Not only is Yvonne Lawson a sixth generation Princetown resident, she has also lived on both ends of the Gellibrand River. The 60-year-old learnt to swim in the Gellibrand as a child, has farmed beef cattle by its waters for decades and is now playing an integral role in its preservation as President of the Princetown Landcare Group.
Having spent time living near the head of the Gellibrand at Chapple Vale, Yvonne is adamant she and husband David will never sell their current house on a 300-acre property overlooking the mouth of the river.
They have, however, sold a portion of land adjacent to the river to the government so it could be preserved as Land for Wildlife. “You feel good knowing that piece of land is protected, with the added bonus of knowing no-one can build in front of our stunning panorama. Our property has the best view,’’ she smiles cheekily.
Yvonne’s greatest concern for its future in Princetown is the uncontrolled spread of Phragmites australis (Common Reed). “Although there were a lot of reeds on the wetlands when we were young they are starting to choke up the waterholes and riverbanks. They choke everything else out of the river and fewer birds come to the area because they’ve got nowhere to land’’.
Yvonne reflects on a childhood full of excitement and fear down by the river. “I remember as a kid that I hadn’t learnt to swim properly when my sister bolted from the water and told me to swim to the bank on my own. It was literally sink or swim and from then on I swam everywhere on my own”. “I also remember having a massive fear of touching the eels we used to catch from the river in summer. I didn’t mind catching them but I would never get them off the rods’’.
Yvonne says childhood fears of the Gellibrand River’s unknowns ran in the family. “Mum and her sisters used to have to cross an old swing bridge over the river everyday to go to school and they hated it because it used to sway in the wind”. “None of them could swim and one day my Aunty fell through it because the boards were rotting. She got caught by the arms and she was too heavy for mum to lift out so it was lucky their brother was nearby to rescue her’’.
Yvonne says it is vital that the Gellibrand River be treated with respect so that the next generation of children can experience the same sort of discovery and adventure on its banks.
“I see the river being well looked after into the future because of all the authorities that are taking an interest in it now. We as a Landcare group are making sure that it is cared for properly’’.
By Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, November 2008