To 1787 driver, and step on it!

I’ve never actually pursued it formally, but I’ve got a serious penchant for historical ecology. It’s because I’m a bit of a bleeding heart I suppose, but I long for the environment of the past. In fact, if the Devil presented himself to me tomorrow, carrying a time machine that could whip me off to Murray River circa 1787, I would think very seriously about offering my soul in return. To walk through a Redgum Forest that hasn’t been tainted by a single chainsaw cut; to look into the clear waters of the Murray and know that not one exotic fish swims in her currents; to listen to the cacophony of frogs in a billabong that has never been parched by river regulation; to hear the midnight cry of a Curlew that has no fox to fear…. I could continue like this for pages.

Of course it will never be, unless some miracle of physics takes place in the next 50 years. But last night I found the next best thing, and this post is intended to share that discovery. Folks, let me introduce you to Will Trueman. In this series of YouTube videos, Will explains the origins and outcomes of a research project that has culminated in the most incredible historical account of the native fish fauna of the Murray Darling Basin. Motivated partly by the memory of fishing trips with his old Dad, Will has meticulously pieced together a picture of the native fish community of the southern Murray-Darling prior to its collapse. And what a picture he paints. Let me give you an example.

A little while back, I moved to the town of Kyneton, around 80 km north-west of Melbourne. Kyneton is just on the other side of the Great Dividing Range, and lies in the catchment of the Murray-Darling Basin. Being a keen fisherman, I’ve been exploring the local creeks and rivers chasing some action. One of these ramblings let me to the Campaspe River at Redesdale, just above Lake Eppalock. My first visit in autumn last year revealed a river of great beauty – here the Campaspe runs through a deep basalt gorge, and tumbles over a mix of basalt boulders and mudstone reefs. Add to this crystal clear water and towering Redgums, and I thought I’d found my own fishing utopia. But the fishing itself has been woeful – I’m yet to catch a single native fish here, despite multiple trips and varying techniques. Enter Will Trueman. Through his book, I now know that this section of the Campaspe was once the fishing paradise I thought it should be. Historical accounts suggest this section of the Campaspe was home to Murray Cod, Trout Cod, Macquarie Perch, Silver Perch and Catfish, and that they were there in profusion. What’s more, he provides some proof from the very spot I’ve been fishing. Here it is:

A thumping Macquarie Perch from the Campaspe at Redesdale, circa 1920

A thumping Macquarie Perch from the Campaspe at Redesdale, circa 1920

A cracking Murray Cod from the Campaspe at Redesdale, 1947

A cracking Murray Cod from the Campaspe at Redesdale, 1947

I can’t wait to scour Will’s book over the next few weeks – I’m sure to find many more such historical gems. Who knows, it might just give me the kick I’ve needed to turn whistful dreaming about what was once was, into an active role in ecosystem restoration….