On Friday 1st December 2017, the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act comes into effect.
The Birrarung, the River of Mists.
Wilip-gin Birrarung murron – keep the River alive.
A foundation principle of the Act is to protect the Yarra as ‘one living and integrated natural entity’. The River is seen not only as a waterway but as including the land on either side of the River – the river corridor.
Put forward by Labor as an election promise in 2014, the legislation was supported by all parties in 2017, reflecting how important the Yarra is in the life of Melbourne.
The legislation was prepared with the the Wurundjeri, the traditional owners. Wurrundjeri elders took the floor of the legislative assembly to speak to their historic and ongoing relationship to the River before the Bill was introduced. The Act ‘recognises the intrinsic connection of the traditional owners to the Yarra River and its Country and further recognises them as the custodians of the land and waterway which they call Birrarung’.
There are several elements to the Act
- the establishment of a Birrarung Council to be the ‘voice’ of the River. The Council will not include statutory authorities.
- the development of a community vision for the Yarra River, to be prepared with ‘active community participation’
- the development of a Yarra River strategic plan – the conversations have begun.
- protection of the Greater Yarra Urban Parklands – and read this language closely park lovers – ‘given a common identity and treated as one integrated living whole urban natural asset of state significance’.
- monitoring and assessing the environmental health of the River. The Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability is already working on a base line assessment.
Planning pressure along the Yarra River corridor was addressed in February when the Minister for Planning introduced highly nuanced and detailed planning controls into the planning schemes of Councils along the Yarra River. The controls aim to protect the naturalistic sense of the Yarra River corridor through appropriate heights and setbacks.
How can you be involved?
The best way to be involved with the River, suggests former Yarra Riverkeeper Ian Penrose, is to get down and close to it. Take a ride along it, have a picnic on the River bank, or go for a swim upstream at Warrandyte.
Yarra Pools imagine us swimming in the River much closer to home, just below the Customs House.
This wide ranging Act is in place. It allows huge scope for further bold imaginings for the future of the Yarra.
Let’s celebrate the Yarra with the Whirling Furphies anthem My Brown Yarra
If you can’t get away from your computer, here are some ways to explore the life of the Yarra.
If you do no more, read the preamble to the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act
The visionary legislation Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017
Explore the Yarra River stories on the Imagine the Yarra website
Janet Bolitho is a board member of the Yarra Riverkeeper Association whose strong advocacy contributed to this momentous outcome.