Peter Woodhead | Environment Victoria

Donate Now

Peter Woodhead: Surviving a river whirlpool

Snatched from the surface by an angry and swollen Latrobe River, Peter Woodhead could only hold his breath and hope the raging whirlpool would spit him back out. With his lungs at bursting point, the Kilmany farmer thought only of the advice from his parents: don’t panic.

“A whirlpool is a very unhealthy place to be because it takes you straight under and if you fight it you die,’’ Peter says. “I just had to roll with it, keep my mouth closed, hold my nose, and if my lungs didn’t burst in the meantime I knew I’d eventually get washed out. I was probably half lucky because I didn’t panic’’.

Peter had been in the river rescuing cattle that had walked into trouble as the flooding waters rose. Despite the flow of the Latrobe almost bringing about his death, Peter owes his life on the farm to its constant presence.

His 600-acre Kilmany property, bought by his parents in 1912, has relied on the river’s water supply for almost 100 years of successful production.

“My parents started off with sugar beet but I eventually took it to potato and cattle farming,’’ he says. “It was a great place to grow up and a wonderful lifestyle. I didn’t want to do anything else but take over the farm.’

“Water is the lifeline of the community. In the older days, if people didn’t have capacity to water their stock they’d bring their mobs down from other properties and water them during the day on our property’’.After selling the farm to friends in 2003, Peter can reflect on the massive changes he witnessed while living on the river’s banks. He remembers learning to swim and catch eels in it as a child – recreational activities that soon became impossible.

“It was treated virtually like a sewerage channel so it got totally polluted and all the life disappeared,’’ he says sadly. “The eels had more sense then to hang around.

“One thing you noticed when you were working in the river was that if you got any cuts they’d heal in 24 hours. The chemicals would give instant healing.”

“It was a shame because a lot can be repaired but when you alter something, for every action there is a reaction’’.

Despite the mistakes of the past, Peter has faith that the health of the Latrobe River can be turned around. “The future is in the hands in the people who can do the right thing. I think in a matter of time it can be cleaned out’’.

He now enjoys a “bloody busy’’ retirement in the quaint town of Noojee, near the river’s head. His daughter still lives on the Kilmany farm and he often visits his old stomping ground when he can find time.

“It’s good to get back down there but I chose Noojee to live because this is the clean end of the river. I occasionally do some fishing on it if visitors come round. You can always catch half a dozen trout. It’s a beautiful bit of river”.

By Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, May 2009

Latest stories

Green Action stories

  • Tim Bowman was dealing with the responsibility of a 4000 acre...

  • Maha Abdel Rahmen is teaching sustainability to young people...

  • Trevor and his family believe the water crisis is a problem for the whole...

  • Ron considers himself a custodian of the land he depends on...

  • Russell Wealands is known as "Mr Wetlands...

  • Clancy Moore is greening up the place he rents...

  • Stan invested in the sustainability of his rental property...

  • Ali flexes his permaculture skills in Melbourne backyards...

  • Kate's abode is a prime example of sustainable living...

  • Bob: fighting to protect the Helmeted Honeyeater...


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


© 2016 Environment Victoria