The tenth Keep Australia Beautiful Week starts tomorrow (Monday 25th to Sunday 31st August). Its aim is to raise awareness around the simple things we can all do in daily life to reduce our impact on the environment and encourage action. The results of the National Litter Index are also released during this time, which is a count of litter by number and volume at 983 sites across Australia. Cigarette butts consistently feature at the top of this list so it’s time to butt out and bin it!
Dame Phyllis Frost
Keep Australia Beautiful is a not-for-profit environmental organisation which was established in the early 70s by the wonderful Dame Phyllis Frost, a lady who had a vision for a litter-free Australia. It runs programs throughout the year focusing on all aspects of sustainability.
Have you ever driven through a country town like Toowoomba in Queensland or Horsham in Victoria and seen a sign proclaiming it to be Australia’s Tidiest Town? Well, that’s a Keep Australia Beautiful program. The Sustainable Communities Awards promote pride in communities Australia-wide. There are Tidy Town awards for regional/rural areas, Sustainable Cities awards for urban areas and Clean Beaches awards for coastal and inland waterways. What a great idea!
Keep Australia Beautiful runs many other marvellous programs like the Beverage Container Recycling Grants scheme, and the LITTLE Committee, a team of young Australians tackling litter issues nationwide. Research shows that people over the age of fifteen litter the most, while those under that age hardly litter at all. Keep Australia Beautiful has recently launched the international Eco-Schools program in Australia, teaching sustainability through fun, hands-on learning. I have always believed that the next generation will be much wiser stewards of the land than we have ever been. Programs like this make me even more certain of it.
There are many ways to take action during Keep Australia Beautiful Week. Pick up some rubbish. Spread the anti-litter message. Do something to beautify your favourite spot or simply reduce your waste. If you live in Western Australia, doing the right thing could even win you an iPad Mini! Post your positive activity and/or photo on the Keep Australia Beautiful WAFacebook page or email it to them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The promotion starts from Monday August 18, so make your post or email any time till September 30.
I’m up the Murray again on a research trip. This time it’s a houseboat from Echuca on the Victorian-NSW border, up to Torrumbarry Weir. Today I spent a fascinating day exploring the historic port of Echuca, Australia’s paddle steamer capital. The river precinct is an authentic working steam port, home to Australia’s largest fleet of steam-driven paddle steamers. It still operates much the same as it did in days gone by, with shipwrights and steam engineers providing a vital role in the port’s operations. Echuca holds a place in history as Australia’s busiest inland port during the late 1800’s, handling cargo from hundreds of riverboats annually. It’s still the centre of steam boat activity. Wander down the Murray Esplanade and you can almost smell the wood smoke from the old paddle steamers as they unloaded wool, timber and wheat, and took on stores, shearers and machinery for remote stations along the Murray and its tributaries.
We had lunch at the Star Hotel built in 1867, and explored the underground bar and tunnel. The bar lies twelve feet underground. After being de-licensed in 1897 due to the rowdy nature of the establishment, the underground bar became a ‘sly-grog shop’. An escape tunnel led to an outside alleyway, which was used in the event of a police raid. The underground bar and tunnel was only rediscovered in 1973. Previous owners had lived there for forty years, unaware of its existence.
Unfortunately, my trip up this part of the Murray only confirms what I’ve found in other places. Too many people wanting a piece of this majestic river. Giant river red gums losing their grip on degraded banks. Old jetties jutting out twenty meters above the current river level. The health of the Murray-Darling Basin is failing. Ecosystems which rely on the water flowing through the Basin’s rivers and tributaries are under great pressure, due to unsustainable extraction levels for irrigation and other uses. This problem is likely to become worse as water availability declines, due to climate change. We must act now, to restore the balance. Our children won’t forgive us if we don’t.