Dimboola resident John Nichols should have been flat-out in November preparing his rowing students for the annual Dimboola Rowing Regatta. But, for the first time in 124 years, the event was cancelled because the Wimmera River is simply too sick.
Poor water quality, low water flows and a major infestation of reeds and weeds has put an end to the historic Victorian rowing tradition.
John, a Dimboola Memorial Secondary College teacher, has a passion for cycling, rowing, teaching and fighting for the future health of the Wimmera River.
His love of the river has seen him involved in water quality monitoring, education programs and landcare activities to improve the river and its beautiful bush surrounds.
Originally from Melbourne, John was posted to Dimboola as a teacher 24 years ago and fell in love with the town.
He moved to his current river-front home seven years ago after spotting it while rowing past back when the river was in a very healthy condition.
His waterside location has helped him discover a couple of superb spots along the river with a natural beauty all their own.
“There are a couple of special places, like Horseshoe Bend which is a really nice spot,” John says.
“Mystic Corner “ which has a lovely beach – and, Rocky Bend are great when town gets too busy and congested,” he adds. He remembers the Wimmera River as a thriving flowing ecosystem where he would row five times a week and coach his students.
Photos from previous years of the annual rowing spectacular – showing a very healthy Wimmera River – line the walls of the rowing clubhouse, is perched on the riverbank.
John talks fondly of the many canoe and rowing adventures up and down the Wimmera River system; past rowing regattas when the river was full to overflowing with rowers and spectators, and times gone by when people caught fish in the river.
He recalls when Lake Hindmarsh (situated north of Dimboola) was full 13 years ago. Today Lake Hindmarsh looks like a desert scene from a Mad Max movie.
Today, John stands on the dry rowing boat launch where water used to lap his feet.
“This is how high it was not so long ago, we built this a few years back to make it easier to get the boats in.”
John would like to be rowing now but doesn’t risk taking his boats into the river anymore. Constant snags are enough to keep his feet on dry land; they have caused damage to three of his boats in the past 18 months alone.
“Normally you would see kids starting to swim this time of year, but we haven’t seen that for the past two years,” John laments. ”The past five years have been really serious for the river, we just need rain, it’s as simple as that – and lots of it.”
“The Wimmera River is a major asset for the town, for its tourism, recreation, natural and scenic beauty and values, but it is slowly dying.”
Story by Adam Olive, December 2006