The management of the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) has long been contested, and the effects of the recent Millennium drought and subsequent flooding events have generated acute contests over the appropriate allocation of water supplies to agricultural, domestic and environmental uses. This water-availability crisis has driven demand for improved knowledge of climate change trends, cycles of variability, the range of historical climates experienced by natural systems and the ecological health of the system relative to a past benchmark. A considerable volume of research on the past climates of southeastern Australia has been produced over recent decades, but much of this work has focused on longer geological time-scales, and is of low temporal resolution. Less evidence has been generated of recent climate change at the level of resolution that accesses the cycles of change relevant to management. Intra-decadal and near-annual resolution (high-resolution) records do exist and provide evidence of climate change and variability, and of human impact on systems, relevant to natural-resource management. There exist now many research groups using a range of proxy indicators of climate that will rapidly escalate our knowledge of management-relevant, climate change and variability. This review assembles available climate and catchment change research within, and in the vicinity of, the MDB and portrays the research activities that are responding to the knowledge need. It also discusses how paleoclimate scientists may better integrate their pursuits into the resource-management realm to enhance the utility of the science, the effectiveness of the management measures and the outcomes for the end users.