My local river

How to begin a blog on all things aquatic? After some contemplation I hit on the obvious – what catchment do I live in and what does my local river mean to me?

Like the majority of Australians, I live in contradiction to the outside perception of a life dominated by the beach or the outback. Not only am I an urbanite, but my city is defined by its river, not its beaches.

My local river is the unimaginatively named Brisbane River (curse the habit of naming landmarks after bureaucrats). Originally, Aboriginal people likely had names for each reach of local significance. The main name I could find reference to for the lower Brisbane river was maiwar.

Brisbane River looking upstream to the Green Bridge

Brisbane River looking upstream to the Green Bridge. Photo by R. O’Connor

Times have changed since the first written records of explorers in the 1820s. The Brisbane River catchment now supports the largest city in Queensland, with inevitable consequences for the river.  Most of the catchment has been cleared of its native vegetation. Over 40 sewage treatment plants deal with the city’s waste, while the thirst of Brisbane’s people and their agriculture are quenched by two major dams.

Dams change the ebb and flow of rivers. In fact Wivenhoe Dam exists not only as a water supply for Brisbane but to reduce flood risk.

Despite our impressive engineering feats big floods still happen. Post 70’s Brisbanites such as myself were forcibly reminded of this last year.

We were woken at 6am by the Channel 7 helicopter hovering low over our house and opened the front door to see a brown tide lapping at the driveway three doors down. The river had risen quickly overnight and caught many people like ourselves unawares. An elderly man from the end of our street that I spoke to that day told me “I went to bed at 1am and couldn’t see any water. When I woke up, my car had floated away”.

My street during the 2011 floods

My street during the 2011 floods. Photo: Bevan Tessendorf

The bottom floor of our house did eventually flood. By that time some incredibly kind friends and many complete strangers had helped us evacuate the basement and so the damage we suffered was minimal.

In a funny way, the overwhelming community response to the flood actually confirmed my desire to live in this river city. Even though people from the 1820’s likely wouldn’t recognize Brisbane River today, I still enjoy walking along its shady banks, having a sunset drink looking over its waters, and experiencing the wildlife it supports. Hey, once in 100 years my house even has water views!

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