RCE Greater Western Sydney - 2023


Building a Community Voice for the River: Connection, Conservation and Education
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Building a Community Voice for the River: Connection, Conservation and Education
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Western Sydney
Contributing organization(s) : 
Western Sydney University (School of Science and Sustainability Education and Partnerships - RCE-GWS host), Greater Sydney Landcare (inclusive of Streamwatch), Cattai Hills Environment Network, Hawkesbury Environment Network and Hawkesbury-Nepean Landcare Network.
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Brittany Vermeulen
Organizational Affiliation: 
Western Sydney University
Format of project: 
face-to-face delivery of workshops and online forums
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Monday, July 10, 2023
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1998 • NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and • NSW Fisheries Management Act, 1994
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Geographical & Education Information
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, 2750
Target Audience:
Community, Higher, Youth (Informal)
Professional bodies and organisations
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
Western Sydney is home to about 1 in every 11 Australians with the third largest economy in Australia and one of the fastest growing populations in the country. We are intersected and surrounded by waterways and bounded by the world famous Blue Mountains. Western Sydney is also rich in cultural diversity and we speak over 100 different languages. But like the rest of the world Western Sydney is rapidly changing. The gap in social inequality is increasing. We have increasing housing and urbanisation pressures, transport gridlocks, higher unemployment than the national average and a steady loss of agricultural land, riparian zones, bushland and biodiversity. Climate change has led to increased health risks for the young and old, greater variability in our food production systems, increased loss of biodiversity and less water flowing through our rivers and in our wetlands.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
The Hawkesbury-Nepean River is the largest and most important river in the Sydney Basin, cutting across 7 local government areas of Western Sydney. The region however faces distinctive sustainability challenges associated with an increasing population and rapid urbanisation. It provides 97% of the region’s drinking water, supports the agriculture and aquaculture industries as well as the tourism and recreation sectors, and provides a complex ecosystem for a multitude of biodiversity, including the iconic Australian platypus. As a result of increasing development and more recently several flooding events, the Hawkesbury-Nepean River is under increasing pressure which has seen the river’s health decline.
January, 2020
Unlike other rivers in Sydney (The Georges River, Cooks River and Parramatta River) there was no coordinated approach to the monitoring and project works currently being undertaken on the River. In response to this gap, the Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance (HNWA) joined the International Waterkeeper Alliance - a global movement of community-based organisations supporting on-the-water advocates who patrol, protect and advocate for ‘drinkable, fishable, swimmable’ local rivers. Our approach is to be a community voice for the River. Recognition of HNWA chapter was granted in 2011, however after a few years the initiative stalled. A revitalisation of this work began in earnest in 2020 with the HNWA, under the guidance/leadership of the RCE-GWS, reinvigorating the initiative and establishing a renewed and collaborative working group. Formed by regional partners from Western Sydney, the current core RCE working group quickly moved forward with a range of educational initiatives and citizen science training programs across the Upper Hawkesbury River, particularly concentrated between Yarramundi and Sackville.
The aims of the HNWA are to continue discussions, collaboration and development to:
a. Identify, create and implement educational initiatives that will increase community knowledge, connection and awareness of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and its tributaries.
b. Explore and identify a governance model that is fit for purpose, including seeking funding to support initiatives.
c. Consult with a wide range of local stakeholders (including First Nations people) to strengthen relationships and build partnerships.
d. Participate in the Australian chapter of the International Waterkeeper Alliance to build networks and share best practice.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
The HNWA have delivered a range of educational initiatives over the last few years. This includes:
- Citizen science training days for community groups and professionals in microplastic identification and counts; rapid riparian health assessments for riverbanks; and water bug sampling and identification.
- Citizen science programs such as the River Snap project (using images to measure flood recovery), platypus planting days, and a biodiversity blitz survey.
- Cultural activities such as a community Walk and Talk on Darug Country with Aboriginal elders, and a Rights of Nature.
- An annual regional virtual forum with stakeholders and community members on key river health issues.
- Delivery of the first Hawkesbury-Nepean River Health Report card, which combines scientific, social, and cultural river data.
- On-going digital presence with access to free resource via our HNWA website and engagement via social media.
- Curriculum integration, work-integrated learning, and paid employment opportunities for Western Sydney University students.
Size of academic audience: 
Practice based engagement with over 350 community members and professionals over three years, and approx. 10,000 digital users annually through our website and socials.
The HNWA has made significant progress in building a community voice for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River since reforming in 2020, solidifying our commitment with an MoU. We have been implementing a wide range of educational initiatives focusing our efforts on place-based water issues for greater social awareness of and better appreciation for the value of our waterways and water resources. We have engaged a wide variety of river users and agencies, equating 350 community members and professionals from around 50 different organisations across the region (and beyond). Multiple touch points connected us with diverse river users to engage them in citizen science activities through passive and active experiences. Our various events and digital tools stimulated conversation, media coverage and advocacy for the River, and our report card was a tangible outcome to move this work forward.
Lessons learned: 
1. Work strategically: Our group highlights the importance of a coordinated approach when addressing complex challenges by bringing together diverse, passionate, collaborative individuals to pool resources, expertise, and other existing initiatives to work effectively and at scale.
2. Buy-in is priceless: We recognise the significance of empowering the local community in conservation efforts to make impact, which in turn helps gain buy-in from organisational stakeholders along the river including government, industry bodies, educators, and river agencies.
3. Be open in the process: Our objectives were shaped through a process of consultation and respond to the on-going needs of our region and River. This inclusive approach recognises the importance of diverse perspectives, traditional knowledge, and cultural values.
Key messages: 
The Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance (HNWA) is building a community voice for our local river through educational initiatives and citizen science. Our collaborative approach has engaged 350 community members and professionals, fostering social awareness, connection, and appreciation for our waterways. Our tangible outcomes, like the river health report card, drive advocacy and progress.
The HNWA have been successful in receiving a number of grants, including a Sydney Water Community Grant, Landcare Australia, and Western Sydney University Strategic Initiative Funding to support our efforts.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon HNWA - Cultural WalkandTalk.jpg (251.17 KB) Smoking cermony at Yellowmundee for Cultural Walk and Talk Brittany Vermeulen
Image icon RARC day.jpeg (456.24 KB) Rapid ripairan assessment training day with Streamwatch and Landcare Brittany Vermeulen
Image icon SouthCreekPaddle.jpg (96.75 KB) Our HNWA Waterkeeper, Dr Michelle Ryan, leading the paddle and talk day in branded canoes. Brittany Vermeulen
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
SDG 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development 
SDG 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss 
SDG 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development 
Disaster Risk Reduction 
Traditional Knowledge  
Curriculum Development 
Plants & Animals 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 1 - Advancing policy 
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Developing capacities of educators and trainers 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level 
I acknowledge the above: