Home > Cooks River > On The Importance of Storytelling

“Stories shape culture, culture shapes leaders, leaders shape policies and policies shape the system”

– Damon Gameau

The Cooks River catchment covers approximately 100km2 in one of the most densely populated parts of Sydney and flows into Botany Bay. Once an area of low-lying swamplands, the catchment is now highly modified with large sections of the river and creeks channelised and the original river mouth relocated to accommodate a runway at Kingsford Smith Airport. Legacy contamination from early industries established along the river, as well as ongoing poor environmental controls prior to the 1970s have resulted in one of the most polluted urban rivers in Australia.

In recent years, a renewed focus on the river, better environmental regulation and the efforts of councils, government agencies and community groups have seen the health of the catchment improve greatly. Significant investment has been made to naturalise channelised structures, install water quality improvement devices and deliver infrastructure that supports the social and recreational needs of the community. However, this has largely been delivered in an ad-hoc fashion, with no overarching catchment wide narrative or strategy for waterway health improvements.

The Importance of Storytelling

Storytelling is an important part of how we understand and interact with the world around us. In recent history, the story that has been told about the river we currently know as the Cooks, has largely been a tale of industrialisation and environmental deterioration. The community groups throughout the river catchment, have worked hard to change that story. By changing the way we think about and talk about the river, we can expand our understanding of what is possible.

In the second half of 2024, the CRA are exploring new ways to tell the river’s story. The story will have connection to Country at its heart. We’re taking inspiration from river storytelling projects like ‘Swimmable Birrarung‘ (supported by Regen Melbourne), Parramatta River Catchment Group’s ‘Our Living River,’ and the Los Angeles River Revitalization among others.

This storytelling exercise will be centred around the community’s aspirations for the river

The Community

Earlier community surveys and our existing catchment partnerships are telling us that:

  • There is significant room to improve and strong desire for First Nations cultural engagement around the river engagement and with the culturally diverse communities that live within the catchment. First Nations engagement will be informed by the Goolay’yari Aboriginal Partnership Strategy.
  • ‘Secondary recreation,’ such as kayaking and canoeing is a key focus of “in-river” activities. The Cooks River Paddle Trail was launched by the River Canoe Club in 2023 and several kayak hire facilities have opened in recent years. There are also several new launch facilities being planned.
  • The Cooks River shared path is a highly trafficked walking and cycling trail which extends from high up in the catchment to Kamay Botany Bay. While there is room for improvement, it is a key connecting feature throughout the catchment.

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Media Enquiries: Jason L’Ecuyer