Jan McChesney | Environment Victoria

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Jan McChesney: Shares her "soul" place

Since the age of 17, avid bushwalker and sailor Jan McChesney has regarded the Mitchell River and the Gippsland Lakes as her “soul places”. Now 59, Jan still enjoys sharing her special places with both tourists and friends, and is constantly discovering new ways to explore the area.

Tucked away at her bush retreat near Metung, Jan is very busy keeping her resident kangaroos and blue tongue lizard happy and coordinating bushwalks along the Mitchell River for community organisation U3A.

”The Mitchell River is one of my soul places and I love finding new ways of approaching it. I try and plan the walks so it maximizes the beauty of the river and the surrounding environment,” she says.

“On one of the walks I led, one of the chaps said ‘I’ve walked all over the world and this walk would have to be in the top ten.’”

From a recreational perspective, Jan says she would be devastated if the Mitchell River was dammed.

“I would be very concerned if the Mitchell was dammed because it would mean activities like kayaking and canoeing wouldn’t be viable. I think it would ruin a lot of important activities for young people and older people.

“I’ve rafted up on the rivers in northern Queensland where you’re reliant on the hydro electricity scheme releasing water for certain periods of time to make rafting possible, and I would hate to see that happen here.”

Jan laughs about how the Glenaladale Weir, built on the Mitchell in 1881, fell apart after it was plagued by floods and problems with the foundations.

“There are some interesting stories about how the old bluestone dam fell apart. One is that the farmers down the road blew it up, or that they ran out of funding or that the concrete used wasn’t the right mix of sand and gravel. But it makes a nice feature now on the river and it’s good to jump off if you’re crazy enough,” she says with a knowing smile.

Jan is aware however, that damming the Mitchell would not only be disastrous for recreational activities, but that it would also have affects on the environmental balance and ecology of the area.

“The affects of lower flows would change the plants and the fish of the river. And the Lakes need regular flushing to keep the mix of water right. Intervening in nature will change the nature of the Lakes system.

“My understanding, as an observer, is that low levels of water and high temperatures produce allege blooms in the Lakes. This is made worse by high levels of nitrogen being flushed down the river from farms.

“We’ve had three low tourism years with the floods, the fires and the algal blooms. This year is looking to be one of the best ones for a few years. You’ve got this body of water and if it’s not viable for swimming and water sports, then it’s not going to help tourism.”

“I’m interested in the aesthetics of the river and the health of it and just being able to enjoy it, it provides a retreat from the hustle and bustle and I think it’s a wonderful area for kids to learn and grow…a dam would ruin this.”

Story by Sacha Myers, Environment Victoria, February 2009

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