With an audience of excited school kids at her side, Trish Grant remembers plunging her hand into the Woori Yallock Creek's clear water to pluck out a freshwater crayfish they'd found.
These spiky crustaceans can be hard to handle but Trish – well-seasoned in the art – presented the creature without fuss for the children to admire. To her shock they all looked horrified.
It appeared as if a heaving black mass of leeches was writhing in her hand. Despite not being the type to get squeamish, Trish let go of the crayfish with a shriek.
A quick check of her waterbug reference book and Trish was delighted to discover it was her first sighting of a special type of flatworm; one that lives on the shells of freshwater crays in symbiosis: a two-way beneficial relationship between two organisms.
“It was really exciting,” Trish recalls of that moment some years ago. “This species of flatworm isn’t rare but it’s not something you see every day. They were all over the crayfish, even in its eye sockets!”
Trained as a biologist, Trish spent 12 years working as a research scientist before becoming a Regional Waterwatch Coordinator seven years ago. Last year, Trish reached over 7000 people in Melbourne’s outer east through her river education programs, from displays at community festivals, to training volunteer water monitoring groups and running outdoor activities for schools.
Not everyone can say they love going to work, but Trish feels fortunate to have a job she finds both fulfilling and fun.
The Woori Yallock Creek is of particular interest to Trish, especially around Yellingbo where lineal nature reserves along two arms of the catchment’s creeks provide a “wonderful haven for all sorts of creatures’’.
Amongst the natural delights Trish reveals to school groups is a thriving bed of freshwater mussels; hundreds of shiny black shells buried in the mud.
“It makes you think of the Wrundjeri people and how the creek would have been such a good source of bush tucker”.
Trish describes the Yellingbo Nature Reserve as having a restorative effect on the Woori Yallock Creek.
“The reserve’s native vegetation, and the shade and stable banks it provides, helps improve water quality and support life in the creek,” explains Trish.
“And the more we care for the catchment, the more life we’ll see. People are starting to understand that this has benefits for us too as a life-form”.
Trish’s role as a Waterwatch Coordinator is to motivate people to connect to their local river or creek and develop a sense of stewardship in response.
“In the city in particular we often struggle to find a connection to place; to understand where our local creeks are and the geography underlying our built landscape. I know that the more I’ve come to understand my local environment, the more rooted I’ve felt and the happier I’ve become”.
By Leonie Duncan, June 2008
Melbourne Waterwatch is a free river health education and monitoring program, which aims to increase community understanding, participation and ownership of local river health issues. The program is sponsored by Melbourne Water, the Natural Heritage Trust, and every local council across greater Melbourne.