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Heritage Icons: January - The Swan River

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Naming the River

For at least 50,000 years Aboriginal people lived in Western Australia but the first recorded European contact only began in the early 1600s. The Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the British all visited our coastline but the expedition that discovered and named the Swan River was led by Willem de Vlamingh in January 1697. The discovery of an estuary by his crew as they looked for fresh water led to De Vlamingh's second-in-command, Gerritt Collaert, skipper of the Nijptangh sending half of his expedition party to find the mouth of the Swan while he proceeded to meet them overland from the coast near where Cottesloe is now located. The task was safely accomplished on January 7, 1697. At the mouth the men found two black swans, which the amazed sailors knocked over with a boathook. No one had ever seen black swans before. Collaert, therefore, was the finder of the river we know today as the Swan. Vlamingh named the Swan River and his expedition took the live swans to Batavia, now Jakarta in Indonesia.

The Swan-Canning River SystemClick to view a larger image

The Swan and Canning Rivers flow through the heart of metropolitan Perth. The total estuarine portion of the Swan-Canning river system, which includes the tidal portions of the tributary rives and estuarine basins, occupies an area of 55 square kilometres.

The Swan Canning system and the nearby coastal plain are an important historical, economic and recreational focus for Western Australia and have been since the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829.

The Swan River and the Avon River are in fact the same river. There is no confluence. The two names simply represent an historical anomaly. The Avon River "becomes" the Swan River where it meets Wooroloo Brook in Walyunga National Park, about 30 kilometres north of Perth. The major tributaries of the Avon River are the Dale River (between York and Beverley), the Mortlock River (below Northam Weir), Toodyay Brook and Brockman River, which flow into the river upstream from the coastal plain (near Bullsbrook, north-east of Perth). Ellen Brook, the Helena River and other smaller brooks (Wooroloo, Susannah and Jane Brooks) feed into the Swan River on the coastal plain. A number of large drains, which service extensive areas of the metropolitan region, also flow year round into the Swan River.

The main tributaries of the Canning River are the Southern River, Bickley Brook and Yule Brook.

The Swan Canning estuary is the large shallow body of water formed near the mouth of the Swan River where it broadens before reaching the sea. The river discharges into the sea at Fremantle through a long narrow inlet channel that passes Chidley Point golf course and Leeuwin Barracks.

The Swan Canning river system has a Mediterranean type climate characterised by wet winters and dry hot summers. Rivers flow with fresh water during the winter but dry out during the summer. Groundwater may discharge into the river channels throughout the year, but it is of substantially less quality than that of winter runoff. The Avon River provides most of the flow to the Swan River.

Swan River declared first 175th heritage icon with multi-million dollar boost.

The Swan and Canning rivers are set to benefit from a major funding boost aimed at preserving and protecting the waterways for generations to come. On 22 February 2004 Premier Geoff Gallop announced that an extra $15million would be spent over the next four years on projects such as restoring river foreshores and stripping algae-producing nutrients from drains flowing into the river system.

Dr Gallop said planning was also under way for the creation of a new Swan River Park to recognise the iconic status of the Swan and Canning rivers. A new Swan River Act would also be introduced to give greater powers to the Swan River Trust, the agency charged with protecting the river.

The Swan River is Western Australia's first official heritage icon, as part of this year's 175th anniversary of the founding of the Swan River Colony. In announcing the first heritage icon Dr Gallop also acknowledged the significance to Aboriginal people of the Swan and Canning river system and its status as a heritage site.

"The Swan and Canning rivers are environmental, cultural and historic icons - they are the crowning glory of our beautiful city," he said. "The river system is valued by all Western Australians and the initiatives I am announcing today will ensure that it is properly managed and preserved for future generations."

The Swan River Park would include the waterways and crown land in the existing Swan River Trust Management area. Giving a greater mandate to the Swan River Trust through new legislation was vital in ensuring that the river system was managed in an integrated way.

"The Swan and Canning rivers are a complex, integrated ecological system and they must be managed as such," Dr Gallop said. "Under the new legislation, the Swan River Trust will be vested with clear responsibilities and powers for managing and protecting the health of the river system. "This will ensure that the Government's river and catchment management initiatives are properly co-ordinated."

Environment Minister Judy Edwards said water drainage was one of the key issues the new legislation would tackle. "We need to ensure that drains not only discharge water out of the landscape but are designed and maintained to remove nutrients before they enter the river," Dr Edwards said.

The programs to receive increased funding under the new $15million package include:

Riverbank foreshore protection and restoration: The Government will provide $4million - a boost of an extra $3.5million - over the next four years to the Riverbank program, whereby the Swan River Trust works with local government to restore river foreshore, beaches and wetland areas, including through the construction and maintenance of retaining walls.

Drain rehabilitation and nutrient stripping works: Drains are a major source of nutrients entering the rivers, particularly during low flow periods when nutrient-rich groundwater is discharged. The Government will provide an extra $4million over the next four years for nutrient-stripping works, including the reengineering of drains to reduce nutrient discharges, the creation of nutrient stripping wetlands, the restoration of tributary vegetation and the use of Phoslock and other materials which remove nutrients. This is on top of a one-off $750,000 allocation made in 2003-04.

River, catchment and drain monitoring programs: Between 2005-06 and 2007-08, the Government will provide an extra $1.35million to extend programs which monitor nutrient, phytoplankton and non-nutrient contamination levels in waterways, catchment areas and drains.

Community-based nutrient reduction works and programs: The Government will provide an extra $1.25million over five years for catchment groups which implement nutrient reduction works aimed at improving water quality. Such works include the rehabilitation and revegetation of river foreshores, catchments, wetlands, drains and compensating basins. The extra funds will boost the Swan River Trust's contribution to the Swan Alcoa Landcare Program to $350,000 a year, building on Alcoa funds of $200,000 a year.

Next month, the Swan River Trust will start discussions with local governments, Aboriginal groups, community catchment groups, river user groups, business and the wider community concerning the proposal to create a Swan River Park and a new Swan River Act.

For further information go to the Swan River Trust website

 

Page last revised: 27 May 2008