The wrap

12 09 2008

The muscles have recovered, the memories of the bone crunching cold and wet (not to mention the bone crunching rocks and logs) have receded; in their wake are nothing but images of sunny patches, smooth paddling and a damn beautiful river. Sure, the river has its problems, but the Yarra remains the (mostly) flowing artery – and to many the lifeblood – of Melbourne. And thanksfully, as we discovered en route, there are plenty of landcare and rivercare heroes attending to its ailments.

And to the wrap. For those parties involved and interested, download an overview report here: landcares2s_overview_report_low.

There’s been plenty of positive feedback and given the event was organised in under three weeks, we at Landcare feel it was a success in terms of raising rivercare awareness during Landcare Week in Melbourne. Next year, with a longer lead time and your continued support, we hope to make it bigger, better and in doing so achieve a larger splash in terms of awareness and recognition for the volunteers and workers across Victoria – and Australia – who carry out important work as the nation’s river guardians. We thank them and you for caring, a factor that is, after all, central to the strength of the Landcare ethic and movement.

Day06: the great paddle muster

8 09 2008
the team musters up for the final leg from Herring Island

the team musters up for the final leg from Herring Island

From the jungle of eucalypts and ferns at the top of the Yarra’s waters to the jungle of concrete that is Melbourne’s CBD, it has been an interesting journey tracking the river from its nominal source at the Upper Yarra Dam to the seaboard finish at Williamstown. And while the bush end was, naturally, the most pristine and beautiful section, slicing through the waters surrounded by fifteen or so paddlers, the city skyline ahead and the Botanical Gardens to our left, proved impressive, too.

One thing about the view from on water is that it’s different; it exposes you not only to low-set perspective that immerses one in the environment much more intimately than usual (especially for those of us prone to capsising). It also brings home how important the river and the recreational spaces linked to it are. Wherever there was parkland along the Yarra’s banks, there were users – you could say junkies but of the positive kind: boaters, canoeists, fishermen (and ladies), walkers, runners, cyclists, picnickers, lovers and daydreamers. All of them were getting their kicks from the Yarra and its environs. It brought home to me the importance of green spaces in our harshly constructed, densely packed cities. Further, it brought home the importance of those who look after the green spaces, and so the river: landcarers, volunteers, Friends Of… groups, environmental coalitions, park rangers, Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water. Without them, our green spaces, and the river would disappear. And then? No more daydreaming in the city.

On the last day no where was the enjoyment the river brings the public more evident than in the paddlers who joined us from Herring Island for the final stretch. They had the unique experience of paddling past Melbourne’s skyscrapers, through Southbank, alongside the docks and ships and finally into Burgoyne Park at Williamstown. The paddle-armed mob, including Olympian Warwick Draper and adventure racer/team leader Jarad Kohler, grinned like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland the entire 15km.  

We were lucky on the day – it was sunny and there hadn’t been any rain. The river was dressed in its Thursday best, mostly clear of rubbish, its sparkles matching the rays glancing off the Rialto building. Had it rained, I’m sure the scenario would have been different: the problem with concrete being that it stops water from seeping into the soil. That water then runs overground, taking with it rubbish and the chemicals left from rubber tyre wear and the like, the pollution running straight into the Yarra. No dirt means no trees, too. No trees mean there’s no filtering system, which again ends in dirty water down the Yarra.

Of course, the Yarra’s malaise is not all the CBD’s fault. As we’ve seen over the last six days, there are many and varied issues along its length: environmental flow (too little), non-native species (willows and the like), the clearing of riverbanks (farmland) and the erosion and silting this causes, the continuing outpouring of effluent (better than it once was but still there),  pollution from rubbish (hello car tyres, thongs, TVs and litter), pollution from chemicals (be it from industry or simply the rubber and oils from our cars), and general neglect along the banks (hello the section from Doncaster to Fairfield).

We made it! The finish at Williamstown.

But let’s not get too depressed. The Challenge was about celebration, not protest. It celebrated the many Landcare Heroes working along its length, from the volunteers the likes of the North Warrandyte, Yarra Bend and Don Valley landcare groups, to organisations working hard to clean up the river and inflluence decision makers the likes of Ian Penrose and the Yarra Riverkeepers and Environment Victoria.

