At Easter time there’s usually just one commodity that concerns most of us and, no … it is not chocolate.
Irrespective of faith, come the holiday you can be sure one thing will have risen again and that’s petrol prices.
For a few weeks petrol retailers have been rolling back the barrel and resurrecting old prices – in spite of wholesale rates plunging to a seven-year low, caused by a deliberate flood of oil.
The price of Brent crude – the main benchmark for oil prices – has dropped 70 per cent since mid-2014, largely because of games being played by major OPEC nations to try to drive out smaller competitors.
Now, by rights, that should be passed on to consumers at the pump but earlier this month we saw prices inexplicably jump by 30 cents a litre – the highest spike in memory – just in time for the weekend.
Sure it’s the refiners – turning cheaper oil into petrol – who stand to gain the most, but it is impossible not to be deeply cynical about retailers when there’s a staggering 32-cents-a-litre difference at pumps across Melbourne (in the first week of March).
But while the clever bunnies will use apps such as Petrol Spy and GasBuddy in the Easter hunt for cheap fuel, our real concern should be about water.
The current drought had barely caused a ripple in Melbourne until the state government announced it planned to use its insurance policy and order 50 gigalitres of water from the desalination plant at Wonthaggi to top up city water storages, which are now at 64 per cent.
News that the order would add an extra $12 a year to the average city dweller’s water bill had people in a lather.
The rest of the state should be so lucky.
As people heading out of the city on the Easter break will see, much of the country is as parched as it was during the Millennium drought.
To the north and north-west the prevailing colour is beige and the dams are like empty begging bowls crackle-glazed by the sun.
Lake Eppalock, the destination of so many holidaymakers, is once again down to 25 per cent of capacity from overflowing in 2010, while Cairn Curran reservoir, west of Castlemaine, holds 17 per cent and will be dry within months without significant inflows.
Further north some farmers have been carting water for livestock for three years while 10 Mallee towns and farming communities have been completely cut off from the water supply after blue-green algae caused the shutdown of Murray River pumps.
At the time of writing, the town of Sea Lake has enough water left in its reservoir for just four weeks with the town’s 640 residents observing the strictest stage-four water restrictions, which prohibit all outside watering – not that there’s much left to save.
The farmers – who were given the briefest window to try to top-up depleted water storages before the water was cut off – will have to buy water for the sheep that have replaced the withered crops.
“It’s pretty grim,” Dave Walter, proprietor of Sea Lake’s Royal Hotel, says.
Must city expectations and country reality always be a tale of oil and water?