Stories of Wirn wirndook Yerung – The Macalister River

Stories from across generations and backgrounds have been collected in Stories of Wirn wirndook Yerung – The Macalister River, a book produced by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA).

“The Macalister is one of our major waterways which both supports modern communities and has a special significance for Traditional Owners,” said CEO of the WGCMA, Mr Martin Fuller.

“In our work with individuals from those two groups we thought there was an opportunity to collect a few of the stories from the river and commit them to print,” added Martin.

The book records the impressions and memories of the Traditional Owners the Gunaikurnai who have called the area home for tens of thousands of years, as well as residents who began to call the area home in the early 20th century.

Farming family’s contribution

Other contributors to the book include two generations of the Dwyer family, Jack, and son Steven.

The Dwyer’s have been farming along the Macalister since 1913 and have been involved in improving the river through planting trees to stabilise the bank as well as witnessing some less successful interventions and some truly extraordinary ones.

“At one stage in the 50s the erosion issues were pretty bad, and someone had the bright idea of placing old car bodies in the riverbank, securing them and allowing soil to build up around them and eventually stabilise the bank. It worked!” recalls Jack.

Eventually using old cars to help secure the riverbank was replaced by a different set of approaches including planting of trees and allowing the river to run its course rather than attempting to straighten it.

Managing the river as a whole

Woking on the river since the late 60s Phil Taylor recalls his early days with the Macalister River Improvement Trust.

“We had one Holden car, an axe and a chainsaw and we worked out of the boot of the car.

“One of the biggest things we did was taking a whole of catchment approach. Initially there were 27 River Improvement Trusts in the state and everybody doing their own thing. Nobody was talking to each other.

“When we started to look at the whole of the catchment, we never looked back and while there is still work to be done, it’s definitely heading in the right direction,” concluded Phil.

Water for the Environment

One of the aspects of current management of the Macalister that is captured in the book is the use of Water for the Environment.

“The Macalister (like the Thomson and the Latrobe) has an environmental entitlement. A managed flow of water from the storage at Glenmaggie that is released to benefit the ecology of the river,” said Environmental Water Resource Officer with the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Dr. Stephanie Suter.

Environmental Water releases might be used in spring to trigger upstream migration of fish species or in autumn to encourage and assist downstream migration of fish for spawning.

Both ‘freshes’ also assist the health of streamside vegetation, promoting bird and insect life.

Irrigation improvement and river health

One of the key aspects of the Macalister River is the essential role it plays in the local irrigated farming businesses of the Macalister Irrigation District.

Over recent years changes in approach by irrigators have paid dividends both for them and the health of the river.

“We used to think we were doing the river a favour by letting irrigation water flow off paddocks into drains and into the river,” recalls Southern Rural Water’s Terry Clapham.”

Unfortunately, that nutrient laden irrigation water was carrying sediment, fertiliser and manure into the rivers to later develop into algal blooms in the Gippsland Lakes.

Estimates suggest around 30,000 million litres of irrigation water was entering the Macalister annually loaded with nutrients.

Nutrient reduction programs and irrigation efficiency programs have improved the picture dramatically with year-on-year savings of water, reductions in water leaving a property and greater efficiency on farm.

“On farms, things like re-use dams have been massive in terms of capturing run off and re-using water back on farms. The changes in attitude and practice by local farming businesses has been outstanding and made such a vital difference,” added Terry

The future

While Stories of Wirn wirndook Yeerung The Macalister River captures the history of the Macalister River, all the contributors have dreams about what it’s future might look like.

Whether they be fish ladders at Maffra Weir, continued removal of willows and replacement with native vegetation or continued improvement in irrigation efficiency, Wirn wirndook Yeerung -The Macalister River will remain a vital part of the environment and the community for many more years to come.

Copies of Stories of Wirn wirndook Yeerung – The Macalister River are available upon request from the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and the Wellington Shire Library catalogue.

An electronic version of the book can be viewed and downloaded here.

Jack Dwyer Steve Dwyer and Muddy enjoy the Stories of Wirn wirndook Yeerung - The Macalister River
Jack Dwyer Steve Dwyer and Muddy enjoy the Stories of Wirn wirndook Yeerung - The Macalister River