And from where I sat on the kayak, they’re making a real difference: the majority of the river, like the volunteers, should be celebrated as something of great value to everyone who lives, works and plays along its course.

I wrapped up the day sitting beside the river at Southbank for an interview on the Lindy Burns drive show on ABC774. The sun was setting over the skyline and on the adventure as a whole, and the river was looking a treat in the dusk twilight. Except for that chip wrapper floating its way to Williamstown in our wake… 

A special thank you to all those who contributed at such short notice to making the challenge happen: Coles supermarkets, Keen footwear, Canoes Plus, Parks Victoria, Environment Victoria, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Yarra Riverkeepers, Yarra4Life, Outer Edge Magazine, Flint Interactive, Pistol Clothing. And of course to Landcare Australia and Coastcare, and all the volunteers and people for which the paddle was undertaken – those out trying to save it.

Day05: the tipping point

5 09 2008

Contemplating the paddle down the Yarra before setting off, I imagined that we’d find a pristine (or close to) environment up in the headwater and as we floated down it would progressively get worse in terms of cleanliness. Turns out rivers don’t work in such a predictable fashion, especially when you’ve got civilisation encroaching on their banks.

The paddle today began from the docks of Westerfolds Park, seen off by Mike, the Parks Vic Ranger who has seen his share of theYarra from a Canadian (he tells a great story about hitting unexpected rapids back in the seventies).

Early morning cyclists, walkers and runners were our company along with – to go all Wordsworth on you – the chattering of the birds among the remnant bushland. Then, as the parkland dropped away to be replaced by suburbia, golf courses and unmaintained land (council?), the river turned ugly. Really ugly. A smattering of litter along the river edge quickly turned to floating dumps the size of squash courts butted up against willow branches. Debris included

Yes, that's a TV...

Yes, that

a 60+inch TV bobbing on the surface, footballs, golf buggies,  the obligatory tyres, thongs, plastic wrappers and bottles, plastic bins, plastic you name it. Talk about the tipping point…

The stench matched the offputting sight before us. In fact we were told that there is a sewage station where there exists an overflow – when it gets high enough, that’s raw effluent into the river direct. The stretch lasted roughly 10-15km before a magic line appeared once more and the river cleaned up. The difference? Much more remnant growth on the riverbank, a wider river, fewer willows and…parks.

Buffer zones along the rivers edge are, our observations would suggest, pivotal to the health of a river. Not just any old vegetation mind you, but native, mixed species. Willows choked the river higher up, while other non natives changed the ecology of the undergrowth, upsetting the natural balance needed to sustain wildlife seen and unseen, large and small.

Stanley BArker shows us his patch at Bourke Road Bridge

Stanley BArker shows us his patch at Bourke Road Bridge

Back to the positive and as we hit the Burke Road Bridge we met up with Stanley Barker, the founder and sole member of Friends Of Bourke Road Billabong. Under the bridge is a section of crown land long neglected but as our wander showed, rather tranquil amid new growth eucalyptus and the like. Unfortunately weeds have taken hold, not to mention uncaring BMXers wreaking havoc by building makeshift dirt ramps. Riding through on his bike one day, Stan decided the patch needed a friend and he was the man for the job. Not that he’s a loner, our Stan. He wants help. He needs it. But bureaucracy has for the past year or so held up the paperwork as Stan tries to get approval to recruit other Friends of the Bourke Road Billabong.

Stan typifies the determination and unending energy that landcare volunteers have in common. Yet another Landcare Hero working along the Yarra, unsung, but by those who walk, run or ride through his patch, much appreciated. We encourage locals to sign up to his cause so that when he does have all the boxes ticked by those working behind desks, he has someone to get his hands dirty with.

