“I’ve been going down to the river all my life,” says Jayden, 12. “At night, when you’re camping down there, you can shut your eyes and hear birdcalls, crickets, frogs, even fish splashing in the water. It’s really soothing – it helps me drift off to sleep.”
To the kids at Toolamba Primary School, just south of Shepparton, the Goulburn River is many things: a family picnic and camping spot, a local hang-out, a place to swap stories and go exploring with friends. “The river means a lot to people round here,” says Jayden. “It’s so close, we can always ride our bikes down for a swim. When it’s hot our whole family goes down there. It probably makes us healthy, having the river so close.”
Having grown up along the Goulburn, Jayden and his friends are tuned in to the river’s changing moods: seasonal shifts, safe swimming areas, the health of the water and local wildlife. He’s also one of many Toolamba residents who take a hands-on approach to protecting their waterway.
The Goulburn at Toolamba. Diving for mussels, Jayden finally got to the bottom in April of this year. “It took me five goes, it’s pretty deep so you have to hold your breath.”
This year, on Clean up Australia Day, the grade six students headed down to the river, armed with rubbish bags. Jayden was shocked at what they found. “Eighteen of us collected five big rubbish bags each, full of bottles and cans. We cleaned up a year’s worth of dumped rubbish. I couldn’t believe how much there was. It made me sick.” Now, whenever he and his pals go swimming or playing down by the river, they pick up any rubbish they find: “It’s just automatic now.”
Jayden has also joined school trips led by John Lang, head of the local Landcare group, who shows students how to check water quality along their stretch of the Goulburn: “We use microscopes to look for different kinds of nymphs and shrimps,” says Jayden.
“If you find lots of those little river bugs [macroinvertebrates], you know the river’s healthy.”
With its shady trees and waterholes, the river is a much-loved gathering point for the Toolamba community. Locals have set up their own two-day catch-and-release fishing contest, and when there’s no fire ban it’s a popular barbecue spot. When Jayden’s Nan and Pop came over from Tasmania the family got together for a riverside picnic, and when his dad comes to visit they catch up over a spot of fishing.
Toolamba relies on the Goulburn for its household water, so residents feel a direct link to the river and its natural environment. At Jayden’s school, even the youngest kids study sustainability. “This year we’re planting a nature strip and making a frog bog,” he says. “We’re lucky to live so close to the river. It’s a pretty special place. I hope people realise what we’ve got sitting right here, and look after it.”
Story by Meg Mundell, 2007.