Tag Archives: Yarra River

Restoring our riverbank

AS VALERIE POLLEY discussed in April’s Warrandyte Diary, [Are we at risk of loving the riverbank to death?] the bank of the Yarra River through Warrandyte is in a parlous state.
As one of Warrandyte’s most significant environmental assets and a community treasure, the Main Yarra Trail requires immediate attention to repair structural damage and revive surrounding native plants.
Heavy rainfall has taken a toll on the trail, resulting in significant erosion and the premature loss of several older trees.
But it is not just the weather impacting our beloved river walk.
The impact from events such as the Festival, Market, Park Run, Pottery Expo, and increased foot traffic during the pandemic has seen erosion and treefall, rubbish, and dog waste, creating stress on the environment around the river.
The flooding events that have been happening with monotonous regularity have only exacerbated this impact.
So, from July, Manningham Council says it will begin restoration works.
Following the floods, to mitigate further damage, temporary measures were implemented by Council, allowing the trail to remain accessible to the community.
However, a council statement said the focus has shifted to long-term restoration efforts to ensure the trail’s sustained functionality and environmental value.
Manningham Mayor, Cr Deirdre Diamante, said, “The Manningham Green Wedge Infrastructure Plan has been considered in the design and approach to the restoration to ensure the works are sustainable and sympathetic to the semi-rural character of the area.”
She said that in collaboration with an expert contractor, Manningham Council is dedicated to restoring the Main Yarra Trail to its full potential for the community’s enjoyment for years to come.

Environmental outcomes

Yarra Riverkeeper Charlotte Sterrett told the Diary the Riverkeeper Association had not been consulted about these works but said any works along the Yarra Trail should not only improve the amenity of the area but lead to a net gain for the river and her parklands.
“This means that the Yarra, Birrarung should benefit ecologically from any works undertaken – it can’t be only about reducing negative impacts from human and dog traffic.”
She said exposed roots, eroded soil, and damage to the vegetation along the Yarra, Birrarung is evidence that we need to better balance people’s needs with the needs of the river.
“Any works should lead to better outcomes for the river and her critters.
“It’s time to recognise that she has rights too.”

Council’s plan

Cr Diamante said restoration activities would include levelling the trail rock bed, adding rocks, weed removal, and additional planting along most of the trail.
She said some sections might require more extensive structural work, such as cement stabilisation underneath the trail and the construction of a retaining wall to prevent further erosion near Police Street.
Enhancements are also planned for the trail at the carpark on the public toilet side of Warrandyte Bridge.
Upgrades to the drainage infrastructure will mitigate stormwater flooding, while the installation of a new concrete shared path will improve accessibility for wheelchairs, cyclists, prams, and pedestrians around the Warrandyte Bridge car park.
The trail restoration works will begin in July 2023, with an anticipated completion date toward the end of this year.
While small sections of the trail will be temporarily closed during construction, detour signage will be prominently displayed to ensure minimal disruption and to allow the community to continue enjoying the trail.

Summary of works along the Main Yarra Trail

All sections: Weeding invasive species and planting natives to encourage new growth.
Path to be refreshed with new toppings and graded to support better drainage.
Section 1 – Everard Drive to Police Street: This section of the trail will be levelled out with rock and weeded, with planting to encourage new growth.
Stiggant Street Carpark and Police Street Carpark will also get minor drainage upgrades, including new drainage pits.
Section 2 Police Street to 81 Yarra Street: This section of the trail has experienced severe erosion.
Council may install a retaining wall at this location to prevent further erosion, ensuring the path can be used in the future.
Section 3 – 83 to 119 Yarra Street: This section of the trail will be stabilised with a cement base and covered with rock to visually blend into the rest of the trail.
The cement stabilisation will prevent severe erosion at this section of the trail to ensure it is always usable.
Section 4: – “The Beach” adjacent to 141 Yarra Street and Webb Street Carpark: The lower path will not be touched.
The upper path will be stabilised.
Section 5 – 141 to 177 Yarra Street: This section of the trail will be levelled out with rock and weeded, with planting to encourage new growth.
Council will also undertake extensive weeding and planting in the Rainwater Garden opposite 177 Yarra Street so the plants in the garden do a more effective job of cleaning incoming stormwater and reducing unnecessary pollution of the waterways.
Section 6 – 183 Yarra Street to the bridge: This section of the trail will be stabilised with a cement base and covered with rock to visually blend into the rest of the trail.
The cement stabilisation will prevent severe erosion at this section of the trail and reduce water ponding in the area.
Section 7 – The carpark on the public toilet side of the bridge: Council will be doing a range of works at this location, including:
Upgrading the drains in the carpark to reduce stormwater flooding in the area.
Removing the gate and adding bollards for better pedestrian access.
Fixing any damaged structures, including the memorial.
Stabilising the trail with a cement base covered with rock to visually blend into the rest of the trail.
Replacing the existing asphalt path with a new concrete shared path, enhancing accessibility for wheelchairs, cyclists, and pedestrians between the carpark and the Main Yarra Trail.
The design of the shared path will be sympathetic to the surrounding environment.
Section 8 – 284 Yarra Street to Tills Drive: Erosion in this section has reached an unacceptable level.
To address this issue, a boardwalk will be installed beneath the oak tree, and in certain areas, the width of the trail path will be expanded from 1.5 to 2+ metres.
These improvements will enable easier access for users travelling to and from Tills Drive, the Stonehouse, and onward to other parts of Warrandyte State Park.
This will provide a better trail connection to and from Warrandyte State Park.
River health
Cr Diamante said that the trail is at great risk of long-term damage due to the heavy and constant rainfall last year.
“We’re undertaking these essential maintenance works now to preserve the trailÕs character and ensure it can continue to be used by future generations.
“Not doing so would pose a significant risk to the long-term viability of the trail,Ó Cr Diamante said.
Ms Sterrett said we all need to play our part in protecting the Yarra, Birrarung and her parklands, “including councils who have signed up to the Yarra Strategic Plan (Burndap Birrarung burndap umarkoo).
“The Yarra, Birrarung is a living entity and deserves to be restored to full health.
“Any works along the river should contribute to her health.
“For too long, we have taken nature for granted and seen her as a resource for personal pleasure and enjoyment.”
She said the Riverkeeper Association expects that the works undertaken by Manningham Council benefit the river “and not just visitors and their dogs”.
“For what is good for the Yarra is good for all,” Ms Sterrett said.
For further details visit manningham.vic.gov.au/news/main-yarra-trail-restoration.

