A river runs through it

by JAMES POYNER
10th October 2022

RIVERS are an essential asset for all forms of life.
Humans use them for drinking water and food, business and recreation, and cultural heritage.
The water and the surrounding land are important ecosystems for indigenous plants and wildlife.
Starting near Mount Baw Baw and finishing in Port Phillip Bay, with a total length of 242 kilometres, the Yarra River touches the lives of people, plants and animals through the Yarra Ranges, the Yarra Valley and metropolitan Melbourne.
But 242 kilometres is a long way, and the river we see at Docklands can often feel a long way from the river we see at Warrandyte or Warburton.
To bring awareness and context to the lifeblood of Melbourne, Yarra Riverkeeper Association Chief Executive Officer and accomplished ultramarathon runner Karin Traeger recently ran “from source to mouth”.
Covering 280 kilometres over six days, she has explored the changing landscape of the Yarra river as it meanders from its source to the middle of Melbourne.
That journey, naturally, took Karin through Warrandyte and the Diary, met up with Karin and her entourage to talk about her adventure, which began in the Yarra Ranges beyond Reefton.

Photo: Hilary McAllister

“It’s a pretty, pristine area, really beautiful — lots of forests; pretty remote and isolated, but it’s a pretty nice place, you get to see lyre birds, lots of bush.”

Running 73km with friends from the source to the Reefton hotel, along access tracks and over Mount Horsfall, they took in views of the catchment.

“It was really nice to see the upper catchment, we can see how pristine it is, and it really puts into perspective the change of the river between the origin to what you see in the city.
“It’s such a nice place; it’s very green and lush and has lots of birds, and once you get to the city — it just changes a lot.”

From the Upper Yarra reservoir, Karin made her way down to Warburton, then followed the ranges to Wonga Park and Warrandyte via Healesville, but said that despite some challenging road sections — such as along the Melba Highway — it was interesting to watch the landscape around the river change.
The obvious question at this point is why?

“I’ve been running ultra-distances for the last six years, and I thought, how can I combine my passion for the environment — the river — and my passion for running?
“So, I thought it would be cool to join the whole river in just one run and show people that the same river in Warburton, or Warrandyte, is the same river that is going into the city — because a lot of people don’t seem to be able to connect the two together.
“I thought it would be a good, unique project that lots of people can connect with and use running as a way to advocate for a healthy river.”

The Diary asked Karin what had been her most disappointing and most amazing experience on her journey.

“We found some litter in really like remote places, and we couldn’t understand why people would do that, go out there and dump stuff.
“Why would you go out into the bush to enjoy it and then do that — leaving behind empty cans of beer or broken glass and stuff — it just doesn’t make any sense.
“That was a bit upsetting because it’s so hard to get the stuff out of there.
“We also got an idea of how invasive species affect the environment too; we saw lots of blackberry bushes, stuff like that.”

While some humans are causing environmental damage through littering, Karin said she has also seen a lot of the good that people are doing through their local community or “friends of” groups, volunteering to help restore and maintain the riverbanks and riverine landscape of the Yarra river and the creeks that feed it.
But volunteering doesn’t just mean getting your hands dirty; there may be other ways you can support a local environmental group.

“Some groups might even need help, like, setting up an Instagram page, or you can donate money or supplies and equipment; it doesn’t need to be big.
“Or if you see some rubbish, see if you can pick it up — even carrying one piece of rubbish out of the bush can make a big difference.”

Our lives have developed around the Yarra river, and as Karin has witnessed, the river and its surrounding environment change extensively from a little stream at the source to the vast mouth below the Westgate Bridge.
But it is all the same river, and to advocate for it, we need to be aware of it and actively engage in its protection.
Like Karin says, you don’t need to run an ultramarathon to understand and protect the river; you just need to be aware that whether you are in the heart of the city, at a swimming hole, or deep in the forests of the Yarra Ranges, it’s all the same river, and our impact in the environment affects it all.