Boathouse man keeps Yarra legacy alive

Paul van Dersluys on the terrace of the Fairfield Park Boathouse. Photo by William Naughton-Gravette
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The long-time Fairfield Park Boathouse owner says the Yarra's welbeing has been lost in red tape. William Naughton-Gravette reports.

The long-time owner of the Fairfield Park Boathouse has welcomed a State government plan to protect the Yarra which has flooded it “up to the roof” at times.

Paul van Dersluys says the interests of the Yarra have all too often been lost in red tape and a dedicated river council, among 30 measures to maintain the health of the river announced earlier this year, is an “excellent idea”.

The Birrarung Council will manage Yarra affairs, including maintaining the quality of the river’s water, banks, and animal and plant life. It’s “crucial”, says Mr Van Dersluys, who has owned and operated the Boathouse for 33 years.

“People are drawn to the water,” says Mr Van Dersluys. “They likely wouldn’t come here if the river had a bad reputation”.

He says debris used to be a problem, preventing visitors to the Boathouse from safely rowing along the river. “It’s much better these days,” he says.

Mr Van Dersluys continues a family’s legacy on the river. His mother owned the Studley Park Boathouse, and he grew up on the Yarra, eventually drawing maps of the river which would be officially adopted.

“I named plenty of spots along the river on those maps”. He cites Bellbird Park, in Kew, and Galletea Point, near the Studley Park Boathouse, among those he has named.

Mr van Dersluys also believes a generational shift is changing people’s relationship with the river. “People don’t seem to swim much anymore,” he says.

But they still love being by the water and any measures to protect the Yarra is “good news for everyone”.

Feeding the ducks in the Yarra at Fairfield Boathouse. Photo by William Naughton-Gravette