Geography of the Yarra River

Prof. Ian Rutherfurd MRSV

Professorial Fellow, The University of Melbourne
Research Director, Alluvium Consulting

Did you know that basalt flows dammed the Yarra River right up to Doncaster in the recent geological past?

Did you know that the Merri Creek has one of the largest community river restoration groups in Australia, or that you can safely swim in the Yarra most of the time?

Did you know that there used to be a Royal Geographical Society of Victoria back in the 1800s, and that a group of enthusiastic Victorians are now re-establishing a similar body called Geography Victoria to celebrate all things geographical?  

Well, you would have discovered all of these things, and much more, on the recent inaugural field trip of Geography Victoria, held under the auspices of Victoria’s Royal Society.

On the first day of National Science Week in 2022, about 30 RSV/Geography Victoria members and friends joined Rob Gell, the President of the Royal Society, and our tour guide Dr James Driscoll from Monash University, at the junction of Merri Creek and the Yarra River.

This is an exquisite geographical location. It is at the boundary between the basalts of the western suburbs of Melbourne and the Silurian sedimentary rocks of the eastern suburbs, it is rich in the history of contact between Indigenous and European peoples, and in the industrial history of Melbourne. James unravelled the complex geological story of the lavas and turbidities that underpin the geography of Melbourne.

We were fortunate to also have Julia Cirillo, the Waterwatch coordinator from the Merri Creek Management Committee, to tell us about the amazing work being done to restore Merri Creek. Participants inspected basalt rocks with a hand lens, measured turbidity in the river, and tried to determine which way was up in folded Silurian marine mudstones.

Thanks to all our guides for the day, especially the amazing James Driscoll, with Rob Gell’s valuable input, drawing on his knowledge from his tertiary and student days. It was a fabulous field trip! The day truly epitomised what we believe is the essence of Geography Victoria – bringing people of all ages together, all with a love of Geography, to learn about, and enjoy, the world in which we live. It also reinforced the value of the relationship between Geog Vic with the Royal Society. Geography Victoria is planning to hold many more such trips and they will be advertised widely within the Royal Society. Please also keep an eye open for progress in establishing Geography Victoria so that you can get involved.

Ian Rutherfurd is a fluvial geomorphologist with 20 years’ experience working on the geomorphology and management of streams. Ian is presently working in the Department of Resource Management and Geography in the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne.

Dr James Driscoll is a geologist, Drone Pilot and an Outreach Developer & Coordinator with the School of Earth, Atmosphere & Environment at Monash University

Rob Gell AM FRGS is a coastal geomorphologist who taught Environmental Science and Physical Geography at tertiary level. Rob is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an Inaugural Fellow of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand.