Read the transcript for Episode 12 of the Voice of Real Australia podcast: PEP 11 gas rigs loom on the horizon, and Launceston stuck in the mud

Tom Melville 00:00

Hi, I'm Tom Melville. Welcome to Voice of Real Australia. Each episode we bring you people, places, and perspectives from beyond the big cities.

Ashleigh Dettmer 00:08

It was like really weird, like I wasn't expecting it to be so stinky. It was really stinky, squishy and weird. Afterwards I really stank.

Tom Melville 00:16

We're going to Launceston Tasmania where the build-up of mud in the Tamar River is prompting calls for council to "Fix the Mud". But first... In February, Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 -- known as PEP 11 -- expired. It covered a big stretch of open water between Newcastle and Sydney, and allowed its holder to search and, pending approval, potentially drill for gas. Advent Energy, which owns most of the permit, has applied for an extension, citing the federal government's ambitions for a gas-led recovery. But critics are fearful that the environment and lifestyle of Australia's most densely populated stretch of coastline could be in danger. The anxiety has spurred a movement determined to prevent PEP-11 from moving forward. The final decision rests with federal resources minister Keith Pitt, and a public announcement is imminent. Fleur Connick has been following the story for the Newcastle Herald.

Rachael Scott 01:17

Yeah. I think anyone who hears of fossil fuel development in their neighborhood that they have a connection immediately goes no no, not in my backyard, please. And I think I was frustrated because coal mining and fossil fuel development has literally been on my doorstep since forever because of the port and all the coal ships on the horizon.

Fleur Connick 01:49

Rachael Scott is an environmental scientist and Merewether local. She's been living in the beachside Newcastle suburb all her life, swimming in the ocean, riding its waves. PEP-11 is personal for her - she feels that it could impact her home.

Rachael Scott 02:03

you finally get to a point where you think maybe we're starting to move away from that. But then this proposal of a gas rig and all of the rhetoric that's around it, that it's better for the climate, and it's going to be part of the solution. Yeah, it's really frustrating and disappointing. Offshore development is feels scary. It feels really risky, and particularly knowing the marine life that we have around here. Yeah, you never want that to be anywhere near where you live.

Fleur Connick 02:32

Rachael tells me what the ocean means to her.

Rachael Scott 02:35

Surfing is an excuse to sit at behind the waves and just stare out at the horizon. Even if you don't catch any waves, no matter what you always come out feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, especially now that I work looking at computers a lot, that being able to refocus your eyes and look at something so expansive, and get the smells and the breeze and the sun. I always love when I'm sitting at the back to jump off my board and dive under the water as deep as I can and open my eyes. And just all you can see is just blue. It's so nice to be able to see that space.

Fleur Connick 03:18

Rachael is one of the roughly six million Australians who live along the PEP 11 coastline, with parts of the permit zone only 5-and-a-half kilometres from the shore. The permit covers an area of four and a half thousand square kilometres of ocean from Newcastle to Manly in Sydney. Campaigners are concerned about potential methane leaks and oil spills, which would cause irreversible damage to the environment and marine life. They also fear the drilling activity could impact the annual whale migration up Australia's east coast. Advent Energy says it plans to drill a single gas well out at sea, (beyond the horizon), and that the environmental risk is limited. But Rachael says there hasn't been enough research into the environmental impacts.

Rachael Scott 04:01

The main concern is that the long term effects on the marine system are not known. And because no one has funded the studies to look into them because that is the company who wants to develop the projects's role. I just think in terms of chemical issues, sound issues, the marine environment is incredibly sensitive. And just because we don't know what the impacts are, doesn't mean that they are invisible

Uncle Bill 04:37

[In language], how are you? That means. Hello, how are you? Good to meet you. Talk to you. My name is William Smith. They all call me Uncle Bill. I'm going on 83 years of age. I'm Wonnarua, and Kamilaroi man right. Three bloodlines.

Fleur Connick 04:56

Uncle Bill is an Indigenous elder local to the lake macquarie area. At 82, he's seen a lot of change to the region he calls home.

