Sale’s Alwyn Ryan is one of six Gippsland residents to take part in a new Environment Victoria project, which has revealed a passionate commitment within the community to protect, restore and celebrate the Latrobe River.
The project, Your River: The Latrobe River, will be launched on Tuesday 7 July in Sale and uncovers the stories of a range of people including farmers, conservationists, business people and teachers who live, work and play in the Latrobe River catchment.
For almost two decades Alwyn Ryan has acted like a Godmother to the Sale Common wetlands, working to rejuvenate its damaged terrain and educating its future users.
Having lived on a farm adjacent to Lake Reeve for 11 years, Alwyn moved to Sale in 1990 and immediately took up a job with the then Conservation and Natural Resources, quickly developing a schools program for the wetlands.
“I had a lot to learn because up until then Sale Common was just a place you drove past and it wasn’t used by the community,’’ Alwyn said. “It hadn’t been advertised as a place to go and it lacked any real facilities. The main thing most people knew about it was that when it flooded it often took a few caravans with it.”
With a strong focus on community education and with the assistance of many enthusiastic volunteers in the Friends of Sale Wetlands, Alwyn set about changing the landscape, but also public attitudes.
“We got down there and scrubbed out blackberries and planted trees. Those trees are now quite tall and look like they’ve been there forever. It’s a very positive change because if we don’t have a healthy environment, we’re not a healthy community,” she said.
Environment Victoria’s healthy rivers campaign manager Leonie Duncan said the Your River project had revealed the need for the Gippsland community to speak up for the river system they love and depend on.
“The Latrobe River has important environmental and social values, particularly in the upper tributaries and the lower reaches around Heart Morass, and contributes much-needed fresh-water flows to the Gippsland Lakes,” she said.
“However, the river has suffered a legacy of abuse including redirection and industrial pollution, and is now facing further pressure from reduced inflows under climate change and large consumptive water demands.”
But Environment Victoria found there were many reasons to hope for the future of this special river.
“It’s pretty clear from these Your River stories that there is strong community concern for protecting and reviving the Latrobe River and Gippsland Lakes,” Ms Duncan said.
West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority CEO, Geoff Hocking, said there have been substantial efforts over many years to improve the health of the Latrobe River and commended the contribution made by local landholders, agencies and community groups such as Landcare and Waterwatch who operate tirelessly throughout the catchment.
Mr Hocking also urged people to get involved in the upcoming Sustainable Water Strategy policy process.
“There will be an opportunity for people to help determine the future of the Latrobe River in coming months as the Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy is developed by the Victorian Government. People should look out for the SWS Discussion Paper, which is due to be released for public comment soon,” he said.
Environment Victoria’s Latrobe Your River project will be launched at a community celebration at the Wellington Entertainment Centre, Sale, from 5pm until 7pm on Tuesday, 7 July 2009, in partnership with West Gippsland CMA.