Collaborative plan for Yarra River, Birrarung launched

David Schout

After more than four years of extensive consultation with traditional owners, the community, local councils and a host of government agencies, an overarching plan for the Yarra River, Birrarung has been launched.

The Yarra Strategic Plan – or Burndap Birrarung burndap umarkoo, which means “what is good for the Yarra is good for all” — brings together land use planning and waterway management and represents a partnership with traditional owners (the Bunurong and Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung).

The strategy aims to manage, protect and enhance the river and its significant parklands as one living and integrated entity, and better protect the river and its parklands from the impacts of climate change, urbanisation and population growth.

Importantly, it brings together the river’s complex network of stakeholders for the first time.

The iconic river, which runs from the Yarra Ranges to Hobsons Bay, is overseen by up to eight local councils (including the City of Melbourne), state government departments, Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria and others.

This has often led to criticism of excessive bureaucracy, as plans and reforms required various stakeholder approval.

Melbourne Water has led the development of the plan since 2017 and has been appointed as the lead agency to oversee its implementation.

Its role includes facilitating the “collaborative governance model” in the plan, which would “drive action and maintain the accountability of responsible public entities.”

Managing director Dr Nerina Di Lorenzo said the future of the iconic waterway required a comprehensive, collaborative strategy.

“The Yarra River, Birrarung, together with its parklands, is the lifeblood of Melbourne and is facing big challenges that this plan will tackle,” Dr Di Lorenzo said.

 

The Yarra Strategic Plan will better protect the river and its parklands from the impacts of climate change, urbanisation, and population growth. This landmark plan brings together land use planning and waterway management for the first time to better protect the natural beauty and health of the Birrarung.

 

According to Melbourne Water, the Yarra River, Birrarung (a nod to the river’s traditional name increasingly adopted by authorities) faced a host of challenges from the effects of climate change and the pressures of population growth.

This included a “dramatic” and long-term decline in rainfall, more frequent extreme weather events in Victoria and less water entering the waterways.

“This plan lays a strong foundation for the Yarra River and its parklands to face these challenges,” Dr Di Lorenzo said.

Water Minister Lisa Neville said the long-awaited strategy — formed by a committee featuring representatives from both the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and state and local government organisations — was a much-needed collaborative plan.

“This plan is the result of four years of consultation and development and will ensure the Yarra continues to be a place for people to connect with nature and each other for generations to come,” she said.

“The Yarra River has an important place in the hearts of Victorians and Burndap Birrarung burndap umarkoo delivers tangible actions that will keep the river and parklands alive for the benefit of everyone.”

According to the state government, the plan would look at increasing access to berthing sites along the inner city reaches for tourism, while enhancing Aboriginal cultural values and heritage values through interpretive signs and education.

Initial “priority projects” included the construction of floating wetlands, a plan flagged by the City of Melbourne in its own Yarra River Birrarung Strategy in 2019.

These floating structures would seek to restore biodiverse habitats along the river despite an urbanised edge that normally limited these opportunities, resembling those seen in Chicago, San Antonio, Paris and New York.

Upon launching the strategy in 2019, Lord Mayor Sally Capp admitted the city had “turned our back on this river for far too long”, something reinforced by Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece.

“I think we all agree Melbourne has not made enough of the Yarra River, Birrarung, and we’re really drawing a line in the sand,” he said.

“Going forward, we’ve got a plan, we really want to elevate the importance of our river to our town.”

Birrarung is the traditional name of the Yarra River, meaning “river of mists” in the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung languages •

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