SCIENCE can't explain the mysteries of water divining, writes JAMES WAGSTAFF
Clem Holz is no marriage counsellor.
But the 84-year-old Catholic Brother-cum-water diviner reckons he has prevented his fair share of divorces over the years.
All with the help of a trusty stick or two pieces of rusty wire used to track precious underground water.
"I was talking at Rotary one night and one farmer came up to me and said, 'you saved my marriage'. He was as serious as a judge," Brother Clem said.
"I remember his property and I remember the wife had a magnificent flower garden, but they were running out of water. But we found it."
Brother Clem - who's called the St Clements Redemptorist Monastery at Galong, in southern NSW, home for 58 of the past 60 years - discovered he had the gift of water divining when his uncle "handed me a wire when I was 18".
"My father couldn't do it, my one and only brother was unable to do it," he said.
"But I just found I could do it."
In the early years, Brother Clem, who grew up on a dairy farm at Singleton in the Hunter Valley in NSW, managed to squeeze in a few water-divining jobs a year while running the dairy, poultry and piggery attached to the monastery's 810ha farm.
The farm is now let and the monastery has become a retreat centre. Only four priests and two brothers remain, but there are "a lot of people coming and going", including two Josephite nuns.
"Up until the big drought from 2000 to 2010 I might have done three or four water divining jobs a year locally," Brother Clem said. "When the drought came I started doing a few around and then the phone wouldn't stop ringing.
"For 10 years, I didn't go looking for it, they came to me." Jobs came from across the whole of NSW "except for the North Coast".
He reckons he probably didn't charge enough.
"I'd charge $50 for a peg in the ground, but quite often I'd put two pegs in, in case one didn't yield enough water," he said. And while business has slowed with recent good seasons, he's not complaining.
"It just went on for so long, I probably wouldn't have minded if it was only for a few years, but it was sometimes six days a week," he said.
To help guide him to water, Brother Clem's preferred weapon of choice is a weeping willow stick, with a bended piece of wire acting as back-up.
He said the stick had a slight edge over the wire in the reliability stakes.
"On about five occasions in the 10 years of the drought they didn't agree, but I still think there was minerals in the soil that made the wire give a different reading," he said.
"I still think the stick was correct.
"Sometimes the pull can be so strong it will take the bark off a green willow stick."
He admitted water divining had its fair share of sceptics and "had the scientists baffled".
"They can understand the green stick (reacting to the pull of water) but wire?" he said. "If it didn't work for me I probably wouldn't believe it. But it does work."
Brother Clem reckons his success rate is about 80 per cent and admits to making mistakes "occasionally, not very often". "Mostly (when there's a mistake) the water is there, it just mightn't be enough of it," he said.
His best find to date has been in nearby Young where he located a water source that produces 76,000 litres of drinkable water an hour - "that's a lot of water".
He was instrumental in finding a more reliable water source for Canberra's National Arboretum, which plans to house every tree species in the world.
Clem said diviners were "mostly older people, there are not many younger ones around", adding: "It's something you're born with. I reckon half the people know they can do it, 20 per cent don't know they can do it and can do it, and another 30 per cent don't have the gift."
As for whether Brother Clem's spiritual beliefs help his divine water intervention: "Well it doesn't hamper it."