Melburnians have taken the Yarra for granted, as a murky, brown fixture. Environmentalist Maya Ward sees it differently. She has explored the Yarra extensively, and one day determined to walk to the source of the river. It took her and a group of friends three weeks, walking from docks to bushland. For much of this time the travellers were off the beaten track, their only path the river bank. Told as a diary, the narrative covers much ground: historical, ecological and what the future of the Yarra might hold. Once the river was an open sewer – more recent concern about water quality saw Ward and her friends shut out from catchment areas. The book opens eyes into the indigenous history of the river and the radical changes made since European arrival. This story of an eco-pilgrimage is luminous, informative and rather beautiful.
Lucy Sussex, The Sunday Age June 5, 2011
… this is an important book simply because no one appears to have done this trip and written about it for more than 100 years. Ward’s description of the closure of the Yarra‘s headwaters is a reminder that the simple joy of following a river from the mouth to the source is no longer easy and is often a heartbreaking disappointment.
Bruce Elder, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday June 25
Her pilgrimage is difficult logistically, physically and emotionally. Food and shelter are offered by friends and riverside dwellers, a form of support associated through the ages with the spiritual gesture of pilgrimage. This invests her account with hope and optimism.
Now and then, her gentle traveller’s discourse is punctuated by vignettes of utmost poignancy. There is a brief account of how her father tried for a decade to re-vegetate the banks of Moonee Ponds Creek, only to see his efforts bulldozed in the widening of the Tullamarine freeway. He stood beside it with a placard saying “You killed my garden”, and left the country forever.
Her vision is not naively nostalgic, sentimental or idealistic. She has a great affection for Melbourne and its people and a strong sense of her place in a modern community.
This book belongs to a genre that runs back through Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau in America, and the peripatetic tradition of romantic poetry in Britain. It is seeing a revival, as Mark Tredinnick, author of The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir, suggests in his introduction to this book.
Nature writing, until recently, was associated with a dissenting politics, characterised as a subculture. Now, due to global warming, it seems increasingly mainstream, an ideological avant-garde in the endgame of Western industrial societies.
What does it take, Ward asks, to initiate our wrong-headed, blow-in culture into “living in balance and attaining sufficiency without excess?” Hoards of wilderness pilgrims may not be the answer; but it’s a very good question.
Stella Clarke, Weekend Australian, Saturday 2 July
Ward is often candid and self-revelatory in describing a journey which may not be epic in a physical sense … but in terms of the thoughts that it allows to percolate to the surface, The Comfort of Water could be ground breaking or even life-changing. This book will challenge or reaffirm you belief systems as it explores the impacts of human behaviour on the environment.
John Cannon, The Sunday Tasmanian , 3 July 2011