Prof Paul Boon

Professor Paul Boon has lived in Melbourne for the past 25 years but nearly qualifies as an old Hawkesbury boy, having spent his childhood and adolescence on the river, fishing in Cowan Creek and Berowra Creek and exploring Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Berowra Valley National Park from his parents' home in Mt Kuring-gai as a child. For reasons that now inexplainable, while taking his two children on an annual holiday pilgrimage (to Kakadu NP in the Northern Territory, from Melbourne)in 2008, he decided to write a book on the Hawkesbury River and its surrounding land. That book - all 564 pages - has just been published (see

Paul was President of ASL in 1995 and 1996, and Vice President for the two years prior.  He is now a professor in aquatic ecology at Victoria University in Melbourne, and it dawned on him while driving to Kakadu that all the place names on the way there from Alice Springs had 'creek' or 'springs' or 'water' or 'well' in their name, and that this must reflect something about the central role that fresh waters and rivers play in the Australian psyche. Surprisingly, given that the Hawkesbury is only a 60 minute drive north of Sydney and is the longest coastal river in NSW, there is no single up-to-date book that adequately describes the ecology of the river and how it has informed human use and, in turn, how these have been shaped by that use. (In comparison, the Yarra River in Melbourne, a rather trivial stream, has had four books written on it in the past 10 years alone.)

Paul studied Botany, Zoology and Microbiology at The University of Sydney in the mid-1970s and did his BSc(Hons) research on the mangroves at Brooklyn, a township on the Hawkesbury, in 1979. He then went to Griffith University in Brisbane, where he did a PhD on the biogeochemistry of seagrass beds in Moreton Bay. He took a 3-year lecturing position in Botany at Monash University, Melbourne in the mid-1980s and then worked for eight years with CSIRO Land & Water on the ecology and management of rivers and billabongs in the Murray-Darling Basin from their laboratories at Albury. Since then has since worked for the environmental consulting firm Sinclair Knight Merz (now Jacobs) as a freshwater ecologist, and currently holds a professorial position in the Institute for Sustainability & Innovation at Victoria University in Melbourne."


The presentation gives an overview of the ecology and environmental history of the Hawkesbury River from the perspective of the 15 chapters in the recently published book. It starts by describing the unique geology of the Sydney Basin and how the Narrabeen, Hawkesbury and Wiannamatta sequences of sedimentary rocks shape the Sydney region, its soils and the paths of its rivers. It then describes the genesis of the Hawkesbury River estuary in terms of the rise in ocean levels that took place 20,000 years ago and flooded a previously terrestrial river valley. The unique hydrology of the river is described next, with particular reference to the way floods and droughts have shaped the way Europeans have used the river since it was first colonised by the British in 1794. Water quality is discussed in detail, along with mosaic of protected areas that surround the river and contribute to the fine water quality in, for example, the Colo River, an important tributary of the Hawkesbury. The way the river's floodplain was used by Europeans is then discussed, with a focus on how they cleared the land and the impacts this had on river navigability and on water quality. The talk then moves onto how the river has acted as a barrier and as a conduit for human movement, and finishes with an overview of how the river has inspired artists, poets and other creative folk since the earliest times. There's also a short section on how the Hawkesbury has maintained very great military and strategic importance to Sydney, with military planners from at least the middle of the 19th century considering it a springboard for possible Russian and Japanese invasion of NSW."

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