Uncle Bill 05:03

Well I think it stinks to be quite honest they've done enough degridation to the land the [in language] they've shut waterways off and fish can get back in, right and back out. The kangaroos traction places have been roads have been put there and everythings done there. Even little [in language] and all that for mating season every season a fish can't get back to breeding the spawn, right because the waterways been cut off and all that. So there's been enough damage there. And when I heard becasue the ocean is very much a part of our life.

Fleur Connick 05:40

Rachael says she's frustrated with the government's ongoing support for the fossil fuel industry and its lack of action on climate change. Replacing coal with gas in her backyard is just swapping one harmful pollutant for another.

Rachael Scott 05:52

The alternatives are there and other countries overseas are pursuing greener more renewable energy and green recovery policies. And here we have Australia, one of the big economies and one of the largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world who is sticking to their guns for economic reasons when this country has so much to lose under a changing climate. And it's terrifying because I will be of the generation that will inherit that future.

Fleur Connick 06:26

The 2020 Budget revealed over 50 million dollars will be spent on investments and developments for the gas industry. This followed Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement in September last year that gas will help establish a strong economy as part of Australia's recovery from the recession. Rachael Scott isn't the only local worried about PEP 11. Tens of thousands of community members have raised their concerns about the project. A petition to stop PEP 11, organised by "Save Our Coast", was submitted to the government with 77-thousand signatures. Dr Natasha Deen is the Director and Founder of Save Our Coast. She says people are horrified by the thought of gas rigs on their horizon.

Dr Natasha Deen 07:07

People are appalled. They're anxious, they're afraid, you know, they don't understand how this could possibly have been approved. And also how lucky are we to see this incredible whale migration. And all this is that threat. We don't understand how two thirds of our gas is exported, and the risk of leaks and gas flares or explosions. They impact on air quality impacting on health. Drilling in the ocean risks pollution. It risks encountering oil because oil is often present where there's gas, and an oil spill could destroy the coast of New South Wales and beyond, you know, harming millions of marine creatures and the economy. And all of us.

Fleur Connick 07:47

Dr Deen believes the public has been clear in its opposition to any fossil fuel development in the PEP 11 zone.

Dr Natasha Deen 07:53

We've conducted 13,000 conversations in the community and we've heard how deeply the community feels about this issue. You know, we love our beaches and our whales and dolphins our way of life. And we've succeeded in mobilising the community with 10s of 1000s attending our Save Our Coast events and we've collected 77,000 signatures on petitions which were presented to Parliament to ccancel PEP 11. We've succeeded in having seismic testing cancelled in a huge testament to community spirit and and a win for marine life and our oceans. And we've also had now incredible bipartisan political support. We've succeeded in getting Federal Labor to support our campaign to oppose PEP 11. We've always had the Greens' support, we've got independents, and now even got liberal MPs, stepping up in Parliament to raise motions to end PEP 11. So it's just testament to the community spirit that we have launched this campaign and we've received so much support to the humbling and heartwarming.

Fleur Connick 08:51

Uncle Bill shakes his head at what he sees as nothing more than greed destroying his beloved country. He says the First Nations people haven't been consulted, something Dr. Natasha Deen confirms, although Avent energy says otherwise.

Uncle Bill 09:04

So what;s next, apart from killing marine real life. Is this is why they want to go to Mars? Because they're destroying this planet, we're going to go and destroy another planet? They gotta stop, sit still and listen to the Indigenous people, the first people and marry the old ways and new ways together. So we walk into the future hand in hand so children's children walk hand in hand in that lose the place of belonging, of country placeor origin. And that's it. And that's our responsibility as adults, and all that, grandmothers, grandfathers, elders, to put that pathway in place the foundation for. Otherwise there's no nowhere to fish, nowhere to swim, nowhere to surf. Nothing right. Because a hunger and a power for money. That's what it's all about. They're ripping the guts out of a country taking all the minerals and get them sold overseas. What's coming back?

Fleur Connick 10:00

David Breeze is managing director of Advent Energy, the company which owns 85 percent of PEP 11. He says drilling for gas in the permit zone is crucial to overcoming a gas shortage on the east coast.