Stan was kind enough to paddle a stretch with us in his Canadian before peeling off for lunch. Lucky he did. Two hours on and we hit the biggest ‘rapid’ of the entire challenge run: Dights Falls at the back of Kew. Not being an expert paddler (or even a mildly experienced) I took the soft option

grin and love it...the man is KEEN!

grin and love it...the man is KEEN!

and dragged my boat around. Not Jarad. Remember Team Leader Jarad? The exuberantly madcap pro sportsman who eats up adventure kilometres in his sleep? He took a look, punched his paddles through the water in a flurry and soared over the edge. His smile in doing so was nearly as big as the drop. Nearly. He hung in mid air momentarily before plunging down, whacking into the bottom of the river but sticking it, hardly a drop of water on him. Still smiling. He’ll be talking about that one down the pub for a while to come.

With so much testosterone pumping down the river it was time to ease the adrenaline with some coffee and scones at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, a unique inner city experiement in urban farming that allows citysiders a taste of the country, not to mention an educational experience in where food actually comes from (oh how we forget when at the supermarket shelves – Coles of course). While munching away, farm staff Briget, Alex and Andrew explained how the farm hosts schools, volunteers, guests and farmers’ markets, produces its own organic goods and – importantly for the fact that they are located on the river’s edge – has just started developing a water garden to filter all their water run off before it hits the river. They will monitor the water before, during and after passing through to see the cleansing effect and ensure they aren’t adding to any of the Yarra’s woes. If they get it right, they’ll be a small scale model for some of those farms further upriver demonstrating how agriculture and nature can work together sustainably to maintain river health.  

From the farm it was a short haul to Herring Island, a Parks Victoria-managed site at the back of South Yarra, squashed between a major freeway and some of the most expensive properties in Melbourne. Wonder how they’d feel about the fact that we  – with special permission  of course – slept out in their backyard, on Herring Island’s park benches, under the stars with no luxuries other tap water and toilets? Mind you, our art collection on hand was undoubtably better than any the monied set has across the river: Herring Island is an island of art with numerous sculptures dotted around it,

Andy Goldsworthy sculpture

Andy Goldsworthy sculpture

including by noted international environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, a personal hero of mine for his work with stone. I never knew he had pieces here in Melbourne. Parks Vic has done an amazing job on the island with the help of the Friends of Herring Island (of which Stanley is also a member – whataworker!) and Landcare Australia grants in association with SP Ausnet. It is one of Melbourne’s hidden river gems. If you get across to it, check out Andy’s sculptures – there’s two – and go to the farthest tip where a stone work seats you at the bow of a granite boat headed down the Yarra. We sat there as the sun set over the city skyline with thoughts turning to tomorrow’s paddle, our last day on the river…

Day 04: Keeping KEEN paddling on the S2S Challenge

3 09 2008
Chris, Jarad and Sacha with members of Warrandyte Landcare

Chris, Jarad and Sacha with members of Warrandyte Landcare

DAY 04

So the challenge was set: Red Symonds. 774AM. Would he come paddling for the last day of our challenge? We’d like to think so, despite his luke cold reception to the idea when speaking on air with me this morning. So now the challenge is for everyone to ring in to 774AM in the morning and demand that Red get on board for the last leg of the challenge. No worries if he hasn’t paddled before: we’ll have Olympian Warwick Draper and pro kayaker and adventure racer, Jarad Kohler, on hand to give pointers on paddle technique.

Back to today’s paddle and it started out a strange old day. The Neighbours crew was back at Parks Victoria’s Warrandyte State Park filming their finale for the year. It was an eye off between us and the stunt doubles: who’s gear was brightest and best? We left them in our wake dealing with actions and cuts while we just got stuck into the action. Plenty of pristine wilderness, despite being so close to suburban Melbourne. The rapids came and went, mostly taken the right way up. Plenty of remnant bush meant it was wildlife spotting time again – kangaroo, more platypus and plenty of birdlife.

Further on and we were met by the North Warrandyte Landcare Group working hard to weed and revegetate sections of the riverbank on public land and on their own river frontage properties, fighting bridal creeper, morning glory and ivy smothering the natives. Ian Penrose from the Yarra Riverkeepers also turned out to say hello and explain his role in getting the health of the Yarra on the political agenda.

