Meet Shannon O’Brien, owner of Murray River Adventures in Cohuna, staunch defender of Gunbower Forest, and one of the many community members that have given up their time to help shape these projects through our community reference groups
Tell me about you
I’m the owner at Murray River Adventures by Sydney Harbour Kayaks. We’re a Sydney based kayaking business, with a base in Cohuna, that runs kayak and canoe guided ecotours through Gunbower Forest.
I’m heavily involved in the national paddle sports industry, tour development and an advocate for maritime safety. We also make high-end sea kayaks and paddles, which are produced locally and used for all our tours.
Why Gunbower Forest?
We started off running kayak tours in NSW, and we also run the Massive Murray Paddle, a 5-day race from Yarrawonga to Koondrook.
Over the years, we travelled down the river to manage the race and when we got to Cohuna, we loved it. We got to know the area better and realised that we could get deep inside the forest…and that was it – the holy grail of paddling!
Our tours give people an opportunity to experience what’s special about Gunbower Forest. I believe people who have a good connection with such a special place will turn around and become staunch defenders of that place. Gunbower needs more people who deeply care about it.
Why did you decide to get involved with the Gunbower Stakeholder Advisory Group?
I felt that I could offer a different set of eyes. We’re not from the area but we fell in love with Gunbower and we’ve invested in the area through our business, our cottage and the Massive Murray Paddle.
I see tourism as a huge driver for this space. The creeks, lagoons, swamps and forests are a huge environmental asset. With the decline in agriculture after the last drought, tourism could help keep families on the land and provide opportunities for locals to set up small businesses.
What I bring to the table are ideas around sustainable tourism and what people would like and what they need from the forest so they can enjoy it safely. We need everyone to get involved in putting this area on the map.
How are you bringing more people to Gunbower?
We’ve changed the route for the Massive Murray Paddle – from this year, it goes from Gunbower to Koondrook on the last day. That will refresh the event and bring several hundred paddlers and ground crew into the area who will all come to know how important Gunbower Forest is.
That’s a huge amount of people that will become fanatics. And once they’re fanatics, they’ll protect it. Whether you’re camping, 4-wheel driving or going for a hike or a bike, you can still sustainably use the forest. It doesn’t have to be untouched – it just has to be protected.
What are your thoughts on VMFRP?
I don’t understand all the technical aspects of the project, but I do trust that the projects are based on good science and sustainability.
It’s absolutely crucial that we get water back onto the floodplains. I know people worry about blackwater, but when I’ve been on the water with my GoPro after releases of environmental water, it’s played out exactly the way the scientists said it would – the water starts off clear, then starts to darken but it gets flushed off before blackwater becomes an issue.
Of course, it’s got to be done right. It has to be monitored and the timing for getting water on and off the floodplain needs to be right.
If the forest is healthy, more people will want to stay and stop. If the forest is not healthy, the community won’t be healthy, and more people will leave the area. We need to find the right balance between ecology and other uses for the water.
What do you love about floodplains?
You can see everything – all the birds and the wildlife – in one place. I had an amazing experience being surrounded by a mob of emu when I was changing at the back of my ute at dusk. I was about to go on a sunset kayak and it felt like the greatest moment ever.
Moments like that are only possible if the environment is healthy. With a good sustainable program like VMFRP, floodplains get to be something we experience first-hand and not just something we read about in books.
It’s such a sensitive and important region, with so many things that people can do to feel part of nature. The history – both recent and ancient – is absolutely special. I call it the ‘Kakadu’ of the South – but without the crocs!
Shannon sits on the Gunbower Stakeholder Advisory Group. These groups have broad community and landholder representation giving us a diverse local perspective on various aspects of project delivery, such as technical studies and our communications and engagement approach.
The Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP) acknowledges and respects Traditional Owners, Aboriginal communities and organisations. We recognise the diversity of their cultures and the deep connections they have with Victoria’s lands and waters.
We value partnerships with them for the health of people and country.
VMFRP management and staff pay their respects to Elders past and present, and recognise the primacy of Traditional Owners’ obligations, rights and responsibilities to use and care for their traditional lands and waters.