Countdown to The Pottery Expo 2023

POTTERS AND ceramic enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting The Pottery Expo as it returns to the banks of the Yarra in Warrandyte for its 23rd year.
Ceramic artists across Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), and Western Australia (WA) have been working in their studios preparing for Australia’s biggest ceramics festival which comes to the banks of the Yarra on February 25–26.
The exhibitors will present work that uses various making and firing techniques, including hand building, wheel throwing, raku, gas and electric firing, and a range of clays from fine porcelain to stoneware, terracotta and earthenware.

New for 2023

There will be a special exhibition of guest artists from WA featuring influences from the WA coastline and local flora and fauna, with work ranging from large-scale and sculptural work to fine-detailed pieces.
Clay Connections, a three-day Pop Up exhibition by Valley Potters, will be in the Warrandyte Artspace, 168 Yarra Street, starting Friday, February 24, from 10am with the official opening Friday evening as part of the new Twilight Trail event.
The exhibition comprises works including sculptural, functional and decorative pieces.
Warrandyte Art Space Coordinator Denise Keele-bedford explains:

“Each artist derives inspiration for their work from different places, such as their surroundings, their loves, their passions, and their imagination.
As each pair of hands has different experiences and works with the malleable clay in their own way, each piece is unique and holds a piece of the artists DNA and soul within it.”

Twilight Trail Friday night will feature a new event for The Pottery Expo and be part of the walking tour and exhibition openings in Warrandyte ceramic galleries.
It begins at 5:30pm at Stonehouse Gallery, which recently celebrated 50 years, then continues to the official opening of the Clay Connections exhibition.
The final stop is Warrandyte Pottery Studio Gallery for the opening of a new exhibition by ceramic artist Josephine Cassar.
This is a free event. however, bookings are essential.
Follow The Pottery Expo on Facebook and Instagram for more booking information.
The Pottery Expo Throw Down will be held at the expo on Sunday — hosted by Northcote Pottery Supplies.
Potters are invited to get ready to show us their best on the wheel as they respond to the challenges set by the judges.
A highlight will be an installation by artist Danni Bryant, who works mainly with the ceramic medium.
For The Pottery Expo, Danni is creating a site-specific work responding to the surrounding landscape by the river.
Comprised mainly of raw, high-fired porcelain, the work is stark and bright, inviting curious viewers to look closely at its intricate nature.
Ballan ceramic artist Larissa Taylor will also feature a site-specific sculpture with suspended and hanging figures.
On Tuesday, February 28, WA Potter Bernard Kerr will be running a special one-day workshop at the Warrandyte Neighbourhood House for potters focussing on creating large pots, using coil and throwing methods with slip decoration techniques.
For more information, contact Jane Annois on 0422 942 216.

Expo favourites

Children’s clay activities return, presented by Warrandyte Pottery Studio and Clay Talk Montsalvat and supported by Northcote Pottery Supplies.
There will be live music sponsored by Warrandyte Community Bank featuring Rick Ozimo with Black Cat Bone, Neeko and Cath Rutten with Velvet Lounge.
Saturday features artist talks and presentations.
The Cups to Go stand will again offer an enormous range of cups by the potters for sale right by the coffee and food vans.

Entry to the expo is free, and visitors can enjoy delicious food by Scrumdiddely, PoppySmack, coffee, drinks and snacks from Now and Not Yet, wine, beer and more by Hops and Vine.
For more information, visit the website www.potteryexpo.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Pottery parking

By JAMES POYNER

WARRANDYTE can often seem like the victim of its own success as hundreds of out-of-towners flock to the riverbank, cafés, and restaurants on sunny days.
Traffic frustrations are often exacerbated during “events” where the usual influx of visitors increases significantly.
In recent years, the Pottery Expo has suffered from this success, with its hundreds, possibly thousands, of visitors struggling to find somewhere to park and congesting local streets.
“While a great local event, the influx of visitors and, often, careless parking causes significant egress difficulties for locals throughout the weekend.
“This is particularly applicable for Webb Street residents,” said a nearby resident.
The Diary raised these concerns with Pottery Expo organisers.
Jane Annois provided the Diary with the following statement.

“We always work with Manningham Council to manage the parking and find the best possible solutions.
In the past, we have used signage and bollards on Mitchell Avenue and Webb Street, advising NO PARKING.
The problems have greatly decreased, and last year we received no complaints, but thanks for our efforts.
Unfortunately, the issue of an impatient parker moving a bollard is beyond our control.
This year in consultation with Manningham Council, the Pottery Expo has engaged with a local traffic management company to recommend a strategy for dealing with traffic flow over the weekend.
Their recommendations specifically target parking in the Webb Street/Mitchell Avenue area, and we will be implementing their recommendations.
We have signs indicating parking areas in Warrandyte and will have bollards and No Parking signs on Webb Street, and Mitchell Avenue will have No Parking signs.
We have formalised the use of parking at the Warrandyte Café [Police Road] specifically for Potters.
This process will be managed and will therefore ensure that upwards of 80 parking spaces will be available to the public.”

