Words from the legendary Archie Roach remind us that the cultural significance of natural assets in our catchment is strongly connected to its rivers and creeks. The Williams River is found within the boundary of the Wiilman Noongar dialectal group of the Gnaala Karla Booja Region.
The Williams River where it flows through the town of Williams is the second of eight sites that are bound for on-ground restoration projects under the Hotham-Williams River Action Plan. The Noongar people would have lived throughout the semi-arid area of the current Wheatbelt region, and what is now the Albany Highway was once a travel-way that connected the Swan River area to the south coast (Albany) (SWALC, 2020). The Williams River is one of many that intersect with this historic thoroughfare and it would have been an important location for water and food.
The Williams River at this site now flows through the town of Williams, including industrial and residential land within and close to the town. Upstream and downstream the River is flanked by rural, rural residential and agricultural land. The River and riparian areas have changed over time after a long history of land use change since European settlement.
During the development of the Hotham-Williams River Action Plan (RAP) in 2019-20, 3.4km of the Williams River at this site was assessed for foreshore condition. There are some areas of significant bank erosion, and the vegetation consists of scattered native trees with an understorey of weeds intermingled with native shrubs and ground covers. For restoration to occur, the RAP recommendations are to improve native vegetation cover, stabilise the banks, and carry out large scale weed control and revegetation.
Partnerships with Newmont Boddington and South32 Worsley Alumina is allowing PHCC to prioritise on-ground restoration works, which are set to begin mid-2022. For other activities at the site such as public access and amenities, PHCC is looking forward to working directly with the Shire of Williams who manages the public areas. Over time, many rivers have become land-locked so that they are difficult to get to, and human connection can therefore be limited. It is lovely to see lots public space next to the Williams River at this site, and the community would like to increase this with more walking tracks, eventually connecting the River with the nearby Williams Nature Reserve.
Inclusion of passive access points to the River, balanced with revegetation and restoration of degraded banks are key components of the site restoration plan. Picture this…River-side bushland with large shady trees, and a variety of shrub species that provide habitat for small birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. The ground is covered by native grasses and herbs, and closer to the River is a green carpet of rushes and sedges. A little track lets you wind your way through the vegetation until you get to the River where you can sit quietly or paddle your feet in the water. By including areas like this in the overall restoration at the site, the River environment can be restored over time alongside gentle and meaningful interaction of people with the River.
Recent site visits to the Williams River have been carried out to plan for weed control later in the year. Although there are plenty of weeds to target, the good news is that there are also lots of native grass species, including native couch (pictured). Native grasses and herbs respond well to targeted weed control by spreading and multiplying as weed numbers reduce. This will be the first of many on-ground actions to make the restoration plan a reality.