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Reflections on the Thirlmere Lakes Science Information Day

Thirlmere Lakes Research project

I recently attended a seminar day at Picton showcasing the latest Thirlmere Lakes Research presented at The Thirlmere Lakes Third Annual Science Day held at the Picton Bowling Club.

 

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Thirlmere Lakes Science Day introduction to delegates on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club, Picton. (I Willis)

 

There was a positive tone to the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project.  The Thirlmere Lakes Research Program aims to shed light on changes in water levels in the lakes by better understanding the land and groundwater of the system.

This was the third day in a series of seminars and was attended by a range of stakeholders including the community, researchers, and state and local government.

A team of scientists from a variety of research institutions presented a variety of papers ranging across lake geology, geophysics, sedimentation, groundwater, surface flow, chemistry, water balance, and vegetation.

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Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Presentation on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club, Picton (I Willis)

 

The day was an opportunity for academic researchers to collaborate with each other and stimulate further research.  Researchers were drawn from University of New South Wales (UNSW), GeoQuEST Research Centre, the University of Wollongong (UOW), the Australian Government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Deakin University and the NSW Department Primary Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services.

The research project was initiated by community activism started with the Rivers SOS group in 2010 and local concern about mining in the lakes area. Rivers SOS is an alliance of over 40 environmental and community groups concerned with the wrecking of rivers in New South Wales by mining operations.

The science day was very instructive from several perspectives including networking opportunities. Researchers tend to work in silos and conduct their work in isolation from other disciplines. The science day was an opportunity for researchers to interact with each other and generate new ideas from their work.

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Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Presentation and thank you comments from researchers at Picton Bowling Club, Picton (I Willis)

 

There was a positive tone around the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. In the past, there are often tensions between stakeholders based on cynicism and lack of trust. There has been a mixed history of community consultations and engagement over policy decisions. In the past city-based decision-makers have shown little regard for the views of small communities. Their concerns have often been ignored.

The science days appear to have generated a significant level of trust between the community and the research team. There has been an open and transparent approach to the research project. Generally, science researchers do not like to present preliminary findings as they may differ significantly from the final results. This can prove problematic. The general community may not be fully aware of this process and can become suspicious and trust falls away.

The science day encouraged community engagement with positive comments from delegates, researchers and seminar day organisers.  Before the commencement of the project, there was a high level of community cynicism about government responses to community concerns about the disappearance of the water in the lakes. The research project seems to have ameliorated many community concerns and lessened community cynicism towards decision-makers and the research process.

The second science day was held in June 2018 with five presentations showcasing preliminary findings from research partners. Feedback indicated that there was a strong interest in the early findings and the need for further community engagement – hence the 2020 day.

Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Aerial View 27Feb2020 2020Feb28 lowres
An aerial view of Thirlmere Lakes National Park 27 February 2020 after the recent rain event in February. This was part of a presentation during a break at the Thirlmere Lakes Science Day on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club Picton. (I Willis)

 

Announcement of Thirlmere Lakes Research project by the state government

In 2017 the Macarthur press announced the launch of the current Thirlmere Lakes Research project. The South West Voice reported

The research partners, University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Wollongong (UOW) and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), will investigate the sensitivity of these wetland systems to external influences, such as the effects of mining activity and groundwater extraction, over the next four years. (South West Voice 20 October 2017)

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A diorama that was displayed at Thirlmere Lakes Science Day at Picton Bowling Club Picton on 28 February 2020 (I Willis)

 

The press reports detailed that the 2017 project was built on a 2014 monitoring program that has been continuously recording water levels in the 5 lakes.

The Voice stated that the areas of investigation for the 2017 project included

  • Geological mapping and geophysical surveys of the Thirlmere Lakes area (UNSW – Dr Wendy Timms);

  • Environmental isotopes investigations into periodic and recent water losses from Thirlmere Lakes (ANSTO – Dr Dioni Cendón);

  • Thirlmere Lakes: the geomorphology, sub-surface characteristics and long term perspectives on lake-filling and drying (UOW – Dr Tim Cohen);

  • Surface Water – Groundwater Interaction (UNSW – Dr Martin Andersen);

  • Developing an integrated water balance budget for Thirlmere Lakes to provide a detailed understanding of hydrological dynamics (UNSW – Associate Professor Will Glamore). (South West Voice 20 October 2017)

 

The Thirlmere Lakes Research website stated that the state government provided a significant budget for the 2017 project:

The former Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) committed $1.9 million over 4 years for the Thirlmere Lakes Research Program to help understand the fluctuating water levels in the lakes.

The 2012 inquiry and more

The website states that research on the Thirlmere Lakes began with a 2012 inquiry. This was prompted by community concerns about low water levels in Thirlmere Lakes and the potential impacts of coal mining and groundwater extraction. The 2012 research highlighted gaps in knowledge about the lakes. The inquiry published its findings in the Thirlmere Lakes Inquiry: Final Report of the Independent Committee. The NSW Chief Scientist reviewed the 2012 findings and water monitoring was started in 2013. Following this, a workshop was held in 2016 and its findings were published in The Mysterious Hydrology of Thirlmere Lakes.

Popular with locals

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Thirlmere Lakes with family picnics with children enjoying the lake and swimming in 1984 (D Hunt)

 

The Thirlmere Lakes National Park is 629 acres located in the Macarthur region and was proclaimed a national park in 1972. In 2000 the national park was inscribed as part of the  UNESCO World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains Area. The lakes have been a popular recreation spot with local families for many decades.