The hills above the former pools were one of the worst burnt areas along the river. Without intervention, they were at risk of losing even more of their topsoil and forming huge erosion gullies.
So the team got to work putting in coir logs to stabilise the soil, planting long-stem shrubs and trees and installing GPS monitoring devices on what is known as the ‘riparian one.’
If all went to plan, these measures would prevent further erosion and sedimentary run-off that affects the water quality. New native plants would outcompete invasive weeds. And the revegetation would create shade to buffer water temperatures and support native animals through predicted future climatic extremes.
Volunteer David Kelly plants a tree to help stabilise the banks. Photo by Rohan Thomson/ Pew Pew Studio.
At over 1485km long, the Murrumbidgee River (or the Mighty ’Bidgee as it is affectionally known) is a major tributary of the Murray River and the second longest river in Australia. It sits within the Murray Darling Basin and flows through Ngarigo, Ngunnawal, Wiradjuri, Nari Nari and Muthi Muthi country.
The Adventurous Volunteers work along 4km of river frontage, a metric that might seem minor by comparison, but which is part of a bigger story about a community rallying to protect its river. That’s where Antia Brademann comes in.
“Antia ties it all together,” says Kim. “As facilitator of the UMDR she connects and educates everyone along the whole stretch of the reach and spearheads the Adventurous Volunteers program.”
UMDR Facilitator Antia Brademann. Photo Rohan Thomson/Pew Pew Studio.
The UMDR initiative was established in 2009 to restore a 100km reach of the upper Murrumbidgee. It proved so successful in its early years that it was later expanded to encompass more than 320km, spanning from the Snowy Hydro-controlled Tantangara Dam in Kosciuszko National Park to Burrinjuck Dam north-west of Canberra.
The UMDR partnership has brought together local governments, conservation groups and landholders, including farmers, with the aim of reducing the effects of many different threats on the upper Murrumbidgee:
- water extraction
- sediment deposition
- introduced fish
- the loss of vegetation along the river’s edge – and now,
- the effects of the Black Summer bushfires.
Helping native fish populations to recover is one of the UMDR’s main goals – their numbers have declined to less than 9% of pre-European levels.
“The health of our rivers says a lot about our relationship to our landscapes, how we work as a collective community and our values in relation to the natural world,” says Antia.
“We know we are ‘getting it right’ with managing our river systems when we have healthy and thriving fish populations as they are a key indicator of river health.”
Two fish are of keen interest to the UMDR: the endangered Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) and the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii).
“A Murray Cod can live to be over 50 years old and grow to 1.8 metres. These impressive fish have evolved over thousands of years, living with drought and flooding rains. When I think of this, it evokes a feeling of awe and sacredness for this species; we need to work to protect it,” says Antia.
Ultimately, the way to do that is through engaging people.
Eighteen months after the fires, Antia, Kim and the Adventurous Volunteers prepared to paddle back to those once-deep pools in Bredbo Gorge. Into their three inflatable rafts they packed buckets, monitoring equipment, picket rammers, augers and plants.
“When we got to shore, the six of us tied our boats up and we walked up the bank. I said to everybody, ‘everywhere that you walk today, be careful and look where you step.’ It was incredible – there was so much regeneration from 10cm to 20cm high.”
The understory was full of annual herbs, forbs and different species of shrubs and the diversity of native recruitment was amazing. For Kim, this was a welcome sight after the fires.
“Prior to the bushfires this was intact nature, and it’s coming back.”