Stephen Parker – Barwon River.

Stephen Parker’s love of rivers began as a child, when he discovered the joys of fishing on and exploring the Barwon River. “I was an adventurous kid, always wanting to see what is around the next bend in the river,” remembers Stephen.

“I’ve always had an attraction to rivers and river systems. They do feel like an unchartered pathway.”

That sense of adventure and exploration led Stephen to the world of canoe racing, and a longstanding membership of the Geelong Canoe Club.

Stephen took up canoeing in high school, and enjoyed it as a mindful activity, before embracing the competitive world of marathon canoeing. In one year Stephen won the Echuca marathon, Barwon mini-marathon, and the Murray marathon, which runs over a daunting 404 kilometres.

And over one week every year for five years, Stephen and friends got away from it all, paddling the entire 2,500 kilometre length of the Murray River.

“It was a much greater experience than any race I ever did,” Stephen said.

His career took him away from Geelong for many years, but Stephen returned to raise a family, and he remains a passionate advocate for the Barwon River, and the simple pleasure of canoeing.

“Geelong’s waterfront is very attractive, with the bollards, and the beach. But if you dig a bit deeper, the river is just a nicer place to be, to escape from the city. Thanks to the Barwon, we’ve got an amazing green corridor that goes through the centre of Geelong.”

One of Stephen’s favourite places on the river is at Queen’s Park, near his home, with the river’s gentle bends and tall eucalypt trees, and the old world charm of the single lane bridge.

Another favourite is the stretch downstream of the Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct in Breakwater.

“Lake Connewarre and Reedy Lake are massive parts of the landscape that are largely unknown and unseen by Geelong residents, but the Barwon River takes your right through them. The section of the river from the aqueduct through to Barwon Heads is full of amazing wildlife and it changes all the time,” he said.

The opportunity for more people to one day paddle to Barwon Heads is something that Stephen finds exciting.

He is a member of the Community Reference Group for the Porronggitj Karrong and Aqueduct project, which is being led by Barwon Water and Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.

The project will see river access at the aqueduct opened up for the first time since 1995. It will transform the 66 hectares of the land surrounding the aqueduct into a place the community can come together to connect, listen and learn from country. Wadawurrung will lead the development of a Healthy Country Plan for the area.

“In a community sense it is an amazing opportunity, it’s a great space that nobody knows about, a pretty unique opportunity for the Geelong community.

“When I listen to the Wadawurrung vision for the river, I get excited, because we need a place to just be.”

Article submitted by Barwon Water. Photo of Stephen and family at the Barwon River near their home, supplied.