"Review: A Clear Flowing Yarra – Harry Saddler (Affirm Press)
Author Harry Saddler’s book on Melbourne’s Yarra River is an engaging account
of his years exploring its native species and human communities. He
acknowledges the river’s First Nations name of Birrarung, writing with a boyish
enthusiasm. At times I felt his emotion jumping out of the pages, almost
channelling David Attenborough’s passion for species and the environment.
The book’s major focus is on Saddler’s obvious fascination with native animals.
He delights in telling us about his adventures finding them on, in, and near to
the Yarra. It sometimes reads like a police drama as be describes “staking out”
the habitat of an elusive species. Night after night, Saddler keeps going back
to potential hideouts. At one point he watches eleven sugar gliders emerge from
a hollow in a river red gum, only metres from townhouses.
Saddler had me hooked with his description of first encounter with a Yarra
We gawped and we gaped in mind-bent wonderment as a dark-brown platypus
bobbed up to the surface of the pale brown Yarra and then dived again,
disappearing instantly in the turbid water.
One of this book’s themes is Melburnians don’t really think much about the
Yarra River. And not just the locals. I’m ashamed to remember hearing
unflattering jokes about the Yarra in my childhood in Sydney. They involved the
muddy appearance of the river, that looked like it flowed “upside down”.
Once the Yarra was world famous for swimming: a long distance (three-mile) swim
was held there for nearly 50 years up to 1964. It was once the largest open
water swimming competition in the world. Perhaps this book might help address
the Yarra River’s image problem. And remind people of its many values, from its
rich biodiversity to providing 5 million people with much of their water
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics