As the NFS was being developed, a series of public consultation meetings were held across the basin to promote the draft strategy, understand community interests and concerns, and identify opportunities for future engagement. The Community Stakeholder Taskforce (CST) took a lead role in organising and undertaking these meetings. The need for community ownership of the NFS was well recognised from the very start.
Once the NFS was released, and NFS Coordinators were employed, the approaches to community engagement broadened. Commencing in 2004, annual tours were undertaken by the NFS team (MDBC staff, CST and NFS Coordinators), focusing on particular areas within the basin where a series of events were held. This provided an important opportunity to engage with the community, recognise and celebrate local achievements that progress native fish management goals.
During the tours, NFS team members and local natural resource management representatives would talk with local communities about native fish issues they saw as priorities and ways they could assist in recovery of fish and habitats. Activities included presentations, discussions, site visits, school visits and events. The week’s activities would be promoted through media including newspaper, TV and radio interviews.
The tours provided an effective ongoing method of raising awareness of the NFS and deepening the understanding of the NFS members to local native fish issues. They also built relationships and strengthened communication within the NFS team. Community feedback received through the consultation process and through the tours also helped clarify the information resources that needed to be developed for the NFS.
Between 2004 and 2009, tours covered areas within all the jurisdictions in the MDB.
- 2004 – northern New South Wales and southern Queensland
- 2005 – Darling River area (Collarenebri, Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Tilpa, Wilcannia, Menindee, Pooncarie, Wentworth and Mildura)
- 2006 – Murrumbidgee River between Tarcutta and Hay, Murray and Goulburn catchments between Wakool, Shepparton and Albury in southern NSW and northern Victoria.
- 2007 – Mildura to the Murray Mouth
- 2008 – central western NSW between Wagga Wagga and Tamworth
- 2009 – southern Queensland and north western NSW between Toowoomba and Narrabri
In 2010, a broader approach was taken, where NFS Coordinators and CST members in each jurisdiction hosted their own activities. This Basin-wide approach enabled engagement with a much larger and more diverse audience, with a greater diversity of events. Generally, the week would involve an official launch at a key site attended by the NFS team, who would then disperse to their own jurisdictions and specific activities. In 2010, the week was launched in Marysville in Victoria by Jody Swirepik (Executive Director, Natural Resource Management, MDBA) and Uncle Roy Patterson (Local Aboriginal Elder) who gave a welcome to country. A total of 41 events were organised with over 1800 participants across the Basin. Media activity was prolific, with over 50 press articles in local, regional and state based papers, nine radio broadcast pieces.
In 2011, the Native Fish Awareness week was launched at Goolwa by Rhondda Dickson (Chief Executive) and focussed on a key theme of ‘Habitat makes fish happen’. A temporary website was developed to provide information on events; this was well received and provided an very useful additional resource during the week. This week incorporated the launch of the 12 Talking Fish booklets – oral histories of the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin project. These two platforms were used to enhance engagement with the key stakeholder group targeted during this week – recreational fishers.
A total of 43 events were delivered, connecting with over 2000 people across the Basin. Examples of events included:
- South Australia – Eight events including two school workshops including Sustaining River Life activities, a fishing clinic and native fish identification sessions; four community meetings including launches of the Talking Fish booklets, compliance talks, native fish quizzes, expert speakers discussing crustaceans and Oriental Weatherloach.
- Queensland – Eight events including a research forum bringing together researchers, fisheries and water managers; community meetings with fishing clubs to outline the NFS and onground works, the launch of the Dewfish Demonstration Reach DVD, site visits, DVD launch; delivery of a tilapia prevention training package; launch of the Paroo River oral history booklet; a resnagging workshop; fishway inspections, Landcare workshops which included presentations of native fish habitat requirements. Flooding caused the cancellation of several onsite visits.
- Victoria – Seven events including gathering of the Macquarie perch ‘mob’ in Flowerdale, sharing traditional Indigenous knowledge including canoe cutting, reed weaving, a fish forum, launches of the Goulburn, Ovens and Murray rivers oral history booklets ’live music, oral history/story sharing, participation in a fishing competition at Lake Hume.
- New South Wales – 20 events including a launch at the Sydney Aquarium, community meetings in regional centres, fishing clinics, school visits, a Edward-Wakool research seminar, launches of the Darling and Great Anabranch, and Murray oral history booklets and tree planting events.
The CST and the NFS coordinators prepared summary reports of the broad range of events which were undertaken during these tours and awareness weeks. These provided valuable sources of information to review activities, outcomes and feedback, as well as support planning of future events. Reports of the activities were also included within the annual implementation reports for the NFS.
The broader approach to Native Fish Awareness Week from 2010 onwards included a much greater focus on media activity to promote and support the program. There was also a substantial increase in workload for the organisers, particularly NFS coordinators. There was an ongoing review of whether this approach was the most appropriate and how planning could be modified to address issues such as workload, funding and logistics.