Downstream, we wondered what a man bent over in the bushes was doing. A quick hello and it turns out we had just met, by chance,  what others tell me is a legend in the world of river ecology and biology. Cam, a ranger working for Parks Victoria, toils on a riverbend regenerating a wetland area, restoring native sedges and, taking inspiration from  building a small rock catchment to study and provide protection for spawning grayling away from the carp that have infested the river. Now that fish ladders have been put in place at places downstream where we have built an obstacle, Cam believes the endangered Grayling will breed again in the area and is seeing evidence of that (although, the fish ladders are only of use if the environmental flow in the river provides sufficient flow over them). This small stretch of river is also a favoured place for eels that eventually migrate as far as the coral sea.

Never have any of us met a man with such passion, zeal and, importantly, head bursting with knowledge when it comes to the science of how a river, the land around it, the flora on it and the wildlife that depends on it, rely so delicately on each other. The energy in his showing us an Aboriginal eel trap – hundreds of years old – was infectious. We paddled off in wonder of people like Cam who we would certainly brand a Landcare Hero (maybe he should be a special guest on

[Sacha] Over the day, in fact, over the past few days, probably the strongest concern that is common amongst all the landcarers we meet, is that of native vegetation, or wildlife corridoors, along the river banks. Our history of clearing land right down to the riverside to maximise available land for agriculture and grazing has left its mark. While most people appreciate and value our farmers, biodiversity plantings along the river, when seen from the river, appear equally important – as biodiversity corridoors, wind breaks, and natural filtration for fun-off which helps water quality for all river users. It also becomes very clear, when observing from the river, that active revegetation with 20 or so mixed species may be essential where areas have been cleared long ago – in some areas nothing but wattle, which disperses easily on the water surface in great flotillas of yellow, grows.

Although these native strips of vegetation along the river are not compulsory at the moment, we have been told there are strong incentives in place to encourage landowners to revegetate, and in the many areas we saw work had been done, we were inspired and commend those landowners / landcarers responsible.

Today we also braved another tunnel. The S2S reconnaissance mission was led by our truly fearless adventure racer, in whom we have developed much faith when in toubled waters. A drop at the entrance to the tunnel was followed by 30 seconds…a minute…two..? of darkness except for a light at the end of the tunnel. At the back of the team for this one, I could barely hear voices over the roar of water echoing through the tunnel. In this case it was only the low flow that made the tunnel safe to travel through. And ok, it was fun. even the surprise double drop-off the other end.

Speaking of the adventures, who did we then bump into at Parks Victoria depot where we had arranged to store the kayaks over night but adventurer Mike Cusack, perhaps most known for taking a challenge from Dick Smith to spend a year in the Kimberley Wilderness and fend for himself. A nice surprise and swapping kayak stories with Mike provided a fitting end to a hard day…

We throw the floor open to Jarad (sponsored by KEEN just in case you miss it) who would like to write a few words:

“KEEN Hybridlife is all about seeing people in the outdoors. During the past two days I have been paddling down the beautiful, very important Yarra River as part of the S2S Landcare paddle. I have seen many people living their ‘Hybridlife’ – Playing, Caring and Creating in the outdoors.

Play: I have seen school groups enjoying grade two rapids, joggers and cyclists using the many Yarra trails, and all types of people simply looking at the beautiful Yarra River. It’s been great seeing all the different recreational groups using the Yarra River and is surrounding banks.

Care: I have been lucky enough to be paddling down the Yarra with Landcare experts Chris and Sacha. I have also met Ian Penrose from Riverkeepers and the enthusiastic/very knowledgeable Cam from Parks Victoria, and many other volunteers. They all have a strong connection with the Yarra River and are doing everything in their power to enable the Yarra River to stay healthy.

Create: I have observed Platypuses, Wedge-tailed Eagles and stretches of river only accessible by kayak. The Yarra is truly inspirational! So, inspirational that the famous TV show Neighbours have just finished filming their dramatic raft capsizes for their final episode of this current series.

