When ecologist Nicole Kowalczyk wants to decompress from working at home in lockdown, she takes her children to the banks of the Maribyrnong River.
Being out among birds and trees saves her sanity, and with playgrounds shut, she says Lily, 6, and Ned, 1, love to play in the riverside bush in Avondale Heights.
High on a path in Essendon West, where the family cycles, there is a stunning view of the Melbourne CBD, with the river winding poetically through the foreground.
It’s a precious environment that Dr Kowalczyk wants to preserve for her children.
She has just been appointed as the Maribyrnong Officer at the Yarra Riverkeeper Association, a paid, independent voice for the Maribyrnong River. It’s a three-year post, funded by a $120,000 grant from The Ross Trust.
The role is a pilot, which she hopes will morph into a Maribyrnong riverkeeper job, depending on more funding and community support. The Werribee and Yarra rivers already have “keepers” and there is a Port Phillip Baykeeper.
When lockdown ends, Dr Kowalczyk hopes to go on to the water twice a week, using a boat donated by a benefactor worth $40,000.
One of Dr Kowalczyk’s aims is to lobby the state government to introduce a Maribyrnong River Protection Act, which would make authorities more accountable for actions that affect the river.
She said it would provide a framework to improve practices such as pollution management and greater environmental flows, and would bring Indigenous people into decision making.