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River people

Published 16 Dec 2019 

Antia Brademann discovers that for the people who live and work on the upper Murrumbidgee River, it is more than just a waterway; it is a way of life that connects them all.

UMDR Facilitator Antia Brademann by the Murrumbidgee River, NSW. Photo Amelia Caddy.

From its headwaters in the Snowy Mountains, the Murrumbidgee River drops sharply down onto the Monaro high plain where it carves its way through Ngarigo and Ngunnawal country, around the flanks of Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve and onto Canberra.

Restoring the health of this part of the upper Murrumbidgee is at the heart of Bush Heritage’s partnership with the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach (UMDR). We spoke to UMDR Facilitator Antia Brademann to learn more.

Why did you start working on rivers?

I grew up on the upper Murrumbidgee near Bredbo and ever since then I’ve wanted to work on rivers. Rivers are such precious ecosystems. They connect the whole landscape and the community as well. Rivers and wetlands are essential for life!

Aerial view of revegetation work along the banks of the Murrumbidgee. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

I completed a Bachelor of Natural Resources specialising in aquatic ecology, and then moved back to this region when I had kids. I’ve been working on the upper Murrumbidgee for eight years now and one of the best things about this job is that you can go out onto the river a million times and there’s always something new to see because things are always changing.

You’re working on a specific part of the upper Murrumbidgee. Can you describe it for me? 

The UMDR initiative was established in 2010 and focused on a section of the upper Murrumbidgee, which is about 100km long and runs from Bredbo in NSW, past Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve, and through to Casuarina Sands in the ACT.

In this area, the waterways are characteristically crystal clear, fast flowing and cool. You have these deep, rocky gorges where native vegetation persists and then also broad valley flats where the riparian vegetation has been mostly cleared. The species that live here such as Trout Cod, Macquarie Perch and Platypus are adapted to these conditions.

Platypus are at home in the Murrumbidgee River. Photo Dave Watts.

We're now working to expand our focus to the whole of the upper Murrumbidgee River from Tantangara Dam to Burrinjuck Dam, a section which is about 380km long.

Restoring a river must require working with so many different stakeholders. How do you stay across everything and keep everyone engaged? 

Most people who buy a property connected to the Murrumbidgee do so because they care about the river; there’s a real sense of shared appreciation for it in this community that’s quite special. So, I think that inherent connection is the path through which we engage people with working towards a healthier and more resilient river system.

At the end of the day, the upper Murrumbidgee is one of Canberra's water supplies. So, in a very utilitarian sense, ensuring its waters remain clean into the future is in the interests of hundreds of thousands of people.

The UMDR, supported by Bush Heritage, works with landholders all along the upper Murrumbidgee to encourage actions that will benefit river health like fencing out stock, preventing disturbance from roads, controlling weeds, fixing erosion along banks and in tributary gullies, replanting native vegetation and improving instream habitat.

The challenge is getting all our projects to link up. It’s such a huge ecosystem with such long boundaries, so improving connectivity is very complex.

Why is connectivity so important for river health?

NSW Fisheries officer, Justin Stanger with a 93cm Murray Cod found on the Murrumbidgee (which was returned unharmed). Photo Dylan van der Muelen.

The science tells us that a break in vegetation as small as 50 metres along the banks of a river can start to affect river health. There are a whole host of benefits associated with riparian vegetation. It filters runoff and thereby protects water quality, it helps with bank stability, provides shade that helps regulate water temperature. And it provides cover and protection for lots of different animals.

For example, young Platypus will often be exploring on the bank so if the banks are bare, they will be vulnerable to predation. So, losing riparian vegetation can impact river health in lots of ways, but luckily we find that when we restore that connectivity, there are benefits not only for the immediate site but also downstream.

The UMDR is a collaborative initiative funded and supported by key partners including Bush Heritage Australia, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, the ACT Government, Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch, Icon Water, the Australian River Restoration Centre, Local Land Services, University of Canberra and the NSW Government.

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