Yarrowee: Don't call it a creek.

One word of warning about speaking to LINCS Catchment Crew team leader Kurtis Noyce _ never, ever use the words Yarrowee and creek in the same sentence.

This reporter quickly learned that the two don't go together when asking Mr Noyce to participate in an interview for this special feature on the Yarrowee.

Many people in Ballarat would traditionally know the Yarrowee as the Yarrowee Creek, but it is, in fact, a river because of its size and appearance.

It is also defined as a river by the number of reaches feeding into that system and the tributaries running off it.

The Yarrowee River is steeped in history and has been an integral part of Ballarat since before the 1850s goldrush.

It has played an extremely important role in making Ballarat what it is today, not only for its recreational and historic values, but also for aesthetic reasons.

However, until recently, more than 100 years of abuse and degradation had left that Yarrowee River only a shadow of its former self.

Thanks to the dedication and love of nature by the Linear Network of Communal Spaces (LINCS) group, the hidden jewel of Ballarat is being slowly brought back to its former glory.

A master plan for the Yarrowee River was launched in 1995 to beautify the river so that future generations can enjoy it and appreciate it.

The master plan includes placing 60,000 plants, including a number of species indigenous to Ballarat, along the river.

Plant seeds have been collected from Ballarat and propagated at the City's indigenous nursery.

The project has the 100 per cent backing of such organisations as Landcare, Conservation Volunteers Australia, GreenCorp, the Green Reserves, the Australian Koala Foundation and bird observers.

It also has the wholehearted support of community groups, employment programs and schools of all levels which have participated in the clean-up and revegetation of the Yarrowee River.

Last year, 1500 people from 40 different community groups participated in the long-term project, which is already well ahead of its 50-year completion target.

Community groups and schools are also being encouraged to adopt a site along the river, where they can remove weeds and replant. They will also be educated on why the project is being undertaken, how they can help conserve the biodiversity of the river and learn about a whole range of indigenous species unique to Ballarat.

And it's a huge project that starts at the Gong Gong Reservoir, going through Brown Hill, underground at Scott Pde, under the Big W complex to Dana St, where there is a formed section with a number of historic features before continuing to Junction Bridge at Inverleigh where it becomes the Leigh River and eventually flowing into the Barwon River.

LINCS' catchment crew team leader Kurtis Noyce said the master plan was really a process of educating the community.

``For 150 years, the Yarrowee River had been treated as a stormwater drain but, when the Gnarr Creek flooded in the 1980s, a slow water management plan was introduced including a soft engineering approach where the use of the environment controlled storm water,'' Mr Noyce said.

``Soft engineering takes the energy out of the water, which is captured and then run through growth pollutant plants before being held in a lagoon for three days and slowly released.''

Mr Noyce said that, if the Yarrowee River master plan had not been implemented, future generations would be forced to undertake a reactive approach to management, rather than the present proactive program.

``We are looking at the historic fabric of the river, the indigenous plant community and also the non-wanted species.''

Since the introduction of the plan, five major new parks have been created along the Yarrowee _ Gong Gong Reservoir Park, Nerrina Park and Wetlands, the Yarrowee Flora Reserve, Yarrowee-Redan Reserve and the Yuille Station Park and Wetlands.

The LINCS vision is one of the green threads radiating out from Ballarat's urban environment and connecting to natural areas and features.

History

The word Yarrowee was thought to be from the early settlers' use of the Scottish ``Yarrow'', a diminutive to describe smaller streams.

One of the earliest references to the Yarrowee was when author Withers, in his History of Ballarat states, with respect to pre-gold Ballarat: ``Mr Henry Anderson, who was the earliest pioneer in what is now known as Winter's Flat, plated his homestead near the delta formed by the confluence of the Woolshed Creek and the Yarrowee.''

In the driest of the early summers, squatters used to find permanent waterholes at the junction of the Gong Gong and Yarrowee, or Blakeney's Creek as it was then known, after an early settler.

The Yarrowee was described in 1851 as being a ``clear running creek three to four yards wide, with wide grassy alluvial flats. It has also been described as the ``rivulet Yarrowee'' and ``the little river than ran through the Ballarat diggings''.

According to Ballarat historian Peter Butters, geologically speaking, the Yarrowee has also been referred to as a marginal stream.

The discovery of gold altered the tranquility of the Yarrowee and introduced pollution. In researching the Yarrowee, Mr Butters found information about the river during the 1850s gold rush stating ``the green banks of the Yarrowee were lined with tubs and cradles, its clear waters were changed to liquid yellow as the yellowest Tiber flood, and its banks grew to be long shoals of tailing.''

Professor Weston Bate's book Lucky City says that, in 1883, ``the infamous drain that ran down Sturt Street from the hospital to the Yarrowee, often containing infected sewage and often overflowing into cellars, was abolished. ``But that was only a minor reduction in the pollution of that once beautiful stream. A soapworks and a fellmongery upstream, the woollen mill downstream, the Chinese village, the gaol, the gasworks and dozens of factories gave it their effluent.''

That once-beautiful stream was becoming a sewer.

Older residents of Ballarat can still recall the extent of pollution in the Yarrowee in the early 1930s. Blood from the meatworks in Skipton St flowed under the street and then entered the water as an open drain and mixed with the blue-coloured run-off from the woollen mill, the two pollutants merging and turning the Yarrowee's water purple.

In more recent years, Mr Butter writes, the Yarrowee had become a dumping ground for all kinds of refuse, including shopping trollies and assorted rubbish.

Thanks to the works being undertaken by the Linear Network of Communal Spaces (LINCS), the future of the Yarrowee looks much brighter.

Restoration

Thanks to the LINCS project along the Yarrowee River, future generations of Ballarat people can enjoy the river and what it has to offer.

Currently, the group is working on the Yarrowee River corridor from the Gong Gong Reservoir to the Napoleons-Buninyong Rd.

The Yarrowee River Draft Landscape Master Plan is a key element in the development of LINC's strategy.

Stage one of the plan identified significant features along the corridor, including historic sites, land degradation, vegetation types and existing facilities and an extensive flora and fauna survey.

Stage two provides recommendations to develop the corridor and includes broad scale revegetation, land degradation control measures, wetland and extensive habitat areas, recreational facilities including walking/bicycle paths, picnic and camping facilities and improved urban development.

As part of stage three, a land management plan will be prepared.

Central Highlands Water has also undertaken to plant 24,000 trees along the Yarrowee in coming years _ 10,800 of the trees on nine hectares surrounding a wetland beside the river at the end of Bala St.

When the Yarrowee River Plan was released in 1995, it was noted that it was a ``50-year plan to turn around the degradation of the stream over the past 150 years''. It is well ahead of target and the results of work by schools, Landcare, Conservation Volunteers Australia, community groups and employment programs are obvious.

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