The trick, says Dianne as she pushes us off from the riverbank, is not to wobble. Her kayak is super-light and sits very low in the water; any sudden moves by her backseat passenger could tip us both into the drink.
Dianne Brown has been paddling the Goulburn River since she first took up kayaking as a sport, six years ago. “I love it out here, it’s very peaceful,” she says. “I think 90 per cent of the people living in Shepparton don’t even realise we have a river on our doorstep! I’d like to see more people coming down here and enjoying it.”
Paddling, as it’s known, is a unique way to get acquainted with a river: the boat slips through the water almost silently, offering close-up views of the local birdlife. As well as being a low-impact way to get the blood pumping, it does wonders for the stress levels. Few sports can claim such a picturesque setting: sunlight falling through tall river gums, ducklings scooting into the reeds, birdcalls and glittering water droplets.
But there has been the odd surprise. On one trip Dianne came face-to-face with a startled snake, which almost got scooped up by her paddle. “We gave each other a fright!” she recalls. “But I try not to disturb anything out here. The birds and animals have as much right to be here as I do.”
Unfortunately, alongside the resident flora and fauna, Dianne also sees exactly what washes down the storm-water drains into the Goulburn.
“I wish people would make that connection more – that our river is the place where all the rubbish off the street ends up.
Besides the usual bottles and cans, I’ve found all kinds of strange things down here: a basketball, a full-size kids’ paddling pool…and an entire fire-truck hose!”
Other unexpected sights include the odd accidental glimpse of a couple who think they’ve found a private canoodling spot. “The boat makes no noise so they don’t hear me coming,” laughs Dianne. “I’ve had to avert my eyes a couple of times!”
For her, the Goulburn is both peaceful haven and training ground. The hundreds of hours she’s spent honing her paddling skills along this serene stretch have paid off: Dianne has conquered the grueling five-day Murray River Marathon six times, won a gold medal at the 2002 World Masters, and is the 2007 Victorian State Champion. In person she may be slight and unassuming, but her fellow kayakers know better: they’ve dubbed her boat Assassin, a tribute to her notorious staying powers. “I’ve taught a few friends how to paddle,” she grins. “The guys would start out way ahead of me, but I’d always end up finishing before them.”
For many of our rivers, the immediate future looks less than rosy. Record low inflows to the Murray River, for example, means this year’s Marathon may have to be cancelled. As for the future of the Goulburn, says Dianne, “I want people to start using it, loving and respecting it. Through good times and bad, the river has always been a friend to me. It’s a beautiful place.”
Story by Meg Mundell, 2007