10 December, 2010

About the Barwon

The Barwon River below Baum's Weir
For more than four decades, the Barwon River has been, to a greater or lesser extent part of my life. In recent years, I have spent many hours walking, running, even riding along its banks. Every time I am there, something is different: the weather, the water level, the people, the birds, the plants even the smell.
The Barwon River is integral to the city of Geelong and the surrounding regions, but how well do we really know it? Most of us drive over it, some of us ride, walk or run along it, others row, paddle or motor upon it and a few of us swim in it. But where does it come from before it reaches Geelong, where does it go, what is its history and what is happening along its length right now?
The Barwon River is about 160km in length and draws water from a catchment area of some 8,590km2.The headwaters of the Barwon River rise as a series of small creeks in the Otway Ranges near the township of Forrest and flow north down through Lake Elizabeth (East Barwon River) and the West Barwon Dam (West Barwon River) to their confluence near Yeodene, before swinging north east and running down to the town of Winchelsea. From there the flow reaches Inverleigh where it merges with the Leigh River and then on towards Geelong, joining the Moorabool River at Fyansford.
The section of the river from Fyansford on one side of Geelong to Breakwater on the other, is one of its busiest stretches, being used for a wide variety of recreational pursuits. Historically, this section and the waters below Geelong have also served a number of industrial purposes and many of the buildings constructed to support this industry remain. Other man-made structures span the river at various points, including bridges of differing historical significance, an aqueduct and weirs which act to keep the water levels within this urban section of the river at an even level and prevent salt water flowing back up the river through Geelong. In the early days of the township, the Breakwater also provided the community with drinking water.
 Passing through the outskirts of town, the river reaches an environmentally sensitive wetland area of international significance known as the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site. This lower section of the river is a tidal wetland which includes Reedy Lake, Hospital Swamp, Salt Swamp, Lake Connewarre, the Murtnaghurt Lagoon and the estuary of the river at Barwon Heads. It incorporates the Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve and is home to a variety of plants and animals.
Having completed its journey from the Otways, the Barwon empties into the sea at Barwon Heads, around which the coastal towns of Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove have developed, providing another popular tourist destination along the course of the river - one which I have had cause to visit myself on many occasions along with any number of others who likewise enjoy what the Barwon River has to offer.

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