Ms Annois also advised that public transport options were listed on the Pottery Expo website and official flyers and that the organisers “have a social media/ information campaign to promote the use of the existing public transport system”.
“The system is in place and perfect for the needs of the public travelling to Warrandyte,” she said.

Staying safe by the river

THE YARRA is a large part of life in Warrandyte, so when the weather gets hot, our river becomes a popular place to swim, paddle, and have fun in the water for locals and tourists alike.
However, it is important to know the risks when swimming in nature.
Tragically, people drown each year in lakes, beaches, rivers, waterfalls, and bays across Victoria.
The dangers of swimming in the Yarra were brought home recently when the search for a man who vanished after telling his friends he was going swimming in the river ended in tragedy.
Frank Mellia was visiting Warrandyte with friends at Taroona Reserve, Warrandyte, on January 14, when the 39-year-old left his friends to head towards the river at about 3pm.
When he did not return, his concerned friends later tried to find him before contacting police to report him missing.
Police and SES searched through the bush and used inflatable paddleboards to comb the water.
The police air wing and divers also assisted in the search.
The following Monday, Victoria Police confirmed he had been found dead.

Staying safe by the river

On January 19, 2023 — about the halfway point of summer, the Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll recorded that 43 people have drowned across Australia since December 1, 2022.
The majority of people who have drowned are men aged between 18 and 64 years.
With another month of summer to go, Royal Life Saving (RLS) is urgently warning people to stay vigilant around water and emphasises that drowning can happen when we least expect it.
Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Officer Justin Scarr is pleading with people to exercise caution around water, even if they are familiar with the environment and confident in their knowledge and skills, especially men.
“Sadly, we’ve seen a number of people drowning when attempting to rescue family members and when swimming alone,” Mr Scarr said.
“This summer, 43 families and communities have lost a loved one to drowning — one drowning is one too many.
“The leading activities at the time have been swimming, boating, and kayaking.
“These deaths have occurred at both inland and coastal locations.
“We urge people to consider their safety around the water by checking the conditions, being aware that weather and water conditions can change quickly, knowing your limits, avoiding alcohol, and wearing a lifejacket.
“If you see someone in difficulty, go and get help and alert emergency services as soon as possible.
“We want everyone to have a great day out and come home safely,” he said.
It is important to be aware of the risks and stay safe.
Whether you’re swimming, boating, or even just relaxing on the bank, there are many hidden dangers that you may not be aware of.
The Yarra is famously known as the upside-down river due to its muddy waters that hide many dangers beneath the surface.
Especially following the recent flooding events, there are many submerged objects that can prove to be very dangerous.
It is important to be aware of the dangers and always take care around water.
Remember that water conditions that may have been suitable one day can change hourly with the current.
There are no lifeguards along the river, and many people enjoy swimming in secluded spots, meaning should someone get into trouble, there may not be anyone there to assist you.
RLS has provided the following tips for staying safe while enjoying our river:

  • Strong currents and fast-flowing water.
    Check the current by throwing a leaf into the water to see the speed it travels.
If you get caught in a current, float on your back feet first, and go with the current — don’t panic.
  • Submerged objects such as rocks, snags and tree branches.
    Check the depth of the water and look for submerged objects using a stick.
Don’t jump or dive into the water.
Enter the water slowly and feet first.
  • Slippery banks and uneven surfaces.
    Unintentional falls into water are a significant risk.
  • Changing seasonal patterns and floodwater.
    Make sure you check the weather forecast and water conditions before venturing out.
Never drive through floodwaters.
  • Cold water.
    Water temperatures in rivers, lakes and dams can drop to freezing in winter and cause cold water shock if you fall in.

Know your risk factors

According to data collected by RLS, rivers and creeks claim more lives each year than any other type of waterway in Australia.
Drowning in rivers and creeks:

  • 25 per cent of drowning deaths occurred in rivers/creeks
  • 37 per cent of drowning deaths in rivers/creeks involved alcohol
  • Most deaths involved people aged 18 to 45 years
  • 81 per cent of all drowning deaths in rivers/creeks were male
  • 72 per cent of people lived within 100km of where they drowned

What happened immediately prior to drowning:

  • 21 per cent of people were swimming and recreating
  • 18 per cent of drowning deaths were due to an unintentional fall
  • 11 per cent of people were boating

Statistics from 2019/20 indicated that of all the drownings in Victoria during that period, 15 per cent were due to unintentional falls into the water.
This is a particular risk factor in children aged 0 to 4 years and people aged 65+ years.
Falls also play a part in alcohol and drug-related drowning incidents, as well as those where people have misjudged the hazards, such as uneven or slippery banks, strong currents and submerged objects.
Of drowning deaths in Victoria during that period, unintentional falls into water accounted for:

  • 75 per cent of children aged 0 to 4
  • 15 per cent of people aged 65+
  • 11 per cent of children aged 5 to 14
  • 10 per cent of men aged 25 to 64
  • 7 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24

Plan to survive

Simple safety measures can make all the difference between a great day out and a tragedy; RLS has a list of tips to help make your day on the river safer.

  • Take a phone with you.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you will be back.
  • Check conditions before entering the water.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Do not overestimate your ability and underestimate the dangers in rivers.
  • Actively supervise children around water.
  • Enter the water slowly, feet first.
  • Take care around crumbling riverbeds and slippery edges.
  • Avoid underwater obstacles such as rocks, branches, and rubbish.
  • Take care when walking on unstable or slippery riverbeds.
  • Avoid crossing flooded waterways.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs around water.
  • Wear a lifejacket when boating or using watercraft.
  • Learn first aid and CPR, so you’re prepared if an accident is to happen.