Everyone, I have meet on the river has had a certain glow about them…they are passionate and enjoying life. They have all be living what we call a Hybridlife. KEEN hopes many other people in the future can – Play, Care and Create – throughout the Yarra River and its banks. This is why KEEN supports such a great event like the Landcare S2S Challenge.

KEEN hope to see you all down on the water or at the BBQ this Thursday from 1pm on the Williamstown foreshore.”

Day 03: Olympian efforts all round

1 09 2008

There’s commitment, and then there’s commitment. Then there’s madness. We’re still unsure about Jarod Kohler, the latest S2S member to take hold of the paddle: he spends two days in Foster doing unimaginable distances running, mountain biking and kayaking, err, and winning the Anaconda Adventure Race, flies back, packs his 4WD with kayaks and heads off to meet up with us. Arrival time 4:30am. Sleep time 2hrs. Back on the river by 8am. The man must like Landcare.

Also joining us on river was Paul Main, a canoe water polo player from the Fairfield Canoe Club with a penchant for paddling (rather skillfully) backwards down the river.

So we set off, this time the river bank is awash with wattle; at times we’re paddling through a sea of yellow pollen. At least they’re native and holding the bank together. Another ubuiquitos element: water pumps. The landscape above the high bank is agricultural – a lot of wineries which need their water. Vegetation mass is varied, from bare and highly eroded banks with silted riverbends to patches with good native species mix in thick corridors and several landcare plantings, the seedlings still coddled in plastic protection.

Part of the S2S Team reach Yering Gorge Pumping Station

 It’s here we catch sight of our wildlife highlights of the day: a platypus, an azure kingfisher and a yellow crested black cockatoo, all within cooee of each other. Other sightings weren’t so thrilling. An esky, an esky lid further downstream, 3 x tyres, countless pieces of household plastic containers, and 4 x yellow plastic ducks (the lost and abandoned from a duck race raffle fundraiser I suspect). One of the ducks has become our mascot, named Jono in honour of our fallen team mate – off to the physio today to check on that dislocated shoulder.

In contrast to the first two days’ paddle…sorry, walk and paddle…the route was mainly flat, the flow slow and the river windy. The section through Yering Gorge proved the most stunning, the high rock wall interrupted at one end by a pumping station that I’m told helps fulfil Melbourne’s thirst for water.

Further on as the river slowed and just as the paddling began to get slightly monotonous (to the point one of us even tried to argue that the giant transmission lines were in their own way an interesting part of the landscape) we were joined by Warwick Draper, fresh back from competing in the K1 Slalom the Beijing Games. It was his first paddle since his last race where he registered a fifth placing.

Our Olymian arrives (far right)

 Warwick grew up paddling a stretch of the Yarra past Heritage Golf Club that offers up a few good rapids. Yet as we bumped our way down, it was obvious his memories of teenage years being shot over them with good flow under his hull were a long way from the reality of today. “Apart from the flash flood of 2005, I can’t even remember when the rapids were really running to the point of them being fun, it was that long ago.”

We finish the day at Warrandyte State Park, a rather attractive stretch (several stretches actually) of Parks Victoria managed bushland which was at the time of our arrival playing host to some drama. Well, soap actually, in the form of a TV crew filming Neighbours. With plenty of stunties wandering around the outdoors set in wetsuits and helmets (apparently for a boat crash scene), we looked the part for a paddle on role to say the least.

Speaking of fashion – talking to Red Symonds on 774 ABC this morning, he mentioned that Landcare Week shares its dates this year with Fashion Week. As Red put it so nicely: “Rather appropriate given it’s fashionable these days to get involved in saving the environment. Let’s hope that’s one movement that never goes out of fashion eh?” We’ll be speaking to Red again tomorrow morning at 6.45am. Maybe he’ll be up for getting involved in saving the environment himself. Staring with a paddle for Landcare Week from Herring Island to Williamstown on Thursday? Red? What say you? We have the gear and the guides and there will be an Olympic paddler (Warwick) and a slightly over exuberant adventure racer (Jarod) on hand to guide you.

Tomorrow: we meet with a Warrandyte landcare group and once again paddle a long way with an eye to the riverbanks.