David Breeze 10:12

There has been a shortage, it's forced gas prices higher. And there's about 50,000 jobs that rely on gas as a primary input into that process. And of course, gas is widely used for cooking and heating. So it's very important that there are further alternative gas sources come to the marketplace to be able to meet that demand, both now and into the future.

Fleur Connick 10:39

He also argues that Advent has drilled in the area safely in the past with no problems.

David Breeze 10:44

If you look at the experience, both from our previous well in 2010, which was safely drilled with hardly any commentary from the community at all. But most importantly, if you look at the experience off shore Victoria over the last 50 to 60 years, and the multitude of gas wells that have been successfully run and operated over that entire timeframe, and you look at the very tight regulatory framework. In Australia, we're extremely confident that this is a low risk environment.

Fleur Connick 11:24

A decade ago Advent had drilled a single well in the PEP11 zone but they didn't find any gas. There was a lull in activity... then in 2018 Advent Energy began seismic testing within PEP 11. This involves loud and explosive underwater airgun blasts non-stop for weeks or months to reveal potential gas and oil reserves. These blasts have been found to have a devastating effect on marine life. Save Our Coast campaigned strongly for two years against the seismic testing and in early 2020, the campaign was successful -- the testing stopped. Despite this, Advent Energy is confident that there's gas down there and so they want to start drilling again. That's why they need a new permit. Advent Energy's permit expired last month and the decision for an extension of the permit and approval to begin drilling for gas, is imminent.

Bruce Robertson 12:14

Bruce Robertson on from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and I'm a gas and LNG analyst

Fleur Connick 12:23

Bruce Robertson has written extensively on the gas industry in Australia, and disputes the notion that there has ever been an east coast gas shortage.

Bruce Robertson 12:31

There's never been a shortage of gas on the East Coast, Australia is largest exporter of LNG on the globe on the east coast. Specifically, over 70% of the gas that's produced is exported. This idea of a shortage of gas is entirely concocted by the gas industry to promote the opening up of new projects in sensitive areas such as PEP 11.

Fleur Connick 13:02

Another public concern is that once you start drilling you might find more than just gas... risking an oil spill.

Bruce Robertson 13:09

We have to be very cautious with calling it just a gas province. Quite often these reserves have oil in them as well. And it's quite likely that they may well have significant liquids, which obviously ups the environmental risks of the project. I think that the project's environmental risks are being downplayed by the proponent,

Fleur Connick 13:34

David Breeze and Advent energy argue that Central Coast, Hunter, and Sydney regions are major contributors to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. David says Drilling for gas provides an opportunity for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it under the seabed.

David Breeze 13:49

It's very important that there are solutions found for carbon storage, and the New South Wales offshore area offers a potential significant solution to carbon capture and storage and to the co2 emission reduction and to netzero 2050.

Fleur Connick 14:08

The decision on PEP-11's future ultimately rests with federal resources minister Keith Pitt. There is bipartisan opposition against it, which was proven in the House of Representatives last year when a non-binding motion to stop PEP-11 was passed. NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has come out against PEP-11, urging Minister Pitt to reject it. Minister Pitt told Voice of Real Australia that he would make a decision in line with the national interest, but has recently asked the public to keep the proposal in perspective, saying that the gas well will be about the size of a dinner table. He also pointed out that Australia's gas industry was one of the most tightly regulated in the world, with a successful track record over decades. But Dr Natasha Dean, from Save our Coast, doesn't believe it will end up just being one gas well.

Dr Natasha Deen 14:53

They're saying they're only exploring or drilling for one well, but if we think about other areas where they've explored In Australia, for example, in Bass Strait, they initially said they were drilling for one well, and then it ended up being 23 offshore platforms and the discovery of a huge oil reserve, and eventually an oil field and by, you know, huge overseas oil and gas companies with 600 kilometers of undersea pipelines. So when they're exploring, it means the future is unknown. And what we know, it could be a dangerous precedent opening up the entire east coast of Australia, with oil and gas companies predicting which reserves so one, exploration could open all this up. And it's a very dangerous precedent. So naturally, we are protective of our home environment, because we love it. People love whales and dolphins and our coast. And that is why we've had so much response to our campaign because everybody is horrified.