Tree dangers
It is not just in the water that you should be alert.
Recent flooding events followed by dry conditions have seen several trees fall over as their shallow roots let go in the changing soil conditions, often without warning.
A man was airlifted to hospital on January 28 after a falling tree hit him as he picnicked with friends at Normans Reserve.
North Warrandyte CFA and Ambulance Victoria attended the scene in Bradleys Lane, North Warrandyte, and transported the man to a waiting helicopter.
The chopper landed at Warrandyte Reserve around 6pm, interrupting the 1st XIs match against Wonga Park.
Warrandyte 1st XI Captain Ben Taylor told the Diary they were in their 70th over when the helicopter began circling overhead.
“It became pretty obvious it needed to land on the oval, so we pulled up stumps to make way for it,” said Mr Taylor.
Members of Warrandyte CFA were on hand at the oval to support the ambulance crews and facilitate vehicle access to the oval.
While it is wonderful to be out enjoying our State Park, remember the dangers both on the water and on land.
In the case of an incident, phone emergency services on 000 and use the emergency markers along the river to provide an accurate location.
Alternatively, download the emergency plus app on your smartphone for assistance providing your exact location and contacting appropriate help.

A river runs through it

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.

What do we want Warrandyte to be?

TALKING POINT

JAMES CHARLWOOD is not only a Warrandyte local but an advocate for
retaining heritage through appropriate building.
He is Director of Cathedral Stone, a stonemason leading in the field of traditional stonemasonry and conservation.
He recently gave a talk on the subject as part of a series of talks organised by Warrandyte Historical Society; a recording of his talk can be found in the link at the bottom of this story.
Following his talk, the Diary reached out to Mr Charlwood to continue the conversation on what we want Warrandyte to be.
Mr Charlwood is passionate about using herit age techniques and materials sympathetic to that goal in all aspects, from what materials we use in our buildings to what our drainage systems look like and to avoid — what sometimes feels like — the inevitable Elthamisation of Warrandyte if we continue to let convenient, utilitarian, building practices run rampant in our town.
The Manningham Planning Scheme is under review, and while the public consultation has ended, it is still a great time to start discussing what Warrandyte is to us — its current, new and future residents.
Mr Charlwood has noted some key discussion points, which we have summarised below:

Iconic landscape and historic character

Less than an hour’s travel from Melbourne’s CBD, and even serviced by a direct buys route, the bush setting and proximity to wildlife and the river is a big draw.
So, why would we use planning policies and overlays which work against the natural environment, not with it?
Our township’s history lives in the walls of its buildings and the stones in its footpaths and is reflected in the trees, river and bush in which our houses sit.
Growing development pressure on our Warrandyte Township means we’ll lose Warrandyte as we know it.
We need to identify our unique Warrandyte character and adopt this into roadside landscapes and new buildings; through context-sensitive
design, using traditional and heritagesensitive materials, our town can evolve without losing its character.

Premiere riverfront township

By population and proximity to CBD,
Warrandyte is the number one riverfront township; there is no other.
Warrandyte’s community is responsible to all of Melbourne to be leaders in managing river water quality and river environs.
Concrete gutters and pipes treat water as a waste product and discharge polluted water into the river.
The solutions currently available to us seem to be either spoon drains or curband-channel, which are dangerous, and rubbish strewn or undesirable.
Water-sensitive drainage alternatives that mimic natural water-cycle systems would reduce stormwater runoff, and the risk of harmful pollutants and algae blooms impacting our natural environment.

Carbon abatement in action

Concrete production is one of the highest carbon-emitting activities; its product can only be used once.
Natural stone can be dug back up and repurposed.
State and Municipal engineers are addicted to concrete.
Examples include the rough handling and crude workmanship at the bridge bus stop stairs and the poor rendition of our civic landscape along Yarra Street (c. 2010).
Let’s get jingoistic about Warrandyte… or we will lose it!
The engineers are coming; let’s not Elthamise Warrandyte.
whsoc.org.au/foundation-stonepresentation

Winter Solstice time to celebrate our river

THE WINTER Solstice is often a time of curling up in front of a fire with a good book, or for some, it might be dancing naked in the forest.
For the Birrarung/Yarra Riverkeeper, Charlotte Sterrett, what better thing to do than take a swim in the Birrarung?
On a crisp winter’s day, Charlotte and a hardy crew, including the ABC’s Sammy J, took to her favourite swimming hole to celebrate the solstice and World Bathing Day.
She spoke to the Diary before taking a dip.“In the Southern Hemisphere, we get the cold end of the stick, but we are here to celebrate all that is good
and wonderful about the Birrarung/Yarra River.
“We are in North Warrandyte at my favourite swimming hole where I come with my family and friends in the summer and sometimes in the winter when my daughter wants to come and swim,” she said.
Charlotte said the good news is that the Riverkeepers Association was setting a target to have a swimmable Birarrung by 2030.
“We want to have a swimmable river from source to sea.
“At the moment, there are only certain parts of the river that you can swim in, Warrandyte being one of them.
She said swimming in Warrandyte after heavy rain is not recommended because of the pollution that enters the river, and when you get further downstream, the water quality gets worse and worse.
“In fact, when you get past Dights Falls, you are not allowed to swim, so we would like to see many changes to help the river become protected, healthy and loved so that everybody can swim in the river by 2030 — we think is achievable.”
She said the EPA measure the levels of E. coli, which is one of the indicators they use, so when those levels are too high, you are not allowed to swim — or they suggest that you don’t.
But other pollutants are coming into the river, polystyrene particularly further down stream, chemical pollution, a lot of sediment runoff,
fertilisers, and agricultural waste that end up in the river.
But she said there are plans to change all that.
“There is research being done, we have some of those people here today from Regen Melbourne and from the Yarra Yabbies who are here to have a swim here at this end of town so they can see what that is like, and then we can replicate that downstream with actual swimming pools — five of them.
“In Warrandyte, we are very lucky, in summer the river is a bit lower, and there are some beautiful rocks, and when you are sitting in the middle of that river, it is the best place on earth.
“We can swim here year-round, and we want that for everyone.”
She said the solstice swim was a huge success.
“We had so many people, and everyone loved it — the look on people’s faces was pure joy, but pure cold terror.”
Sammy J said all that was on his mind when he got the feeling back in the bottom half of his body was to perhaps
have a pie at the Warrandyte Bakery.

