It is always exciting and nerve-wracking when you try something new, and last week we held our first ever Riparian Retreat in Tharwa, ACT. I am pleased to say that my nerves about the weather, people feeling cold sleeping in tents, and airport transfers not working, were forgotten as we embarked upon three days of talking ‘riparian’. We had a terrific group of waterway professionals who came together to discuss the theory and practice of riparian restoration, from a range of different disciplines and experiences.


Day One:

Our first day began in the old Cuppacumbalong Homestead, with an acknowledgement of country by friend Dean Jard, a Darug man from the South Coast of New South Wales who is now caretaker of the Cuppa property. He talked about how Cuppacumbalong means the ‘meeting of the waters’, and is where the Murrumbidgee and Gudgenby Rivers meet. Ali Wass, owner of Cuppacumbalong also welcomed us, and talked about her and partner Karim’s goal of restoring Cuppa back to the thriving community hub it once was.

Ian Rutherfurd kicked off our presentations by linking the river running past Cuppa with the old photos covering the walls of the homestead that show daily life in the early 1900s. Ladies in dresses and parasols crossing the river in the punt, stock along the water’s edge, and the life of a working farm are all depicted in sepia, giving us a ‘window on time’ to look through and reflect.

Sediment transport, river dynamics, and how our land management has contributed to the way our rivers function today, were all topics we explored. Our underlying theme was the need to restore complexity back into the simple systems we have favored in the past. These modified simple systems move water away quickly in channelized and drained landscapes, causing riverbeds to incise, riverbanks to erode and sediment to be unlocked.

Continuing the theme of complexity, Ross Thompson talked about the value of riparian zones for biodiversity. We discussed the importance of macrophytes like typha and cumbungi (plants many landholders want to take out of the river as they believe they are ‘choking’ flow) as homes for birds, insects and fish, as well as being valuable and effective at sequestering carbon and stabilising riverbeds. The misperception that these reeds are causing flooding is not borne out by research that shows in high flows they bend over, protecting the river bed and banks, and reducing erosion.


Our afternoon was spent walking the river, pausing for Ross to wield his net and demonstrate how the addition of rock riffles dramatically increases bug diversity and the communities a river can support. We learnt from Ian about the trajectory of recovery this stretch of the Murrumbidgee is on, with the composition of sediments in the channel showing an overall positive change, with more scouring and movement to come.


Day Two:

The Bush Heritage Australia ‘Scottsdale’ property was the location for our second day. Phil Palmer welcomed us to the property, and his enthusiasm for the restoration work being undertaken at Scottsdale was contagious. Protecting threatened species, restoring terrestrial landscape, managing weeds and rejuvenating rivers are all in a day’s work for Phil, and his team of Brad and Sarah, who generously gave us their time as tour guides.

Gullies, incised riverbeds, channels, and the fabulous intact Bredbo Gorge meant we had plenty to talk about with Ian, and fish guru Mark Lintermans, opening our eyes and ears to learning more about the environments we were paddling and walking through. It was a great day and we returned home tired but content from having reconnected with the rivers we care so much about.


Day Three:

Our final morning focused on stakeholder engagement and effective communication, with the Rivers of Carbon team of Mary, Lori and Antia sharing some of their experiences, and reflecting on why people want to get involved in our work. I provided some facilitation and presentation tips to the group, with ‘hot spots’, eye contact, managing difficult personalities and focusing on your ‘Why’, some of the many topics discussed. With only a half day, this was a brief look at how we can work with communities to engage and motivate, and many of the group said that a follow up workshop on this topic would be valuable – if you’re interested in hearing about this, please share your expression of interest here.

Overall the Rivers of Carbon team was really delighted with how the Riparian Retreat ran. I want to say a special thank you to my husband Tom for taking a day off work to support us at Scottsdale by driving buses, setting up gazebos and getting kayaks into the water. Other special mentions are for Ali, Dean the barista extraordinaire and Karim for cooking up delicious meals we all enjoyed.


Thanks to our participants who get the final say:

“We enjoyed the people (their passion for what they do,their knowledge, in particular RoC staff and presenters and friendliness of all there), presentations and field trips – it was a great blend of information and field visits to support the theory. The visit to Scottsdale and paddle up the gorge was a particular highlight.”

“We enjoyed tapping in to the knowledge base of everyone. Meeting so many people working who have the same goals.Scottsdale outing was outstanding!”

“A retreat that makes you feel relaxed but energised with plenty of take-home messages that are sure to impact positively on your work in river restoration and natural resource management. Thank you!”

“We enjoyed being in the field and hearing about the landscapes (geomorphic changes features and structures) and management actions that have worked/not worked well.”

“The guest speakers were all excellent and very entertaining, particularly enjoyed the “Scottsdale’ tours and background knowledge Phil imparts on BHA’s objectives. Also enjoyed meeting others from different areas of expertise and hearing from their experiences.”

“I loved all of it! I’m sorry but I can’t pick one thing. I loved talking with / meeting the presenters; the other participants; and the ROC team. I loved the presentations. It was a great mix of class room and out doors.”

“It was great to meet a lot of passionate and inspiring people and learn from their stories”


Upcoming workshop:

The Australian River Restoration Centre is hosting a 2-day stakeholder engagement and effective communications workshop where we’ll be looking at our favourite group collaboration tips, techniques and tools you can apply to communications projects you’re working on. View more details here.