Fleur Connick 15:52

Rachael Scott wants these questions answered. But despite her advocacy, and the huge community movement aimed at preventing drilling in the PEP-11 zone, Rachael is more and more convinced it will go ahead.

Rachael Scott 16:02

It's the government's COVID recovery policy, the gas fired recovery. And if they you know, approve it in the national interest in energy security, doesn't matter how many people fight against it, they will somehow be able to make a case for it anyway, I think the thing that's really scary about it is like what would happen with the narrabri gas project, no matter what the public opposition is an even opposition across this political spectrum, that these things can be approved anyway. And so that leaves you feeling really powerless, because if all of the normal pathways that we use to oppose something are exhausted, then what possibly can we do next?

Fleur Connick 16:47

Uncle Bill dreams of a future where all Australians live in closer harmony with the environment, and where we all listen to and learn from first nations knowledge.

Uncle Bill 16:56

Come on. stop, sit, be still and listen to the voices you can't hear, and see what you can't see then you see it. Feel it what you can't feel and you'll feel it, you'll feel it. Because you're killing yourself and your own people, your own parents, your own kids killing their lifestyle, yet you want to give them good lifestyle. Then stop this blasting stop this drilling there's enough minerals around enough taken out of the earth, and enough going overseas. So we just gotta marry, we come together, sit, bestill and listen and work our way out. So we can get them to the future without damaging the land the earth or the rivers the waterways, But especially the ocean.

Tom Melville 17:40

Hunter elder Uncle Bill there andwe'll know soon enough whether the gas licence will be extended or not. That story was from the Newcastle Herald's intern Fleur Connick. She's been following PEP-11 for some time. Special thanks to Central News and the UTS Journalism Lab.

Tom Melville 17:58

Launceston is one of Australia's oldest and most picturesque regional cities, set in a compact valley with steep hills looking down on the Tamar River - kanamaluka in the Aboriginal language. It's not technically a river, though. It's a tidal estuary, and tributaries from 15% of Tasmania's landmass flow into it. Before colonisation, the upper Tamar - where Launceston now sits - was a shimmering patchwork of mangroves and mud flats. But for decades since, the mud was dredged and raked, clearing the way for the people of Launceston to enjoy the waters. Now, that was stopped in 2019 due to environmental concerns and the mudflats are building up again, infuriating some locals. A public campaign is demanding authorities "fix the mud" - but is it that simple? Adam Holmes writes for the Examiner, he sends this postcard from a city stuck in the mud.

Ashleigh Dettmer 18:51

So I was being told to move further across because I kept almost crashing into another crew. And then I moved a bit too far across and the next thing I know I wasn't moving anymore and end up being stuck in the mud.

Adam Holmes 19:01

Ashleigh Dettmer is 15 years old and grew up in Launceston. She spends a lot of time on the kanamaluka/Tamar in her single scull row boat. On February 7 she took part in an annual regatta, racing against other high school kids.

Ashleigh Dettmer 19:27

The water goes out quite quickly. So when I ended up being stuck in at like I'll still moving a little bit like they'll still have bits of water there. And then around like two minutes later or something all the waters just completely gone. So I didn't see the mod at all

Adam Holmes 19:39

Ashleigh laughs about it now, but it was a complex rescue. Three boats were involved and despite her good sense of humour, it could very easily have been a different story.

Ashleigh Dettmer 19:48

Luckily, I didn't sink under the mud, but it went up to like about my chest. It was like really weird like I wasn't expecting it to be so stinky, really stinky and squishy and weird. Afterwards I really stank.

Adam Holmes 20:01

Ashleigh's story shone a light on what some people had been arguing for a while -- that the mudflats building up in the Upper Tamar near Launceston are unsightly, and make watersports and boating along the river difficult or impossible.

Adam Holmes 20:14

Yeah, you weren't worried about afraid of what might have happened?

Ashleigh Dettmer 20:16

Nio. I don't know why. I know you spend it like a half fun experience. I think it was more just laughing at the fact my stupidity for getting stuck in the mud.

