WALKING across a parched paddock with a thick, hooped wire over one shoulder and a metal rod in one hand, southeast South Australian farmer Roger Fiebig says he has received the odd quizzical look from passers by in the past five decades.
The tools are just a couple in the arsenal of a dying breed - the water diviner.
The old water-finding practice of divining, or dowsing, is shrouded in mystique - it is known as water witching in the USA - and has its fair share of skeptics but also an equal share of staunch believers.
Diviners use a range of instruments from metal rods to a forked stick to the sensation through a vehicle's steering wheel - Roger says he has had the most success with old car aerials - to locate water sources before drilling for bores.
Diviners say they can ascertain the depth, quality and number of water streams crisscrossing underneath the surface using rods that swing wildly, or forked sticks that bend downwards, when over water.
While their services are still in high demand, Roger, of Milendella, and former president of the now-defunct Dowsers Club of South Australia Keith Fitzgerald say it is a dying artform.
Roger has hung up his divining rods due to health-related reasons, but he says his phone still runs hot with people asking for his services before they drill bores.
"I've travelled as far as the middle of NSW to divine for people," he said.
"A lot farmers reckon it's a heap of crap, but others rely on it. I wouldn't drill without someone marking a spot for me.
"The problem is we need to look at trying to get someone to take it up.
"It's old bastards like me left doing it and we're all getting too old. I also think a lot of the shallower, easy to find water has been found now and now it's all a bit deeper.
"When Palmer was first developed, there was water at 45 feet but that's gone long ago. You've probably got to go 150 to 200 feet now."
Roger said he learned the craft from Charleston's Kevin Schultz in the early 1970s and puts the knack of finding water down to static electricity.
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He said he was the type of person that would get static electricity shocks from wearing certain types of clothing.
""Having experience also helps," he said.
"I learned after a while the feel in your arms or your lips can help you gauge whether it was good water or bad water."
The water divining process is not one with a step-by-step instruction manual. Roger said the sensation he got through a steering wheel while driving meant if people had roadside properties, he'd often know where there water was before he'd even arrived at the homestead.
Roger also has a whole collection of different types of rods, but said he'd been using an old car aerial for most of his divining days.
"A forked stick also works, a thermos, a good quality wooden-handle saw will bend straight over for you if you're over water," he said.
"With sticks and wires you can't stop them reacting, they just go.
"I got to the stage where I could feel a tingling in my hands when I was walking over water."
Only ever accepting fuel money for his services, Roger said the hooped wire - used while stomping on the ground above a water source - was best for determining depth.
The diviner said he had always been quite accurate in finding both the location and depth of a water source.
"I generally try to mark a spot on a water crossover, two depths of water, so there's two targets to aim at when drilling," he said.
Once active Dowsers' Club long gone
APART from running the occasional dowsing course at the University of The Third Age in Tea Tree Gully - an organisation that aims to provide educational stimulus and support for older people - Keith Fitzgerald's divining days are over.
Mr Fitzgerald started divining in 1962 in northern SA when working for Elder Smith and was once president of the Dowsers Club of SA, which wound up about 10 years ago in another sign of the pursuit's slow demise.
He said while the practice had other applications outside of agriculture, its main purpose within the industry was to find the right spot to drill a bore.
"Before you drill you can work out how deep the water source is, what the quality of the water is like, how much water is there and whether it is there 12 months of the year," Mr Fitzgerald said.
He said that while many people would argue that water would be available anywhere if you drilled deep enough, and available 12 months of the year, he said that was simply not the case.
He said he started off divining with 12-gauge fencing wire.
"Now I just use a bit of a wire coathanger," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"I use one but some people use two. It turns and goes around in circles when you're over the spot to drill."
He said while the art of water divining could be taught, above all else it required an open mind.
"A lot of people can't do it because they don't have an open mind about it," he said.