31 Mar 2009

One in a thousand

My charming neighbour, Barney, is a 'water-witcher'. He tells us that an underground stream runs through the corner of his property and on into ours. He tells me that if we drill a muckle big and ugly hole in the back corner of the Native Garden we'll find enough water for our garden for years...or forever...he says. Unfortunately, he can't tell me if the water will be fresh or brackish...

Apparently there is a great subterranean river running through our town. With the ongoing drought, and no water, people have become more willing to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there might just be something in this water-divining business, and they've actually gone ahead and drilled where Barney has told them to. Mostly they've struck water. Sometimes it has been fresh, clear usable water too.

You'll notice that we haven't. Call it my cynical scientific mind, but I have a lot of trouble believing things that can't be explained scientifically (except creation...and anything in the Bible, but that's what faith is, isn't it?).

Reputable geologists, the type I believe without even checking their facts, assure us that there is a great supply of ground water beneath the earth's surface, and that a great aquifer does in fact lie beneath much of our town. Because the water table has not been lowered too much by the over use of this water in the past, useful amounts of it occur in several areas.

So where does this leave Barney?

Well, I think it leaves him in the enviable position of being more likely than most water diviners to 'get it right'. There is more water down there, so it is more likely that he will randomly guess right and find some, wherever it is we drill.

To me, water divining is a superstitious practice based on ignorance. Because we can't see ground water, it becomes something of a mystery. I think it is because ground water is somewhat magical itself, people are more likely to accept the claims of nice people like Barney who say that they have some special gift for finding ground water using a forked stick wound with coat hanger wire. Barney claims that the special magnetic force running through the water makes the wire bend towards it when he stands right above it. Umm...magnetic water?

Anyway, now that I've got down from my soapbox, let's get back to living books in general and Jan Ormerod's Water Witcher specifically.

Dougie's grandfather had the rare and mysterious gift of water witching. It's a drought and it's the Depression.
Dougie and his sisters can’t remember the last time it rained. The rainwater tanks are empty, and the creek is just a string of muddy pools. They can see the tracks of animals that come seeking water.

Each day Dad and Dougie cart water from Last Stop Well, an hour down the track. They haul the water up bucket by bucket to fill the tank on the dray, then bump back over the ruts, making clouds of dust. The crops are brown and crisp in the sun.
Dougie wishes he were a water witcher — then they would have a well of their own, always full of water. So Dougie teaches himself the art of water divining. His sisters tease him. Even his mother doubts, but despite it all, Dougie keeps on trying:
It has to do whatever it does, no matter what I'm thinking about.
Eventually, of course, Dougie does find water. Cool, fresh, clear, abundant, life-giving water.
"You are one in a thousand, son," says Dad proudly.

"You are a water witcher, just like your grandfather."
Water Witcher brings rural Australia to life. We really see what it was like to live in Australia during that incredibly hard time in our history. That's what a true living book does, and Jan Ormerod does it incredibly well in this book.

Whether you explain to your kids that water witching is just a superstition, or whether you allow it to stand as a cute story in itself will be up to individual families. I did explain to Jemimah that we didn't believe it was true, and it didn't prevent her enjoying the book.

On the other hand, she's seen Barney in action...


  1. Sounds like a wonderful book. The picture reminds me how cute it is that kids in Australia or Britain at the beech always seem to have on hats. You see that with babies here, but not much beyond that unless it's a Day Camp or something that requires them. Sunscreen is probably OVERUSED by middle--upper classes--the kids look like death! No tan at all..... Cultural differences....
    Loved the story on the Periodic Table!!

  2. LOL! Kids in Australia have hats on all the time - not just at the beach!!

    And sunscreen, and a rash top!

  3. My grandfather used to have metal wire rods he used for finding water. I was surprised that there was even occultism attached to it and called to ask my mother.