Adam Holmes 20:27

Before colonisation, the upper Tamar had expansive mud flats to compact the sediment, wetlands to filter them, and channels for the water to flow in and out. But as the city developed, residents wanted a river, a port, a marina, yacht clubs, rowing clubs, restaurants and hotels, they wanted to use it like other cities use their waterfronts. Huge dredging ships dug deeper channels, and boats would scoop up the mud to add more depth. A dam was built nearby, a suburb was added on top of the mud flats, and the landscape changed. Dredging had proven costly and inefficient, so raking was employed. But two years ago, an environmental report found that raking was releasing dangerous toxins and heavy metals stored in the mud from the rivers that flow into the Tamar, from past industrial activities, even sewerage. It was harming unique ecosystems... so they've been banned and the Tamar's mudflats are quickly making a comeback.

David Maynard 21:29

It's a mixed system. You will always get salt water at one end and some fresh down the other but it changes through the seasons. The first Tasmanians had two names Kanamaluka was one half and Ponrabal was the other. There was no definite line between the two. It was like a seasonal thing.

Adam Holmes 21:47

David Maynard is a natural sciences curator, I meet him at the Queen Victorian Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. He's been studying the river for years and is an expert on its ecology. I asked him to explain the impact of dredging and raking further.

David Maynard 22:02

The rules have changed. You can't just do sort of cowboy activities which just get get the sediments out and we'll put it on paddocks. Or we'll make sports fields. You can't do that anymore. The dredge spoils would have to be put into landfill and the mess has been done. If Launceston was to try and manage the amount of dredge spoil that came out. They would have to greatly increase the size of our land fill areas and it's just not economically viable and it cost us something like for memory It was around 10 million a year.

Adam Holmes 22:33

David shows me a map of the upper Tamar in 1833, in its pre-colonial state. Mudflats were a natural part of this system. But there were also clear channels going through the mud.

David Maynard 22:45

What we're looking at is a perfect example of what nature would do if we didn't intervene. You would have freshwater inputs from the north and south esk rivers, and they deliver some of the sediments down. In Dylon system, those sediments drop out and form extensive mud banks. And this map in 1833 shows those very mud banks. Whenever we do some management activity, whether it be dredging or raking, that removes those mud banks. But they return as soon as you stop that activity within 12 or 18 months, nature starts to put those features back again. So if you left it alone, you would end up with exactly zero gain for whatever money you just spent. But times

Adam Holmes 23:27

But times have changed since 1833. There's a major Tasmanian city next door, for a start. And its population has made the river and watersports a part of their life.

Jim Guy 23:37

Tamar Rowing club is one of the oldest running clubs in Australia. It's probably the oldest continuous Rowing Club and it was set up in 1976. The original site was over there where the new King bridge is and it was put there because it placed onto the South Esk and there was water access at all tides.

Adam Holmes 23:56

Jim Guy has been involved with the Tamar Rowing Club for over 50 years - a past president, rower, coach and life member.. Rowing is his passion. We meet on the rowing club's pontoon as the tide just starts to recede in the early afternoon. To the south is the entrance to the South Esk River and Launceston's Cataract Gorge -- a beloved tourist attraction downstream from a hydro-power dam -- and to the north is the Tamar. The rowing club is wedged in between in a spot facing the fastest build-up of mud. Just a few years ago, their clubhouse was renovated after being damaged by flood. Jim tells me why the river is important to the community.

Jim Guy 24:34

Tamar Rowing club has over 100 members. It plays a huge role in the Launceston community. It was set up by the original forefathers of the city. It was one of the social hubs. It plays a big part in schools. It also has a very good masters writing program where you're talking about more mature athletes, people that may have rode before or not rode come back. So there is a health aspect to that and of course it is a social connection area. So it is a very important part of this town.

Adam Holmes 25:04

Jim says river users hadn't been consulted before the move to stop raking. It's why he's involved in the Tamar Action Group which is trying to free the river from the mud.

Jim Guy 25:13

One of the problems that has occurred is that there have been a number of inquiries that have been done over the period. Professor Ingles who did one of the original ones pointed out that no raking or dredging operation is a non option, you have to do it, otherwise the area is going to be rendered unusable. Now, certainly there are the environmental aspects that have been mentioned. But I think that there needs to be an evaluation of what is reasonable with that and I that's why I say I think if there was a regular maintenance program that may help in the volume of mud that had to be removed at any one time, and the flood authority have graphs of the mud levels so they quite clearly you can see what those levels were and how much silver has been returned.