Meet our new Yarra Riverkeeper

Photo: Bill McAuley

WHEN CHARLOTTE Sterrett came to Australia at the age of 19, she fell in love with the Yarra River.
She has now been appointed its keeper.
Melbourne’s “upside-down river” is a unique ecosystem that brings nature, culture, and people together.
It wends its way 242 kilometres from near Mt Baw Baw, through the Yarra Valley and finishes in the Port Phillip Bay.
It is an important part of Warrandyte’s identity.
This is why the Diary is delighted that Warrandyte resident, Charlotte takes up her mantle as Melbourne’s third Yarra Riverkeeper in January.
Working with the Yarra Riverkeepers Association (YRKA), she will continue her lifelong work as an advocate for the environment. Warrandyte Diary caught up with Charlotte following the announcement of her appointment.

WD: Firstly, what is a Riverkeeper?
CS:
The Riverkeeper, along with the Birrarung Council is there to be a voice for the Birrarung — a voice for the Yarra — to tell the story of the river from source to sea.
There are lots of stories there, historical stories, stories of now, stories of people and all the creatures.
And to educate people about the problems facing the Birrarung, which we know are litter, pollution from chemical waste, unsustainable development, water flow, and climate change — to educate people about those issues but also work together on the solutions.
There are lots of people who use the river and are involved with the river. There are 16 Councils that the river runs through, plus Melbourne Water. But this role is very much about educating people about those problems and working on the solutions together.
The YRKA also does a lot of the clean-up work as well as work with community groups to clean up the river.
The Association has done a lot of research on the types of plastic pollution — polystyrene balls being the number one — and then there are about eight regeneration sites along the river, including Westerfolds, where YRKA does that regeneration work. So, my role as Riverkeeper is to really talk about all the things that the organisation is doing, and connect people with the river, whether they are a politician or local community group, school, or local council.
I will be the third Yarra Riverkeeper, Ian Penrose was the inaugural one, he used to live on my street, and started the Yarra Riverkeepers Association as a volunteer group, and then Andrew Kelly took over about six years ago. YRKA CEO Warwick Leeson is also from Warrandyte, he became involved a couple of years after it started. Warrandyte has got some amazing people.

WD: Why is the Yarra special to you?
CS:
When I first came to Australia I found the Australian environment very different to the English countryside. When I first came to Warrandyte, doing some volunteer work with a local Landcare group, it was on Hamilton Road near where I live now, I remember seeing the river and it was so different, the colours, the smells, the trees, just the natural environment was so different, so captivating.
Nature sometimes does this — it makes you feel a different way, it makes you feel calm and peaceful and relaxed, I love being surrounded by nature, and I remember thinking at the time I really wanted to live here. I love being on the river canoeing, I do that quite a lot, and we are very fortunate in Warrandyte that we can swim in the river, which you don’t get to do farther downstream.
You can be at the waterhole down near the end of our street, you feel like you are really out in the bush in a big way, and you can really feel why the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people see the river as part of their identity.
I would love for other people to feel that way too, that they really see the river as part of their identity.

WD: What was your journey to this point?
CS: I used to work in outdoor education for schools and that was part of the journey, I used to take kids out into the bush canoeing, rafting, lots of bushwalking, some rock climbing, so I have always liked nature.
I then worked with Oxfam in southern Africa, and very soon after that, I became interested in Climate Change. I have been working in International Development for about 17 years.
I have worked in about 20 countries worldwide including lots of countries in the Pacific.
My most recent role was working with World Vision providing support to countries that are trying to adapt to Climate Change.
Locally, I have been with Warrandyte Climate Action Now (Warrandyte CAN), and Osborne Peninsular Landcare Group.
This role helps me combine all these roles that I love – working on environmental issues, working with local communities, working on solutions, and advocating for the right kinds of solutions, that are good for people and the planet.
I guess COVID has shaken things up a bit and I decided I would like to do something more local.
I think being at home has really helped me reconnect with the area and the Yarra has been somewhere that has really helped lots of people, and myself included, to get through the various lockdowns.
I have really come to appreciate it, which is why I want to do this work. We are very lucky in Warrandyte to have the river right there.

WD: What are you looking forward to in this role?
CS: I am excited to learn more about the work that is happening to protect not only the Birrarung but the other waterways that come into the Birrarung, like the Maribyrnong, there is a Riverkeeper for that river too, and a Port Phillip Bay Keeper.
In fact, in Australia, there are about seven waterway keepers and over 300 around the world, so I am really interested to learn about what are the issues that all these people have been working on with their communities.
The river to me is like a living breathing entity, the lifeblood of Melbourne, so it is a real honour to speak for the river.
Since it was announced I was the riverkeeper, people have contacted me out of the blue like a lady up in Millgrove talking about the regeneration work they are doing alongside the river, and Port Phillip Eco Centre spoke to me about the things they are doing at the mouth of the river.
I have worked a lot internationally on some of the international transboundary issues like the Mekong or the Brahmaputra that comes off the Himalayas, and now I get to work on this river, so it doesn’t feel like a job, it is something I would do anyway, so I am very excited about that.
I will be working with the government as well, there is a whole bunch of Yarra River planning controls and a Strategic Plan, including a 50-year Community Vision.
I’ll be working with Government and Melbourne Water to implement that, but also hold them to account.
As well as working with the Birrarung Council and the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Corporation.
I am really excited about working with First Nations people.
I have worked with First Nations groups overseas, so to be able to do that in Melbourne is fantastic.
I look forward to educating people in a way that they learn more about the river and the river’s history — and it is a fascinating history, especially since white man came and really changed it, diverted it, it is a very different river downstream than it used to be.

