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Yarra Riverkeeper - Voices of Regen #12: Andrew Kelly

By Jaari Heyes

“Our vision is to make the beautiful Yarra River as robust and connected as possible so that species can move from the estuaries to the mountains.”

Andrew Kelly recalls spending his youth roaming around Birrarung (the Yarra River) with his friends, catching eels and scaling over old bridges. This iconic river has always been a part of his life and even gave Andrew the title he goes by today - The Yarra Riverkeeper.

In 2014, Andrew put his life as a publisher on hold and decided it was time to give back to the planet. All Andrew knew was that he wanted to pursue a job that involved the environment. Little did he know that he was about to become Melbourne’s leading spokesperson and expert on the Yarra River.

“I thought about venturing to Cape York or Borneo rainforests, but I realised if I was to develop an in-depth knowledge of a certain place, I should start with my own backyard. I was offered the position as the Riverkeeper, following on from the founding Riverkeeper, Ian Penrose. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made,” says Andrew.

A day in the life for Andrew and volunteers of the Yarra Riverkeeper Association (YRKA) consists of anything between trawling for microplastics with the Port Phillip EcoCentre, going to photoshoots or attending wetland seminars with Melbourne Water. The YRKA are the river’s voice, delivering biodiversity net gains for the river by being consistent with advocating for its regeneration.

“Community is fundamental to the big projects on the river. Friends of Merri Creek and Darebin Parklands Association, among many other Friends groups, have been guardians of the land. Having a community organisation run by volunteers is extremely important, as it gives it that strength, continuity and a sense of honesty. I am also seeing the younger generation doing amazing things not only on the ground but with petitions and online funding campaigns. It’s fantastic,” says Andrew.

The future health of the Yarra and its surrounding ecosystems is looking brighter than ever as the YRKA launches a brand new regeneration program. This includes planting out the confluences on the river to allow species to travel up and down during wet and dry periods.

“We have seven sites where we are working to recreate the natural processes of the Yarra that it once had. Our regen program, working with Friends groups, is designed to generate healthy functioning ecosystems that are resilient and responsive to climate change,” says Andrew.

“The Yarra River is the great sink of biodiversity for Melbourne. Restoring the southern end of the Yarra, as a start, could create an opportunity for platypus, rakali and yellow tailed black cockatoos to return and thrive.”

When it comes down to the foundations of caring for the Australian landscape, it is without question that First Nations people have knowledge and understanding that we need to heal and connect with Country. Melbournians, if you want to do your part to restore and regenerate Birrarung, Andrew insists that everyone should “look through the lens of Traditional Owners”. If we love and care for our Earth, our Earth will love and care for us back.

“We will find many solutions to the problems of the river if we work with Traditional Owners. We need to connect to Country as well as restore the ecological functions of the river. As humans, we are a part of the landscape too.”

Learn how your business can support Andrew and the Yarra Riverkeepers team:

Images courtesy of Yarra Riverkeepers Association

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