Author(s): Kristin Otto
Kristin Otto has produced a moving and surprising exploration of the history and meaning of Melbourne's Yarra river and those who have lived and worked on it. Yarra celebrates a river that has inspired and sustained generations.
It was John Wedge, Batman’s private surveyor, who named the Yarra Yarra. In September 1835 he was at the Turning Basin with some Kulin and heard them identify the river as it came over the Falls as, he wrote, ‘Yarrow Yarrow’. It was only some months later that Wedge discovered they had been referring to the pattern and movement of water over the Falls, not the river itself.
And ever since, it has been the Yarra’s fate to be misunderstood: maligned for its muddiness, ill-used as sewer and tip; scooped, sculpted, straightened and stressed, ‘cleaned up’ to the detriment of its natural inhabitants; built-over, under and beside; worked mercilessly and then bridged almost to maritime extinction.
In Kristin Otto’s superbly entertaining new history, the whole sorry tale is laid bare. From the creation stories of Kulin owners and geologist blow-ins (and Robert Hoddle’s bad-tempered expedition to the headwaters) to the twenty-first-century waterside building boom, Otto traces the course of Melbourne’s murky river.
Erudite, affectionate and witty, with more meanders and diversions than the river itself, Yarra is both a fascinating read and a fitting tribute to the ‘noble stream’.