The Melbourne City Council received a letter from the His Excellency the Governor, drawing attention to “the extreme inconvenience experienced at Government House from the stench which arises from the Yarra.” The Health Committee prepared a report for the Council, in which it stated:

… the river has become so fouled, that at the Queens Wharf each steam vessel, in moving to or from her berth, stirs up an agglomeration of mud emitting a most offensive stench

The committee was informed by boatmen … especially in hot dry weather, and when the river is low, gives off a most offensive stench.

Opposite [the Chapel Street Bridge Richmond] in the city of Prahran, near the railway bridge, at the place where the main drain coming from Prahran is situated, there is one of the foulest nuisances existing upon the banks of the upper river – a place formerly known as “Smith’s Tannery,” but now said to be “Waugh’s”. Here a filthy stream of refuse, like suds, was being poured into the river through the drain before mentioned; and upon the platform between the buildings and the waters edge were lying dirty sheepskins, with heads which had been attached to them and other offal; they and the buildings emitting a stench of the vilest kind, and so strong as to be capable of being carried on the wind to a far greater distance than from these to Government House, which is less than a mile away…

The report dates back to 1881, yet in 2007 the Governor may have to move again. As part of Victoria’s channel deepening project, it proposed that there will be two years of continuous dredging of the lower Yarra and the contaminated spoil will be dumped back into Port Phillip Bay and “capped“. But the report dealing with the dredging of around 20,000 cubic metres of the same mud from the lower Yarra River for the proposed Channel Deepening Project remains overdue.  

Despite still not receiving the final report on the Supplementary Environment Effects Statement into this project, the minister, Tim Pallas, is tabling legislation to legally allow the dredging. He may not have had much choice if the Port of Melbourne Corporation has already entered into contracts.

There are serious problems with dredging the rip, as Crikey reported in August. But dredging the lower Yarra is likely to be far more problematic. The mud in the Lower Yarra contains the toxic waste of industry gold mining from more than a century of pollution. Those affected will include the tourists who ride the ferries and school kids who row on the river — quite safely while the contaminated sediment remains undisturbed. People can often be seen fishing for bream on the high tide brings clear saltwater upstream twice daily, invisible against its muddy backdrop.

Indeed, when freshwater flows are low the tide could take the dredge spoil cloud past the CBD too Richmond, Toorak, Hawthorn and up to Dight’s falls at Collingwood. The pricey rooms in the Crown Casino hotel will have an envious view of it, as will the al fresco diners at Southbank’s many riverside restaurants. Will Moomba be banned on the Yarra for two years? When will it be safe to catch or eat the fish in the Yarra or the Bay? What will happen to the rowing clubs, tourist ferries and the businesses along Southbank? The environmental management plan is yet to be released so it will be interesting to see how the PoMC intends to manage the affects of this dredging.

The Planning Minister, Justin Madden, has no shortage of reasons to drop the project. But the Minister for Ports, Tim Pallas, has his alibi ready, saying:

People can have faith in the integrity of this [environmental approval] process because I’m not managing it. 

Peter Fray

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