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Revamp to open Barwon River heritage aqueduct to public

Barwon Water is forming a community reference group to help improve the safety of its heritage-listed Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct in Breakwater, with the aim of creating public access to the Barwon River and 66 hectares of surrounding land.

In partnership with Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, the project aims to transform the area into a new cultural, recreational and community precinct.

Barwon Water Managing Director Tracey Slatter said the precinct, called Porronggitj Karrong (place of the Brolga), will incorporate Aboriginal culture and history alongside the heritage values of the aqueduct structure.

“The community reference group will provide advice and support the development of the precinct, which will not only be valued and enjoyed by the people of the Geelong but also by visitors to the region,” Slatter said.

“Our aspirations are high. We see possibilities for Porronggitj Karrong to be a drawcard for the region and a source of pride in the community. We see the project being a major contributor to the economic, cultural, social and recreational prosperity of our region.”

Slatter said developing the Porronggitj Karrong precinct is a key action in Barwon Water’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

“Through the partnership with the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, it is an opportunity to rediscover, trial and introduce traditional land and water management practices to restore the environment,” she said.

Local input welcomed

The community reference group will give locals the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the new cultural and community precinct, and provide input into the development of the Heritage Interpretation Plan for the aqueduct, Slatter said.

“The Heritage Interpretation Plan will recognise the historical and architectural significance of the structure, including recording through photographic archival surveys, and using 3D technology,” she said.

Barwon Water is welcoming expressions of interest from the public to join the community reference group, which she described as an important part of the Porronggitj Karrong and aqueduct project.

Slatter said the group will provide regular, scheduled opportunities for dialogue between community members, key interest groups and the project team, and will be co-chaired by Barwon Water and Wadawurrung Traditional Owners.

“We hope it will include representatives from community members and organisations with particular interests in the aqueduct, and restoring the environment. The whole community will enjoy the site’s high ecological, heritage, cultural and recreational qualities,” she said.

Heritage and public access

In 2020, Heritage Victoria granted Barwon Water a permit to remove four of the 14 spans of the aqueduct, in preparation for opening public access, but the permit came with conditions to protect and conserve the remaining structure.

Slatter said work to stabilise the aqueduct and safely remove the four spans was progressing well with contractor McMahon Services.

“As part of the aqueduct works, the permit requires the development of a comprehensive recording program of the structure, a Heritage Infrastructure Management Plan, Heritage Interpretation Plan and structural propping works to be undertaken to stabilise the remaining structure,” she said.

“McMahon Services is now working with our engineers on geotechnical work and construction methodology for the propping of the aqueduct. We plan, subject to weather and river conditions and the very complex nature of the work, to finish stabilisation of the structure by 2022–23 and removal of the four spans by 2023–24.

“We anticipate that parts of the site, including the river, will open progressively to the public between 2023 and 2025. We will keep the community updated on timeframes as the project progresses.”