Adam Holmes 25:58

But the City of Launceston's environmental report was clear - no dredging, no raking. Jim and other Launceston residents might have to learn to "love the mud". That slogan was coined by a council officer, then repeated by local politicians.

Jim Guy 26:18

We do not agree with that. That I think was an unfortunate comment that was made. I think we need to be a little smarter than that and learn to work together in relation to make a worthwhile situation for the city.

Adam Holmes 26:35

About 20 years ago, property developers and the council decided to transform the Tamar foreshore. Restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels and a boardwalk sprang up in response, with a marina in the middle. That was before the dredging and raking ban, so that lovely foreshore now sits on the edge of a swelling mudflat when the tide goes out. When the tide goes out, the mud is revealed. Boats in the marina descend, and sit on top of it, unable to use the river. The setting sun to the west sometimes glistens off the top of the brown expanse. Errol Stewart is a property developer, car yard baron and Launceston local who was instrumental in that foreshore development -- known as The Seaport. Before his intervention, the area was disused ports and silos. Now it's a tourism drawcard. He's beloved as a local icon. Errol says the current management of the river is not good enough.

Errol Stewart 27:34

I think everybody in the city has got a reasonable expectation that the river should be in better condition, it should be more usable for hours more usable for boat owners. And it should look aesthetically more pleasing than it does at the moment. So some would say you got to learn to love the mud flats. And I think that that's a reasonable statement. Except the mud flats is fine. But now what we're getting is banks of mud. So the mud starts to build up and up and up. Because we're restricting the flow via the implementation of the agricultural dams. And because we've reduced the tidal prism over the last 100 years.

Adam Holmes 28:08

And while we sit and chat, we're surrounded by businesses and boats adorned with placards reading "Fix the Mud" - I can see dozens of them. Even cars in the carpark sport bumper stickers with the slogan. Errol has an obvious interest in the waterfront development. He wants it to be attractive. He doesn't want boat owners to be stuck in the mud in the marina. His solution to that problem is simple: build a boardwalk over the top of the marina, and relocate the boats nearby.

Errol Stewart 28:34

You want our plan really is to take the inside berths which sit on the mud away and essentially discard them and only leave the marina that sits closer to the edge of the channel, which is only about a third of the marina. So we take two thirds out. And then we continue the marina along the river edge. So we widen the marina essentially, but where you'd lose the depth of the marina in terms of its depth towards the land. So that would leave a very big hole of mud at low tide between where we're sitting and the houses 150 meters away. And our proposal is to infill that with a new promenade exactly the same as we've got here now. And we think that's a really good compromise.

Adam Holmes 29:14

But maybe the mud itself could become a tourist attraction? That's what David suggests. He says there's plenty of examples of wetlands as a popular waterside feature.

David Maynard 29:25

Mud doesn't need fixing. It's natural. What we need to do is look at how we live with that, how we value it, if we were to let it reestablish. If we would have improved wetlands, emergent forests of tea trees and such around, maybe we could encourage more recreational activities around those wetlands and even use them to generate tourism income.

Adam Holmes 29:50

While many believe the mudflats make the city's risk of flood worse - and Launceson is a very flood-prone city - David says the mud could actually reduce the risk

David Maynard 30:00

The wetlands around the estuary. They are the filter. In fact one of the current solutions on the table engineered wetlands. It's a great way to filter water, mitigate flood and also create habitat for wildlife. And there's also social and economic outcomes. You can have boardwalks, you can have recreational activities, bike rides, and such. And it's also a way of attracting tourists.

Adam Holmes 30:27

Meanwhile Jim and other water users still want a return to the days of raking. You can't row a boat in mud.

Jim Guy 30:34

For the users to be involved. And for us to come up with a resolution, whether it be writing or dredging. And I think it comes down to those two issues to ensure that the river can be utilized otherwise, and we're not going to be lost to the clubs and that that are here. But in fact, the tourists and so forth that come because you talk to these... like this cruise boat going past now, people love to be on the river when there's a regatta on, or when there's crews training, it all adds to the sort of tourist aspect. And of course, the other thing is Launceston identifies with the gorge. And so this is a prime tourist focus area.

