite, and more than happy to become acquainted and pose for photos.

As the rain shower retreated up the valley, we nibbled on a serve of salt and pepper chicken drumsticks, shared a morsel with Hoppy or Kent, and decided to order a tasting paddle to share. The small shot-sized glasses were the perfect size to introduce an unbeliever to some interesting beers.
In order of appearance, from light to dark, we were presented with a lager, a German style golden ale (Kolsch), a 12 Paws Pale Ale, an Indian Pale Ale and a Dark Ale, complete with tasting notes.

And in fact, it worked out well. We tried them all, but my friend loved the Mudlark Gold lager and the 12 Paws with its strong citrus and passionfruit flavours. I preferred the light Koln beer and, unexpectedly, the dark ale with a definite taste of mocha and Maltesers. The Indian Pale ale, with its strong pine and floral flavours, was not a favourite with either of us, but I’m sure others will delight in it.

As we emptied the bowl of chicken, it had started raining again – so much for our driest of dry states! Sadly, we decided to forego any attempt to walk around the reservoir for now, and headed home for a nap. Well, even a little beer in the middle of the day can make you sleepy…

*With thanks to Google images for the view of the dam.

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