The Hobart community gathers around the trickle platypus


By Candice Marshall

May 27, 2022

A grassroots movement in Tasmania’s capital is bringing much-needed attention to Hobart Rivulet’s endangered platypus population.

Flowing from the base of Mount Wellington down to the River Derwent, the Hobart Rivulet once flowed through vegetation and open countryside. But when Hobart City was built, the waterway ran underground.

When the creek meets the edge of town, it now flows past rows of apartment buildings before seeping through a series of cement tunnels beneath the business district.

Enclosed by gates with access only granted by the City Council, visitors to the Tasmanian capital – or even locals – could be forgiven for not even knowing the creek exists. But entrances to the tunnel are scattered throughout the city – if you know where to look.

The Hobart Rivulet in Hobart, Tasmania. Credit: Dan Stewart (@amiphotoaustralia)

The problem

Enclosed by infrastructure and buried further downstream by tunnels, the environmental impact of the Hobart River is that for decades the river was managed by local governments as a stormwater runoff rather than as a natural resource and wildlife habitat.

“Looking back, the waterway was managed by the Roads Authority, so it was only treated as a road property,” says Pete Walsh. “The waterway was later managed by the Rainwater Department, and that’s how it was managed.

“It has resulted in habitat destruction, for example the platypus can’t burrow into the banks with all the rock armor made to make it a better drain.”

Pete is the founder of the community organization Hobart Rivulet Platypus – a group working to protect the platypus.

A juvenile platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) in the Hobart Rivulet, Tasmania. Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

Pete says the farther downstream, the worse the quality of the creek’s water.

“We’ve done water tests along the lower part of the waterway, and the closer you get to town, the closer the water gets to sewage level.”

This lower stretch of the creek was once home to a thriving population of platypus, but now the monetrome can only inhabit parts of the waterway upstream. But even there, human evolution has taken its toll on these iconic Australian animals.

“The town spire has a large stormwater drain straight into the creek below Cascade Gardens,” explains Pete.

“Thus, with every rain event, a large part of the garbage – which bypasses the measures taken at the landfill – ends up in the watercourse.”

A garbage band around the beak of a platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) in the Hobart Rivulet, Tasmania. Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

Seeing his local platypus become entangled in some of that junk was the catalyst for Pete to transform from a nature lover into a nature activist.

“Towards the end of 2021, just below Cascade Gardens, I came across two of them – one with a piece of plastic around its beak and one that got caught in a lot of trash – nets and the like – on the side of the waterway. ” he says.

“I realized that all the years I’d spent enjoying the outdoors—exploring and hiking—didn’t equate to taking care of it.”

The campaign

And so, Pete decided to raise awareness about the Hobart Rivulet platypus and the problems its survival faces.

Using his photography and videographer skills, he posted images of the platypus on the Hobart Rivulet Platypus social media pages.

It didn’t take long for these incredible photos and videos to gain a cult following.

Suddenly more and more people not only became aware of this platypus population right on their doorstep, but also fell in love with the bizarre creatures.

And how could you not fall for characters like this, working his way upstream:

Video Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

Or this group playing wild together:

Video Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

Or this one with a good scratch:

Video Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

She wins

The popularity of these images and the resulting greater awareness of the platypus has led to a growing local community now rallying behind the cause.

Because of this greater interest in preserving the platypus’ habitat, there has been some recent success for the future of the creek.

A platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) in the Hobart Rivulet, Tasmania. Credit: Pete Walsh/Hobart Rivulet Platypus

First, Pete notices that less trash ends up in the creek.

“Having the dump in the city makes it better to keep the dump clean and pick up all the windblown trash that would otherwise end up in the waterway during floods, so that’s a win.”

And the most important change?

“Earlier this year there was a big step forward in community restructuring and the waterways are now actually managed as living waterways,” says Pete.

“It’s great, it’s a big change.”

The mural

A mural of the Hobart Rivulet Platypus painted by artist Jimmy Dvate on the side of a cafe in South Hobart, Tasmania. Copyright: Jimmy Dvate

The Hobart Rivulet platypus is so loved by the community that South Hobart residents recently raised funds for a mural celebrating the local celebrity.

The 10m x 3m mural, which adorns the exterior of a neighborhood cafe, was painted by contemporary artist Jimmy Dvate.

Related: The national icon, the platypus, has been declared an endangered species in Victoria


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