Our lives are full of stories and, as human beings, we are story telling organisms. We use stories to share experiences and to make sense of the world in which we live. At the ARRC, we believe story telling is a vital way in which river restoration theory and practice can be developed. We believe developing new approaches and ideas for river restoration needs to be collaborative, with researchers and practitioners working together to develop a mutually constructed ‘story’ out of their skills and experiences in river restoration.
This part of our site invites you to share your experiences, reflections and thoughts about river restoration, knowledge, opportunities, challenges – pretty much anything. Your story could be in words, pictures, a poem or a song! We will review your contribution prior to making it live and then confirm with you the final version that will be loaded on to our site. Please send your contributions to Siwan.
If you are interested in storytelling, you can also follow these links or read on for stories contributed by our members.
Most recent contributions:
The art of protest: Saving the Mary River
by Glenda Pickersgill and Zela Bissett
The announcement in April 2006 to dam the Mary River at Traveston Crossing came as a shock to the residents of the Mary Valley. However, the response that followed was fast, efficient and highly effective. A massive groundswell of resistance arose from one end of the Mary to the other, and from many other quarters as well. It was apparent to all who knew the Mary that the plan would lead to economic, environmental and social disaster for the entire bioregion. The community were mobilised by a desire to protect the river, its endangered species, the farmlands and lifestyle of the valley.
From its beginnings, the campaign to save the Mary River has been characterised by creativity. While the Mary Council of Mayors commissioned a report from expert scientists on alternatives to the proposed dam, the everyday people of the district tapped in to their considerable talents in song-writing, cartooning, visual art, photography, poster and banner design. An amazing range of talents in rhetoric, web design and campaign organisation came about over the course of three and a half years. The artistic side of the campaign to save the Mary River provided a range of benefits to the overall campaign. For example, Arkin Mackay’s photographic account of failed dams in Queensland reached the public through the website http://www.stoppress.com/ , with the Save the Mary River website keeping campaigners updated with on-line forums and discussion boards.
Humour often lifted spirits when the going was tough. Satire, humour, motivation, education, entertainment and gestures of hope and defiance were provided by artistic outpourings at different points in the struggle to save Mary. Cartoons communicated messages through newspapers, while the multi-talented members of the Save the Mary Group juggled scientific research, public speaking, choir singing and banner-painting with their “day jobs”. Local sign-writing skills produced a veritable education on the evils of the Traveston Dam proposal for everybody who traveled the “inundation” stretch of the Bruce Highway. By Christmas, Save the Mary calendars, Christmas cards and gift merchandise were available. Singing workshops were organise,d and costume-making workshops funded. Amazing costumes such as Travis the Mary River Turtle, the giant walking Lungfish, Coxen’s Fig Parrot and the Richmond Birdwing butterfly were made and worn in many places on many occasions.
On the serious side, stories of courage, endurance and tenacity emerged. During 2008, the story was told in the book, “Love Mary” by Adele Coombs and Glen Craig, of which over 10,000 copies were sold in support of the campaign. In this way, artistic expression combined seamlessly with scientific credibility, as representatives traveled to Canberra and met with environment ministers and federal politicans. Papers were presented to a number of scientific conferences and seminars. International supporters from International Rivers and European Rivers Network brought messages of support, while Indigenous leaders voiced their opposition to the threat to their cultural heritage. A chance to display Mary’s cause at the World Expo – Water Sustainability in Zaragoza, Spain, stimulated the production of film, photography and visual documentation of the Mary River ecosystem and its affected communities.
Ultimately the story of the campaign to save the Mary River ended in joy and euphoria on November 11, 2009. Australia’s then Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, rejected the proposal under the provisions of Australia’s federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation legislation. This provided vindication for all those who knew that Traveston Crossing would destroy a unique ecosystem. There was no way to mitigate its’ effects on three iconic endangered species of the Mary River system: the unique Qld lungfish, the elusive Mary River turtle and the Mary River Cod.
The South East Queensland 50 year water strategy that followed after the decision to not go ahead with the Traveston Crossing Dam encouraged more demand management, further research into stormwater harvesting and desalination as alternatives. There are still moves afoot by State government to take more water from the Mary River, which the community continues to resist. The Mary River is already over allocated, has elevated salinity and low dissolved oxygen during dry times and the community is calling for the Mary Basin Water Resource Plan to be redone.
The Save the Mary River Coordinating Group continues to be active in the community, turning the campaign information centre into a Save the Mary Museum and River Education Centre at Kandanga, and helping to rebuild the Mary Valley community. Over 14,000 ha of land was purchased by the State Government on the unapproved project. Land has been offered back to the original owners, but as yet few have been able to negotiate to buy back. Lease arrangements with previous owners are being honoured for some sections of land for up to 25 years. Plans to create wildlife corridors, various outdoor recreational trails and sustainable agriculture projects are being developed. The state government is planning to release land back on the market after 2012 and progressively sell off the land. A Mary Valley Renewal Team, an alliance of community groups, is passionate about promoting social, economic and environmental recovery. A Community and Economic Action Plan has been developed to give a voice to the aspirations and values of the Mary Valley communities into the future. A copy can be downloaded from the Mary Valley Renewal website.
