There is a long history of community action to protect the Swan River. Ongoing concern and anger about the pollution caused by the sewerage filter beds on Burswood Island led to broad community action. In 1922 a River pollution conference was attended by 34 local authorities, aquatic clubs, schools, engineers and scientists. The Conference was told that the growing algal problems could not only be blamed on the filter beds but were the result of actions being taken in agricultural areas, sweet sweepings and washings from urban areas, waste from two breweries, large quantities of salt from cultivated land brought down by both the Swan and the Canning Rivers, as well as the effluent from the filter beds.
This Conference generated a huge increase in information on the sources and impact of river pollution and vocal public support for remedial action. Dredging was seen as the solution and over the next twenty years or so the shallow areas of the Swan River from the Causeway to Maylands and at South Perth were dredged to remedy algal growth and odours.
Dredging works did not abate the smell or reduce the amount of algae piling up on River beaches. Raking proved a costly and time consuming exercise and some councils tried chemical means of ridding their bays of the offensive matter. By 1928 7 or 8 tons of weed a day was raked out of the river at East Perth daily.
In 1929, after continuing public complaints, the Minister for Works announced that as part of the Swan River Improvement plan, the filter beds would be closed and replaced by an ocean outfall.
Swan River Conservation Committee
Another example of public commitment and action was a meeting called by the Perth Road Board in November 1948. Again it was well attended, with representatives from state and local governments, schools, aquatic bodies, interested organisations and citizens as well as press and radio. The Swan River Pollution Committee (later renamed the Swan River Conservation Committee) was formed at the meeting with the aims of ‘conserving maintaining and improving the Swan Estuary and Waterways in a state free from pollution or nuisance by direct action or through the assistance of appropriate statutory authorities.’ 
Members of the Committee comprised private members as well as representatives of local government authorities, sporting clubs, social and welfare organisations, schools and the press. It searched out point sources of pollution and made fortnightly inspections of the River accompanied by local inspectors, members of local boards, often Members of Parliament - as well as the Press.
The activities of this pressure group had several visible effects, forcing the government to take action in many areas including the discontinuance of dumping ashes and trade waste from the East Perth Power Station into the River and sending Brewery waste further out into the River for disposal.
At the same time strong pressure was put on the Government to establish a statutory body to administer and deal with the Swan River and matters such as its pollution. To this end lawyer Max Kott, a member of the Conservation Committee drafted a suitable bill which was presented to the Government in September 1949. In 1953 the Swan River Reference Committee accepted a Conservation Committee representative as a member.
The Government included some features of Kott’s Bill in its legislation that finally in 1958, saw the establishment of a Swan River Conservation Board and a Technical Advisory Committee.
Although refused a place on the Board, the Swan River Conservation Committee was satisfied with the legislation and agreed to remain in existence for 12 months after the introduction of the legislation, to monitor its progress. Satisfied that the Board appeared to be carrying out the ideals of the Committee, it disbanded its watchdog role a year later.
Citizen’s Committee for the Preservation of Kings Park and the Swan River
However, it was not long before further river reclamation led to the establishment of a new group to protect the River. In 1964 the Citizen’s Committee for the Preservation of Kings Park, formed by the Women’s Service Guilds ten years earlier, added the Swan River to its brief, in an attempt to prevent the reclamation of 19 acres of Perth Water for the Narrows Interchange and for car parks.
This Committee aimed to preserve the Swan and Canning Rivers and their broad reaches from any further filling in for whatever purpose, to maintain free access by the public to the river and its foreshores and to maintain its aesthetic appeal. It worked tirelessly trying to sway the Government not to provide easy access for the car to the city, but to maintain free access for the public to the River and its foreshores.
Many thousands of Western Australians are involved in River protection and conservation activities in the Swan-Avon Catchment. The members of more than 300 volunteer ‘friends’ environment groups undertake a range of tasks including planting, weeding, fencing, clearing rubbish or completing environmental works on their local drains, turning drainage channels into living streams by landscaping and planting vegetation to tackle nutrients and help with beautification. The Claise Brook Catchment Group is one such group formed in 1997 as a result of community concerns over algal blooms in Perth's wetlands and the lack of wetland habitat in the inner city.
Today the group works with state government agencies and local government to improve the water quality and restore habitat in the catchments that drain into Perth Water. The group concentrates on the Claise Brook Main Drain, the Perth catchment which includes Perth City and Lake Monger, and the smaller Walters Brook Catchment in Highgate/East Perth. Industry is no longer the main pollutant source, instead residential use is the dominant land use.
The Claise Brook Catchment Group is active in educating the community on important sources of stormwater pollution, including nutrients from garden fertilisers. The group seeks to maintain ‘the historic connection with the former wetlands and streams, most of which no longer exist’, as ‘a significant source of inspiration to the catchment group’ and a means to gain the interest and attention of the community.
River Guardians is a program is delivered by the Swan River Trust, that educates and encourages community members to get involved in understanding the state of the River and working to protect and enhance the ecological health and long-term community benefit of the Swan Canning river system.
Page last updated: Thursday 15 November 2012