Adam Holmes 31:12

But as David explains, the mud and its contents are an important part of the ecosystem, and dislodging that habitat for so many years has impacted the ecosystem.

David Maynard 31:22

And those are really important because things live in the sand. And so other things come over and feed off that sentence. So even though it might look like a boring old piece of sand, it's an important habitat type. And one of the most critical ones we have is our seagrass beds. It's known worldwide that these are important as nursery areas and I can support commercial fisheries and such. So having those protecting them here in the history can have benefits to other parts of the community in the economy. Another habitat type is the emergent grasses like the wetlands and the salt marsh communities. Again, they're important as biodiversity hotspots, but they're also quite threatened by the way we manage our environment.

Adam Holmes 32:07

That brings us to today. A task force of council, state government, estuary management and other stakeholders plan to present a report with a number of options. They aim to put science at the heart of decision-making, but the community needs to play its part too. What's realistic? What's environmentally safe? Can the mud coexist with rowers and a waterfront? In the end, it could come down to what the Launceston community values the most. And Errol says waterways have become a huge part of a lot of communities.

Errol Stewart 32:41

They all turn their back initially but they come back and say, Hey, this really is really good. If you look at Melbourne, you know, 50 years ago, the Yarra was nothing like it is now and it just changed. They got rid of industry and they built casinos and everything around it. So people like to be on the waterfront now. Whether it's an industry or a river, same as Adelaide and every major city around the world.

Adam Holmes 33:01

And it isn't just the mud that has Launceston residents calling for better management of the river... the city has an outdated combined sewerage and stormwater system that means raw sewage ends up in the river during heavy rain. But millions of dollars are being pumped into it to stop that source of contamination. David Maynard again.

David Maynard 33:20

There are other issues that we still suffer from like Launceston has a mixed storm or water and sewage system, which when it was put in in 1860, I think it was was like state of the art. But now it's no good. It allows for some sewage contamination into the upper estuary. I do know people personally that have had an injury and got some of the sediments in it and ended up in hospital with infections. And it's likely that those were related to the poor water quality and possibly which is linked to the sewage.

Adam Holmes 33:53

Ashleigh certainly isn't about to jump back into the mud.

Ashleigh Dettmer 33:57

I ended up having a shower. Then I got home, had a bath and then had another shower. The day afterwards in the morning, I felt a bit upset in my stomach. And so I stayed home from school that day, but throughout the day got better and then I was at the school the next day.

Adam Holmes 34:11

For now, Launceston is treading water. Finding a delicate balance between aesthetics, utility, safety, flood mitigation, toxicity, and ecological impact... seems an impossible task. What's clear is that Launscenston residents, and visitors, love the Tamar river and want it to continue as the centre of their city... without endangering the environment or themselves. Looking out over the estuary I can see that it's already changed quite a bit in the past 18 months. But there's still birds landing gracefully on the surface, rowers parting the waves occasionally, joggers and walkers on the foreshore. It's almost like nature is healing itself - but are residents learning to love the mud?

Tom Melville 34:58

Adam Holmes is one of our reporters in Launceston.

Tom Melville 35:08

That's it for this episode of Voice of Real Australia. Thanks for listening. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. If you like the podcast please tell your friends and give us a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts. It really helps. If you'd like to share your story, email voice at aust community media dot com dot a-u... that's voice at aust "a-u-s-t" community media dot com dot a-u. Our Facebook page is Facebook dot com slash voice of real Australia. Voice of Real Australia is recorded in the studios of the Newcastle Herald. It's produced and mixed by Laura Corrigan and me, your host, Tom Melville. Follow me on Twitter @-Tom-Melville-1-2-4 Our editors are Gayle Tomlinson and Chad Watson. Special thanks this week go to Jim Kellar, Courtney Greisbach and Heath Harrison. This is an ACM podcast.

This story Voice of Real Australia Episode 13 Transcript first appeared on Newcastle Herald.