“We still get in there and swim in it and we’ve never come out with any serious illness so I think that’s the ultimate test of its health,’’ Marion says defiantly. “A lot of people are horrified when they find out I still get in there so I don’t tell them anymore. But it’s very soothing to get into the river. The only problem is my husband Graham isn’t too happy when I go in – he thinks I’ll sink,’’ she chuckles.
Marion is one member of Yea’s community who should know exactly how safe the river is. For the past 12 years she has acted as a committed Waterwatch monitor, regularly testing salinity and turbidity levels.
“I do the testing more frequently than most because I just have to walk to the nearby bridge and drop the equipment in the water,’’ she says. “But I’ve got a friend next door who’s younger than me and I think after 12 years it’s a good time to pass the job over. She’ll bring a new enthusiasm to it’’.
Marion and husband Graham, who have been married 57 years, bought their quaint property on a little bend in the river in 1979. Since then they have consolidated the property next door, built a new house and turned the original run-down cottage into an arts studio.
“Why did we choose it? Not because of the cottage but because of the river and the red gums. They reminded me of home because I grew up on the Edwards River in NSW. We had been living down in Eltham and I couldn’t wait to come up here. We’ll never move from here now, and I don’t think our boys will ever let it go either’’.
Marion worries for the health of the Yea, saying it needs to be cleared of debris and weeds that have built up because of the diminished rainfall.
“There’s no doubting how much the town of Yea relies on the river. When we first came here the milkman would drive around in his van with a loudspeaker announcing that the town’s water pump had broken down. He’d shout to everyone to turn their hoses off until everything was fixed’’.
Marion says her happiest moments are down on the banks for the Yea painting her watercolour landscapes. “I love how the river has different personalities in different spots. My son and I use the cottage as a studio and we sometimes put exhibitions on in there. Being a painter and artist was one of the main reasons we came here. It’s a very special place’’.
Written by Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, July 2008