Coming together for the Maribyrnong River

Coming together for the Maribyrnong River
Rhonda Dredge

Those who love the Maribyrnong will be having a forum on July 20 to gather support for the appointment of a riverkeeper.

Dr Nicole Kowalczyk, who has a PhD in water ecology, is acting part-time in the job.

The Riverkeeper Association is hoping to get funding for a full-time position.

There are 11 riverkeepers in Australia and they are making an impact in terms of the poetics, politics and science of conservation.

“The Maribyrnong is the second-biggest river in Melbourne, but it has no peak body for the community,” Nicole told North West City News. “It’s difficult not to see us as the poor cousin of the Yarra.”

She said that while funding was not the only way of tacking river issues, it was necessary to staff projects.

The Maribyrnong River Conservation Forum will bring together around 30 interest groups from along the river and anyone is invited to attend.

Compared to its more flood-prone relative, the Maribyrnong is a low-lying tidal river and saline for 12 kilometres upstream up to Solomon’s Ford.

Standing on the bridge at Pipemakers Park, it appears to be still and peaceful as it meanders through the city’s north-west.

But it has many of the same issues as the Yarra, such as polystyrene and chemical pollution. Its planning restrictions are not as strict, and Nicole believes there has been less investment in it by government because of the safe Labor seats along its course.

“The Chain of Ponds got $5 million from the Federal election because it was in a marginal seat,” she said.

Studies are advanced on the Yarra to the point of liaising directly with industry and sources of plastic, Nicole said. “The Maribyrnong is lagging behind.”

Nicole works three days a week for the Riverkeeper Association, an independent body funded by benefactors such as Peter Isaacson, former boss of Kane Constructions.

“He’s partially funding this position as well,” she said, but the association is gearing up to apply to other funding bodies, a long and arduous task.

Nicole did her PhD on the penguin population at St Kilda and knows how the ecology of Port Phillip Bay is influenced by the rivers.

“Fresh water from the Yarra and the Maribyrnong plays a critical role in controlling pollution in the bay,” she said.

Melburnians tend to think of the bay as a recreational asset but in actual fact it is an estuary, a place of great natural diversity.

The challenge is for people to do a rethink about the city in terms of its geography and the way these waterways impact on our communities.

The forum will be held on July 20 from 9am to 12.30am at the Essendon Rowing Club. •

For further details contact Nicole via email at [email protected]


Caption: Nicole and her son Ned at Pipemaker’s Park.

John Buncle

John Buncle

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