The rejection of the Traveston Crossing Dam proposal represents one of the very few projects rejected outright under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Residents and supporters of the Mary River bioregion can feel justly proud that their outpouring of love and militancy have played a big part in preserving the Mary River for future generations.
Telling science stories
Insight from Inés Cifuentes at the American Geophysical Union Every day last week at the Ocean Sciences meeting there were talks about education and outreach. And people came, both scientists and science educators. Why? There is a need and desire by scientists to talk about what they do, not just to their colleagues, but to others. Scientists are using websites, writing blogs, taking photos, shooting video, talking via podcasts—all to bring the ocean (and the tons of data collected) to students, teachers, fishermen, ocean enthusiasts.
We are learning that when we talk as we do with our colleagues, we bore people. We must become storytellers. What does that mean? Instead of relying on giving out information, we have to use emotions, humor, visuals, anything and all to draw people in, hold their attention, and make them learn. Scientists often miss the cool bits that will hook people—a creature no one has seen before, a glider operated by someone thousands of miles away in a spot humans can’t go, drilling through a thousand meters of Antarctic ice to get your instrument where you want it.
Randy Olson, a research biologist who has evolved into a filmmaker has written a book that we should all read – Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. Olson lays out in an easy-to-read style what he has learned as he has transformed himself from an academic scientist to a storyteller who uses film as his medium.
Billabong Boy: Arron Wood’s Story
At eight years old, Arron Wood jumped into the billabong near his Mildura home and emerged covered in a toxic, blue-green algae that seared his eyes and left a rash all over his body. It was a pivotal moment for Arron, the beginning of a life committed to preserving the environment that he now shares in his new autobiography, Billabong Boy. Arron’s inspiring career as an environmentalist and educator has earned him awards including the 2001 Young Australian of the Year (National Environment Winner) and the 2006 United Nations Individual Award for Outstanding Services to the Environment. His expertise in environmental preservation has seen him sought after by political parties, green groups and corporations while his charm and charisma has seen him make regular appearances on radio and TV to discuss environmental issues.
In 2000, Arron founded Firestarter, a Victorian-based environmental education organisation that uses an innovative ‘kids teaching kids’ approach to developing young leaders and facilitates relationships between environmental industries and businesses, governments and the general public. In Billabong Boy, Arron shares how we can all apply the principles behind Firestarter to inspire one another to take responsibility for our collective environmental future. “We’ve now had over 20,000 kids participate in our Kids Teaching Kids Program to inspire future environmental leaders,” says Arron. “With the green economy growing and sustainability becoming mainstream, I established Firestarter to make sure our kids not only have a healthy environment to live in, but are also ready to lead the world in environmental technology and innovation.”
I read Billabong Boy in two nights, not wanting to put it down as it was a pleasure to read. Arron is honest about the opportunities and the challenges he has confronted in trying to keep a business going that focuses on ‘kids teaching kids’ in a natural resources management sector that is not ‘flush with cash’. Like the ARRC, Arron’s work is about supporting people, and I am inspired to read about what he has achieved. Arron has recieved a number of well-deserved rewards, but for me, what came through in the book was how much he valued the conversations with kids, and how much he acknowledges the importance of having friends and family to help him realise his dreams. I recommend this book as an inspiring read, and one that will lift your spirits and remind you about why you work in river restoration.
You can order Billabong Boy directly from the New Holland website,
Out of the Scientist’s Garden: a story of water and food
Richard Stirzaker’s Out of the Scientist’s Garden is a true classic and was funded through Land & Water Australia. A few months ago Richard opened his garden up to the public through the Australian Open Gardens scheme and I got to see his work first hand. I was in complete awe of his ability to provide a food supply for a whole family from an ordinary suburban block in Canberra.
Out of the Scientist’s Garden is written for anyone who wants to understand food and water a little better – for those growing vegetables in a garden, food in a subsistence plot or crops on vast irrigated plains. It is also for anyone who has never grown anything before but has wondered how we will feed a growing population in a world of shrinking resources.
Although a practicing scientist in the field of water and agriculture, Richard has written, in story form accessible to a wide audience, about the drama of how the world feeds itself. The book starts in his own fruit and vegetable garden, exploring the ‘how and why’ questions about the way things grow, before moving on to stories about soil, rivers, aquifers and irrigation. The book closes with a brief history of agriculture, how the world feeds itself today and how to think through some of the big conundrums of modern food production.