In the fifties, soon after arriving in Australia, I built myself a wooden boat. I had plenty of fun exploring the river, getting to know the best fishing spots and the type of bait used by the experts just by keeping my eyes open.
If you study a geological survey map, you’ll see the river meanders through an extensive volcanic region. It makes you realise what an active area it must have been millions of years back.
The saltwater comes up the river as far as Solomon’s Ford. Some say that gold was brought that way from Bendigo into Melbourne, but I’m not so sure. Can’t see it myself: it’s a perfect place for an ambush by all those ratbags up to no good. There’s a natural causeway on the riverbed, so to make a ford they pushed big boulders across the river. You can still scramble across them without getting wet.
One side of the crossing is freshwater and on the other it’s salty. I can have two rods in the water at one time: I cast for freshwater fish on one stretch, walk a few yards along the bank and then throw a line in for saltwater varieties. It’s good fun to show a stranger what I’ve caught. They can’t understand how there can be freshwater tench in the same river as a saltwater bream.
Years back, before people became more conscious of the environment, the polluted water flowed up-river with the tide from Footscray through Flemington. Down Footscray way it stank something awful, with all the rubbish that was dumped. All the by-products from the abattoirs and the waste from the tanning factories drained into the river. The drovers used to walk all the cattle and sheep to the saleyards, so you can imagine the stuff that found its way into the river.
When it rained the water became a yellowy-brown colour, more like an open sewer than a river. ‘Round about thirty years ago a miracle occurred. The authorities started a big clean-up, and stopped everyone using it as a community drain – imposing big fines for non-compliance, with tough regulations.
What a difference that made – not only to the river, but its surroundings as well. The fish have returned, better than ever and the riverbanks have been cleaned up. The parklands look a real picture. Native birds have returned in large numbers and more people are enjoying the picnic areas.
People are obviously proud of their river because they look after it and treat all the parklands with respect. There’s no garbage lying around because there are bins everywhere. It just shows, if people are given ownership of something, they’ll nurture what’s theirs and make things even better.
Mind you, you can’t just walk along the riverbank and throw a line in anywhere you like. Some of the land past Keilor is held under what they call ‘old titles’. The land is owned to the top of the bank, and other titles extend to the middle of the river. You need permission to fish in these places, and it’s not always granted because someone in the past might have done the wrong thing by the landowner.
There’s one thing for sure though: thirty years ago I’d never eat a fish out of the Maribyrnong. I wouldn’t hesitate these days.
When I sit on the bank and look into the distance either way, I can see beauty in any direction. Melbourne’s best tidal river belongs to all of us you know, so let’s make sure we get it right for our children and our children’s children.
Let the future generations catch roach, brown trout, tench, carp, and eels in the fresh water, and on the salty side bream, mullet, tupong, and the occasional mulloway, as well as other estuarine fish.
Mind you, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell strangers about our little secret. Let them walk away, shaking their heads in amazement.
Story by David Weaver