WD: What can we all do to help the Yarra?
CS: Looking after the river is everyone’s responsibility, I might have the title of the Yarra Riverkeeper, but we are all riverkeepers.
We love the river, we love where we live, and it is our responsibility to look after it.
It is a personal responsibility to treat the river with respect, not dropping litter and not polluting the river, but it is also talking to people about the issues that face the river.
I think we are very lucky in Warrandyte that we have quite a strong community that has been able to keep the character of Warrandyte alive for a long period of time.
But urban development along the river corridor is a big issue, obviously closer to the city we see more of this issue.
Until recently, Warrandyte had septic running into the river, and there are fertilisers running into the river from people’s gardens, and broader issues of Climate Change, and people becoming educated about the impacts of Climate Change on water flow — the river doesn’t have enough flow for it to be fully healthy — so people recognising that and talking to local and state government about those issues.
One thing that has been interesting during COVID was that people have been more connected to their local environment.
It is important that we don’t take these areas of natural beauty for granted.
The Yarra/Birrarung provides 70 per cent of Melbourne’s drinking water, so while people might see their river as being a brown river, they might not realise the catchment provides our drinking water, so we need to protect that.

WD: What is your favourite part of the river?
CS: I have a couple of favourite spots, at the bottom of Osborne Road, just off the path on the right-hand side, just below one of the rapids, where Jumping Creek comes out, you can swim there, depending on the river level, I love going down there.
Not far from there is a beautiful spot with a massive rock that in the morning gets all the sun on it and the whole side lights up with beautiful orange light and it is just glorious.

Happy outcome for river rescue

WE ARE BOMBARDED, on a daily basis, with all the horrors that occur in the world, along with the irresponsible and sometimes very awful things one person is capable of doing to another.

So, it is always extremely uplifting and hope filling, to hear the good side of human nature and how the safety or survival of a fellow human being can set a heroic deed into action.

On a Sunday afternoon in early March, Liz Marsh was enjoying her run along the river when she heard some cries for help and saw a young man; face down in the deep section of the river.

With split seconds to think, Liz’s lifeguard knowledge — not used for many decades — and her kayaking experience kicked in.

With shoes off, Liz headed into the water.

As she approached the young man, she was joined by Michael Wines. Michael and Liz instinctively worked as a team, with Michael flipping the young man on his back, allowing Liz to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while they were still in the river.

Jeff Smith then assisted with the exhaustive swim to the shore and a group of people lifted the young man up the steep bank to safety.

During this time, Liz had called out for someone to call 000 and to her relief, another Warrandyte community member, Joanne Milic was speaking to the ambulance dispatcher.

Liz then ensured that her patient — in a semi-conscious state — was placed in the recovery position, enabling Liz to clear his mouth and keep his airway open until the paramedics arrived.

Several other helpers assisted with the onshore recovery, such as fetching a defibrillator and placing a blanket over the young man.

Six ambulance officers arrived, working on the young man, until he could eventually be taken to Box Hill hospital.

Saving this young man was a wonderful joint effort, but was triggered by Liz’s cool-headedness.

Her background, her first aid training and the fact that she is a former Outdoor Education leader, do not take away from her brave decision — at 54 and with a family of her own — to jump in the river and save this young man while continuing to direct his rescue.

It was not until Liz got home and had a hot shower that the reality hit her and shock set in.

Although many of us would aid and assist to the best of our abilities, not many of us could carry out such a heroic deed.

There is a mother and a father out there somewhere who will be forever grateful to Liz and the other rescuers.

Thanks to Senior Sergeant Stewart Henderson, Liz has been able to make contact with the young man she rescued.

He is fully recovered from his ordeal and Liz is still hoping to connect with him soon in Warrandyte and “give him a big hug”.

Liz has contacted Dr. Bernadette Matthews PhD, Principle Research Associate at Life Saving Victoria, who informed her that there were six drownings in the Yarra river in Warrandyte from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2017.

Although there are no statistics on non-fatal incidents (hospitalisations), previous research indicated that for every drowning there are two non-fatal incidents.

Spot the platypus

Autumn is a great time to set up a blanket by the Yarra at dawn or dusk with a thermos of tea and gaze out at the water and now we have found the best excuse ever to do just that — Melbourne Water is calling on citizen scientists to help spot the elusive platypus.

With the sustained drought over the first ten years of this century, platypus were struggling, however researchers are hopeful that the monotreme’s population is on the rise again.

Jean-Michel Benier from Melbourne Water told the Diary that the Yarra tends to be a refuge to platypus in times of environmental stress — such as drought, flood or bushfire.

“When conditions are good we see more platypus in tributaries, such as the Diamond Creek, Mullum Mullum, and even one recently sighted in Darebin Creek for the first time in 10 years,” he said.

Research partner and wildlife ecologist Josh Griffiths from Cesar Australia said that the Yarra is immensely important for platypus populations.

“Mullum Mullum creek is actually one of the creeks that didn’t show a decline during the drought, even though it is quite a small creek because it is still connected to the Yarra and there is a relatively healthy population in the Yarra — we think the animals keep coming in and out.

“That deeper water of the Yarra provided a bit of a buffer against the drought, so when a lot of these creeks dried up the animals moved into the Yarra and as the water comes back, they move back into those little creeks — so you know the Yarra river is incredibly important for these animals”, said Mr Griggiths.

The research team are pleased that platypus numbers — since the end of the drought — are beginning to increase due to increased water availability and the continuing work of cleaning up the environment.

