Love Stories of the Yarra Birrarung

Connecting humans and sharing stories of love for the river.

I acknowledge the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation who are the traditional custodians of the land on which I live and the great Birrarung river in which I swim. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.
I acknowledge this land was never ceded and that it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

Love Stories of the Yarra Birrarung is a project aimed at inspiring all Victorian’s to love, protect and care for the river.
In the Woi Wurrung language of the traditional owners: Wilip-gin Birrarung murron. Keep the Birrarung alive!

What's my story?

In August 2021, soon after the last lockdown in Melbourne came into effect, I took my very first plunge into the icy waters of the Yarra Birrarung river at Deep Rock in Melbourne. It was all of eight degrees!

I’d always relied on water for its healing properties but with the pools closed and the beaches off-limits, a freezing cold river was my only option. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ said Plato.

For many years I’d walked alongside the Yarra Birrarung always admiring the river but never really knowing it, loving it or caring for it. As a descendant of British settlers who became farmers, I’d been conditioned to see our land and waterways as economic resources rather than country that I belonged to. The more I swam, the more the river revealed to me just how much I had to unlearn.

Today, more than two hundred swims later, I’m now a devoted river swimmer along with many other locals at Deep Rock. We’re affectionately known as the Yarra Yabbies and we come together to swim, share stories and learn how to care for the river. We’ve sought the blessing of the Wurundjeri Land Council through a cultural consultation, held a Welcome to Country, conducted clean-ups and swam in other parts of the river such as Warrandyte and Warburton.

We’ve even been featured on the ABC News.

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Our vision is a healthy, protected and loved Yarra, Birrarung river.
These Love Stories help us understand how humans connect to the river physically and spiritually and how we can improve our relationships with each other and nature.

Why this project?

Most mornings now, as us Yabbies prepare to take a dip, passers-by stop for a chat. They’re often in disbelief that we’d swim in what they perceive to be a dirty, brown, polluted river. It seems that many Victorian’s believe the Yarra Birrarung to be unclean, unhealthy and unsafe—and, therefore, unsuitable for swimming.

While there’s moderate affection for the river, there’s a noticeable disconnection to it. We don’t love the river like we love our oceans for example. It seems that we’ve largely turned our back on her. And this is a major problem.

If the rivers are the veins of Mother Earth, then the Yarra Birrarung is the vein of our state. It’s a vein, that according to Melbourne Water, supplies 70% of Melbourne’s drinking water—and so it’s vital for our survival. Us settlers need to learn to love the river so we might better care for it.

At the root of cultural change and positive action, is the need to change the wide-reaching negative views and perceptions of the Yarra Birrarung river. So, how do we change this narrative and tell a different,  more compelling story about the Yarra Birrarung that brings more people into connection with her—and love for her?

Love Stories of the Yarra Birrarung will become part of the answer.

What is the project?

It’s an idea that was inspired by one of Australia’s best-loved writers, Trent Dalton. On a busy street corner in Brisbane, Dalton sat with an Olivetti typewriter and asked passers-by a simple question: Can you please tell me a love story? The result was his brilliant book simply entitled, Love Stories.

Each week or two, I’ll take an adventure, not to a street corner like Dalton, but to a new location on the Yarra Birrarung where I’ll ask passers-by the question: Can you please tell me a love story about the Yarra Birrarung? 

With other river-loving humans such as my co-writer and photographer, Christine McFetridge (and other guests), we’ll swim (and/or kayak and hike), collect rubbish and meet people to capture their stories.

We’ll explore why people love the river, the moment they fell in love, their hopes and dreams and what they want policy-makers to do for our river. In doing so, we hope to create a sense of curiosity and interest in the river, more grassroots action and activism and a sense of responsibility for its future.

Then we’ll be writing these stories as a regular blog with the purpose of turning them into a book—and perhaps even a documentary.

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How can you get involved?

Each week I’ll post on this page where we’ll be and when, so if you’re in the area please drop by and share your love story. We can’t promise to write it, but we’d love to hear it.

As the project is gaining interest and momentum, many people have asked what the plans are for it and how to get involved. Truth is, I’m not quite sure how to answer yet.

I already have numerous stories to write and admit I’m unsure of how to appropriately and respectfully acknowledge and involve the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung people and their stories. (Always learning on that front and why I’ve applied for a cultural consultation on this project.)

At the moment though, I’m trying my best to practice Dadirri (the Aboriginal word for deep listening), to go with the flow and let the river guide this project.

If you’re interested in contributing to Love Stories of the Yarra Birrarung, either as a creative or to share your story, please subscribe below. That way, you can keep in touch with what’s going on and how to get involved as I work it all out.

Also, if you’re a potential partner or sponsor of this project, please reach out. I’m actively seeking funding partnerships to get these stories out to all Victorian’s, government departments, policy-makers and communities.

Finally, I must say it’s quite scary launching such an idea. It’s taking me right out of my comfort zone, just like the day I took my first plunge in the beautiful, brown Yarra Birrarung!

This week’s story-spot:

TBA!

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