    She said she remembers people requesting his help often, especially the utility company in town as their maps were somehow off. He wasn't as colorful as Barney sounds - I do wish I could ask him about it.

    Oh, I'm reading "Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel. There is definitely more scientific evidence for creation in that book than you can shake a stick at!

  4. Hi Richele,

    I hope I haven't offended you by this post. I don't think divining is Satanic - although having googled it just now it appears that many people do!!

    My aunt was quite a successful water diviner - as is Barney!! It is just that as a scientist I can't see any reason why it should work, and that makes me a doubter. I certainly don't mean to speak disparagingly about men like your dear dad.

    I'd like to read Lee Stroebel's book. I've long been searching for a book that uses science to disprove evolution, rather than the emotionalism that most authors employ. I don't need convincing about creation, but many people do!!

    Thanks for your support.


  5. Jeanne, I was absolutely and positively not offended. You have a wonderful ability to provoke thought. I was mainly wistful as I could not talk with my grandfather himself about the subject.

    You know, I had always heard those sticks called "divining rods" and had never put two and two together.

    Please do send me your email addy - rbaburina@gmail.com

  6. Hello from a Western Australian eco - biblical -scientist -educator in Wales. Wonderful lovely gorgeous Blog! My very first blog getting into! Not been inspired before. Fifteen year old son is showing me the ropes. Will continue when I have the hang of this. Steffi

  7. Water twitching is a physical event. As both a scientist and a christian I had my doubts at first, which changed to queries as the possible science began to reveal itself. One day about 6 years ago, while my knowledge in this area of quantum physics was still in its infancy, something mundane happened that shocked me into realising that this is all kosher plain 'ol creation. I was taking my young son and friends for a trip into the countryside just outside London where we were living at the time. We found ourselves at a huge artificial water reservoir lake managed by a big water company. They had a little modern visitors centre with a small museum with lots of educational interactions for kids et al. One of them was a bunch of metal water twitchers in a stand, looking like straightened coat-hangers. Written instructions were given on how to hold the twitcher and have a go at divining the path of an underground stream that ran under the centre. There was not a New Age nuance in sight. This was just educating straight science. Everyone had a go and everyone found the stream quite easily - all identical. Soon as you hit the stream the metal twitched!
    Once I'd cleared my head of the idea water twitching was superstitious or demonic in some way, the practicality and the science began to become clearer. No its not appropriate to define this is terms of magnetism, but vaguely in terms of subatomic ionic action. By the way, my son was learning about this chemistry recently in his online studies with a Christian school. We oldies and the general public need to get educated fast so that we can stop making christianity look foolish when we talk of things like water twitching as superstitious or demonic! So .. I am inspired to up the pace with the quantum physics workshops I take into schools and the community. And give the wonderful creativity and sensibility of water twitching back to our wonderful Creator!
    But there's the other side of water twitching. Christians are not the only ones fooled into thinking water twitching is not of God's creation and instead belongs to mysterious forces etc. I have a lovely New Age friend who used water twitching one winter to divine a water tap that was lost in the grass. For some time she has been travelling miles and spending a small fortune on classes for learning water twitching! She has clearly been led to believe that water twitching is a mysterious event with an esoteric and spiritual element. She kindly offered me to have a go and I had no problems finding the buried water pipes with her. No, I did not preach to her to correct her wrong thinking. That would be unkind at this stage. Better that she comes into a personal relationship with God and then she can appreciate the skill she has as God's creativity.
    I cannot put the science down here. But I am inspired by your blog to create something similar to Jan Ormoronds beautiful book. Hope this means you can enjoy her book even more. So good to know there is another arty scientist mum out there with a passion for children's books too. Do you also write them? And illustrate? When can you bring the family to Wales? What is your area of science? How do I get the info re evolution etc to you? I also hate rhetoric and just love the physical facts. Maybe I should make a blog! Haven't the foggiest about what to do but son will sort me out no doubt. Cheers in Jesus.


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