“There is more water around which means better conditions generally and there has also been a number of habitat improvement works happening, Melbourne Water, and other community groups, do things like weed removal and revegetation, remove litter out of creeks, stabilise banks — create better habitat for them to live in,” said Mr Griffiths.

Melbourne Water have partnered with Cesar to study the health of platypus populations and they need your help.

They have released a website and a smartphone app to collect data on wild populations in the Yarra River and across the rest of the country.

“We would love for people to contribute their observations of platypus to our PlatypusSPOT program,” said Mr Bernier.

The PlatypusSPOT website and smartphone app allows users to upload photos and descriptions of platypus seen in the wild.

“These observations help us to monitor the location and abundance of platypus across Melbourne,” he said.

 How to spot a platypus.

Josh Griffiths says spotting platypus in the river can be very difficult.

“Even for myself, who has seen hundreds of them, they can be difficult to see, because they live in the water and they have a very low profile in the water — they don’t stick up like a duck,” he said.

Platypus are most often active at night, so platypus are best spotted at dawn and dusk.

“Look out for some ripples in the water to suggest there is something there, then there is the fur and the low profile to distinguish it from a duck — the thing they get confused with quite a bit is our native water rat (rakali) and they can look very similar in the water — so look for the distinctive bill of the platypus or the nice rounded tail, Mr Griffith said.

Jean-Michel Benier suggests the main ingredients for spotting platypus: “Patience and luck!”.

“It is best to sit in one place for about 20 minutes and observe any bubbles and ripples on the surface of the water — Platypus will generally dive for around 30 seconds then float at the surface to consume their food for around 10 seconds,” he said.

The PlatypusSPOT app contains more tips and photographs that can also help distinguish between a platypus and rakali.

 How to help the platypus

“Platypus need deep water, so the less water that we use the more that can go back into the environment, even though the drought is finished it is really important that people are still really water conscious,” said Mr Griffiths

At an individual level there are several ways to help the platypus.

“Platypus often get tangled in litter, fishing lines, or anything that forms an enclosed loop like a rubber band.

“Keep an eye on dogs around the waterway — at this time of the year when there are juvenile platypus starting to come out of the burrows, they are a bit naïve, they get taken by dogs and foxes,” he said.

Of major concern are opera house nets, which are used to catch yabbies and crayfish:

“Unfortunately they are illegal in public waters but they are still used very regularly, I think a lot of people aren’t aware that they pose a risk to platypus and water rats and to turtles that go in those nets and drown very quickly.

“The nets get thrown into the water and they are fully submerged and a platypus can only hold its breath for a couple of minutes, they go in there chasing the yabbies that go in there, so [the traps] basically become a baited trap for platypus – they are still very widely available and I think a lot of people just aren’t aware of the dangers they pose,” he said.

 Using technology to track platypus.

As well as using traditional methods, or citizen science projects like PlatypusSPOT, researchers are using increasingly hi-tech, non-invasive, methods to monitor platypus populations.

“We are now also using a new technique called environmental DNA (eDNA), which allows us to take a sample of water from a location and search for DNA markers that are unique to platypus — using this method, we can tell if platypus have been in the water at a given location,” said Mr Benier.

“We can go out and take a water sample and actually look for genetic traces in the water and identify platypus as well as other species in the water – it’s a lot more efficient than going out doing trapping all night and they are quite sensitive and cost effective, so that is providing another avenue where we can monitor the populations”, added Mr Griffiths.

The PlatypusSpot App is available from the Apples Store or Google Play

Tale of three rivers

IN late November and early December 1934, the Yarra River at Warrandyte rose to its highest recorded level, lifting to beyond a metre above the decking of the old wooden bridge. Homes, orchards and shops were inundated.

I was born in December 1934 at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne. The Yarra River did not touch my life until several decades later.

My first river was the Maribyrnong. Not the polluted, sluggish stream that then flowed through Footscray, but the near-pristine river that twisted its way across the Keilor plain, its passage marked by the River Redgums and Yellow Box trees that lined its banks, emerging into the edge of suburbia beyond the open paddocks, outback from North Sunshine.

Unbeknown to our parents we walked there. I was a small boy at the time, battling to keep up with the big kids. It seemed a very long way. Finally we reached our destination: a high, elevated railway bridge that crossed the river as it cut through its gorge, away down below.

Beneath the bridge hung a narrow pedestrian walkway, perilously close to the dual railway tracks above. This was our ultimate objective, to cross the walkway while a train thundered above. I was terrified. But no-one “squibbed”.

Goods trains were frequent, as the bridge was on a direct line to the north. Occasionally one of these interminably long trains was hauled by “Heavy Harry”, one of the world’s largest railway engines, built at the Newport Railway Workshops. Some were loaded with tanks, Bren gun carriers, field artillery, wingless fighter planes; all the hardware of conflict, for World War II was its height and Australia was under dire threat.

We crouched on the walkway as trains thundered overhead, deafened by the noise, scalded by steam, singed by flying cinders, longing for – and dreading – the moment when the engine would sound its whistle. And it always did.

My first introduction to the Murray River came via a railway train, the overnight sleeper to Mildura. I awoke at dawn, and from my upper bunk watched entranced as the sun arose, through the silhouette of a row of spindly gum trees, etched black against the early morning sky. We crossed the Murray later that morning and I marveled as the wide brown river rolled majestically through the Mallee towards South Australia on its way to the sea.

We travelled up and down the river on several occasions during that holiday, smelling the smoke and the oil-soaked steam, marveling at the great paddle-wheels churning the green water, admiring the deckhand as he leapt with the coil of rope from deck to wharf, envying the captain as he swung the big wheel in the wheelhouse, identifying with the oil-soaked engineer as he threw logs into the leaping flames in the firebox, pulling levers and twisting valves, following directions telegraphed from the wheelhouse above.

