SACTCG Waterwatch group profile
Like many Waterwatch groups in the Southern ACT, the ‘Paddy’s River Group’ had its origins in Canberra’s Parkcare volunteer community. Maree Blume had been a member of the ‘Friends of Tidbinbilla’ Parkcare group for a year before the fires hit in 2003. Fleur Horan is also an active Greening Australia member. A familiar story emerges of Parkcare volunteers joining the ranks of the ‘C.A.M.P.F.I.R.E.’ project that ACT Waterwatch initiated in the wake of this tragedy. Nigel Philpot’s name is seen again and again in the SACTCG group profiles, as it is largely attributed to his efforts that many became involved in Waterwatch.
After an initial meeting organised by Nigel at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a party of nearly 20 gathered at Flints Crossing on the Paddy’s river for their Waterwatch training. Maree and Fleur Horan were among the large cross section of people in the early days that included uni students and other young people as well as retirees, who often form the backbone of Parkcare groups. Fleur’s daughter also became involved, monitoring with the intrepid ‘Gudgenby Bush Regenerators’(featured in an earlier article). During this time Maree recalls how often there would be so many at a monitoring event that each person would only get to do one small sub-task eg fill the test tube to the correct level during dissolved oxygen testing.
However after just six months the numbers dwindled to a devoted few of 6 to 8 regulars then, soon after, only Fleur and Maree would show up with occasionally their partners or friend, Jill Smith.
It was difficult for young people to commit to something as long term as Waterwatch as their lives became increasingly busy. The additional burden of rising fuel costs also turned many away, especially if they are undertaking regular visits to (comparatively) remote locations. The abolition of mandatory monitoring dates which were always on a Saturday has helped Fleur and Maree to continue to monitor two sites, the stretch of the Cotter River where it passes the campground at the Cotter reserve and Murray’s Corner, on Paddy’s River from where the group derives its name. The flexibility of choosing when they go to their sites also enables them to plan for additional monitoring activities. For instance they can undertake water invertebrate surveys in the morning, when extra time is needed.
Fleur and Maree also participate in the annual Frogwatch census, monitoring frog calls at their two sites. This of course is an evening activity and the remote yet popular nature of their monitoring locations has needed some creative solutions to ensure their safety late at night. Husbands are often recruited, as the two sites are the frequent haunts of vandals and those of similar persuasion.
In 2008, the group had an unexpected surprise one evening when they went out to conduct their frog monitoring at Murray’s Corner only to discover the Canberra motor rally in full swing. Needless to say there were no frogs to record that night! Maree recalls that the crowd were quite friendly, if a little bemused.
Fleur and Maree make a habit of removing as much litter as they can from their sites. On one occasion, after removing an illegal yabby trap from Paddy’s river near Murray’s Corner, they found a collection of 60 golf balls lying in the water. Maree says this was ‘simply bizarre!’
Fleur, Maree and Jill water monitoring at Murray's Corner
Maree and Fleur welcome their monthly chance to sit in the car and chat while on their way out to the sites they enjoy being committed to. There was a time when they would have liked to have been able do more for Murray’s Corner. Once there was even an emergent ‘Friends of Murray’s’ group but funding uncertainties meant it was short lived. Maree experienced frustration at monitoring a post fire site and seeing the bare earth become infested with weeds over time. She and Fleur have judiciously recorded the changes they have observed hoping that ‘something would be done’. Fleur says government indecision about the future of the area after the fires exacerbated this situation. Maree who has a family tradition of staying at Blue Range hut and connecting with the bush says the fires had a profoundly saddening effect on her. The degraded state of Murray’s Corner, once a beautiful picnic location, was depressing. They both feel that more volunteer training in weeds and other issues as well as greater professional support may have made a big difference.
The training that does happen around Waterwatch and its affiliated activities are seen as good networking opportunities and connecting with new people revitalises their interest. ‘We enjoy meeting different experts and the various workshops.’
Tying Waterwatch to other activities such as bush walking, is also very important. ‘A childhood upbringing with a lot of time spent in the bush led to a yearning for hopping around rivers and creeks!’
Fleur & Maree's 'little casuarina' growing out of a rock in Paddy's River, symbolises resilience for the Paddy's River Group
If you are interested in finding out more about the ‘Paddy’s River’ Waterwatch group, or indeed any related activities please contact Martin Lind on 6296 6400, or email Waterwatch@sactcg.org.au.