So impressed was I with life on the Murray, that when we reached home I spent the next weeks turning the woodpile beside our house into a full-blown paddle-steamer. An old bicycle wheel became the steering wheel and planks and logs became decks, a steep ladder stood in as a companionway and two more bike wheels were transformed into paddlewheels. I recruited a crew from the neighbourhood kids and we steamed the mighty river from the mountains to the sea, battling floods and fires and bushrangers.

My taste for Murray River water was far from sated, so when, decades later, the one-teacher primary school at Torrumbarry on the Murray, some 15 miles downstream from Echuca was declared vacant, I applied and gained the position.

My years on the Murray were among my happiest, and out of them grew a 40-minute children’s film, an educational documentary and my Riverboat Bill series of children’s books.

A new career now required a move closer to Melbourne. We crossed the bridge and headed off down Yarra Street for our exploratory look at Warrandyte: the Mechanics Institute, the picturesque shops, the tree-lined street, and above all, tantalising glimpses of the Yarra River. We were home.

Rabbits on the hop

BRADLEYS Lane residents have launched a campaign to rid their street of rabbits, saying they are destroying gardens, causing erosion along the banks of the Yarra River and competing with native wildlife for food and habitat.

A group of residents have held a meeting with Nillumbik council hoping to mobilise local support for a pest controller to come out in March or April to bait the rabbits with Pindone, a poison commonly used to control rabbits in Victoria.

Their proposed baiting program would require around 20 days, with the poison generally taking six to 10 days to work, affecting the rabbits’ livers and causing them to die from internal bleeding.

One of the residents leading the campaign, Janice Davies, says 20 people in her street have expressed their concerns about the damage caused by rabbits.

“Over the last year we have noticed a lot more rabbit droppings across our property,” Mrs Davies said.

“I also planted a whole lot of native grass one day and I thought I’d put barriers around them in the morning but by the time I went out the next morning the rabbits had already eaten the grass down to ground level.

“This campaign is about getting as many people in the street involved as possible. We’re taking people’s concerns on board and we’re finding out how to do it without harming pets.”

Another Bradleys Lane resident, Paul Fitzsimons, noticed rabbit numbers increasing when they started destroying his garden last year.

“We plant native vegetation to attract wildlife so when rabbits come along and eat it all, it’s very costly and very frustrating,” Paul said.

Mrs Davies says Nillumbik council has offered to pay for half of the associated costs for hiring a pest controller, bringing the cost to $60 per household.

Nillumbik mayor Helen Coleman says council regularly offers subsidies when residents form a local rabbit action group.

However, the Diary didn’t receive confirmation that council would provide assistance for Bradleys Lane residents at the time of publication.

The anti-rabbit proposal comes as Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria

plan to launch their own rabbit-baiting programs along the Yarra River and through the state park.

Janice says while Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria support the plan, they cannot provide financial assistance.

The Diar y understands residents would have a greater chance of drastically reducing the rabbit population around Bradleys Lane if they start their program around the same time that Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria commence their rabbit control program this year.

A rabbit baiting program involving the Osborne Peninsula Landcare Group about four years ago inspired

the group of Bradleys Lane residents to start informing neighbours about the issue and gauging support for a unified pest control plan.

It’s estimated about 80 percent of residents in Osborne Rd, Hamilton Rd and Koornong Cres were involved in the Osborne Peninsula Landcare Group program.

Ann Penrose, who is part of the Osborne Peninsula Landcare Group, says the high number of households involved made the program successful at reducing rabbit numbers.

“We have baited every year, usually around February or March,” Mrs Penrose said.

“For the first three years we baited the whole peninsula but eventually we managed to get the rabbit numbers down so low that we didn’t have to do all of the area.”

However, rabbits have few natural predators and with females known to have up to 14 babies per litter several times a year, Ann warns that rabbit populations can quickly become out of control.

“We have noticed there’s an increasing number of rabbits recently and we can never eliminate rabbits – only control them. That’s where educating the community comes in,” Mrs Penrose said.

“Controlling rabbit populations is on-going and it’s the residents’ responsibility to keep their properties clear of rabbits.”

Nationally, rabbits are estimated to cost more than $200 million a year in control measures and lost productivity, and as Bradleys Lane resident Cameron Bailey knows, rabbits can affect one neighbour but not the next.

“I’ve only seen one rabbit on my property in the two and a half years that I’ve been living here,” Cameron said.

“They’re not a problem on our property but I would probably support the plan because we’re all for removing non-native wildlife.”

Some have expressed reservations about the plan.

“I’d be happy to get on board if there’s enough residents on board and it’s likely to be effective,” Paul Fitzsimons said.

“In the meantime, we’ve taken our own immediate steps to address the measure. Since we put in fences everything has been fine and our chocolate lilies are starting to come up again but if you fence all of your property then there’s the issue of limiting the movement of animals.”

Others say rabbits are causing problems across Warrandyte, including Mitchell Ave, Gold Memorial Rd, West End Rd and along the Mullum Trail.

One Warrandyte resident commented on the Diary’s Facebook page that she rolled her ankle while playing cricket in her backyard in a rabbit hole that appeared overnight.

Elizabeth Wood, who lives in Stiggants St, says she has been baiting her property for years, yet rabbits are still eating away at her garden.

“I have been killing the rabbits but as I get rid of one lot a new lot move in,” Elizabeth said.

“The rabbits live in Stiggants Reserve and the church yard where there is an area of undergrowth. We have asked for it to be cleaned up to no avail at this stage.”

Campaigners hope baiting will begin in March or April, with Mrs Davies indicating the plan could still go ahead with 20 participants.

“Even with 20 residents we would still have a really good chance of reducing the damage that rabbits are causing to vegetation around our street, but of course, the more people involved the more success you’re likely to have,” she said.