Annual Report Summaries
Annual Report Summaries


The CRC for Freshwater Ecology (CRCFE) ‘is a unique joint venture which brings together the full range of scientific skills relevant to freshwater ecology, from water chemists and bacterial ecologists through to wetland and fish ecologists … and water managers’, contributing to both ‘our knowledge and the management of Australia’s waterways, wetlands and lakes.’ ‘If the water industry is to develop into a form that is ecologically sustainable, it will also have to be economically sustainable. The CRC has been established to provide the ecological basis for the sustainable management of Australian waters. To achieve this the CRC is going to have to develop new knowledge to come up with better, more cost-effective solutions to water issues. … Our role is to bring ecological ideas and dimensions into partnership with the other disciplines in the water industry.’ ‘The CRC has made a commitment to excellence in its research and education activities. ... We believe quality in education is shown by the intellectual development of the students, who must learn to examine the existing knowledge base as well as develop the skills to be reflective and self-critical.’

So said John Langford and Peter Cullen in their introduction to the first CRCFE Annual Report. The first year of operation was an exciting one where we laid the foundations for meeting the knowledge needs of the water industry:
  • defining new knowledge needs and developing the research agenda
  • extending the research infrastructure
  • enhancing links with the users of the knowledge
  • defining and developing quality in education and research.

There were four themes:
  1. Nutrients and their effects,
  2. Variability,
  3. Impacts of exotic organisms,
  4. Assessing the health of waterbodies; and eight programs.

Research programs were:
  • Flowing Waters, led by Sam Lake (Monash);
  • Standing Waters and Eutrophication, led by Rod Oliver (MDFRC);
  • Floodplain and Wetland Ecology, led by Terry Hillman (MDFRC);
  • Water Quality and Ecological Assessment, led by Barry Hart (Monash);
  • Urban Water Management, led by Ian Lawrence (ACT Government) and Peter Breen (Melbourne Water);
  • Fish Ecology and Management, led by John Harris (NSW Fisheries).
Peter Cullen led Technology Transfer and Richard Norris (University of Canberra) led Education (there were 31 postgraduate students).

We had 13 partner organisations:
ACT Electricity and Water; ACT Government; Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation; CSIRO (Division of Water Resources, and Centre for Environmental Mechanics); La Trobe University; Melbourne Water Corporation; Monash University; Murray-Darling Basin Commission; Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre; NSW Fisheries; Rural Water Corporation; Sydney Water Board; and University of Canberra.

Research was based at Monash, MDFRC (Albury only), UC, NSW Fisheries (Narranderra), Melbourne Water and CSIRO.

In February 1994, the first issue of the CRCFE internal 2-weekly newsletter Ripples (printed) was sent to all members of the CRC. It was compiled and edited by Rhonda Sinclair at MDFRC. By edition no.4, it bore the CRCFE logo instead of the MDFRC logo.

Burrinjuck reservoir and dam (CSIRO) Peter Cullen (CRCFE) Original CRCFE logo
Burrinjuck reserviour - algal blooms were studied as part of the Urban Water Management program Peter Cullen, CRCFE's founding CEO CRCFE's original logo


CRCFE was becoming recognised as a source of policy advice to government and of ecological comment to the media, and we were beginning to examine the research needs of lowland rivers. In the wider world, the MDBC made the decision to cap diversions from the Murray-Darling Basin rivers, and the NSW Government made allocations to environmental flows, in spite of being in a period of drought.

Among the partners, Melbourne Water and the Rural Water Corporation in Victoria were both undergoing change, the future of the Albury- Wodonga Development Corporation was in question, and ACTEW was corporatised by the ACT Government.

The drought caused research on the weatherloach to be abandoned, but gave us an opportunity to study aquatic ecosystems ‘under a period of lowflow stress’.

Internally, the establishment of computing and communication facilities at MDFRC Albury gave us international access through the Internet.
The 18th issue of Ripples (mid-December 1994) was the first to become available by email, via Karen Markwort who had just been appointed Communications Manager, based at UC. Rhonda was away on maternity leave.

We had almost 60 postgraduate research students.

We were helping develop a stormwater management strategy for the Olympics site. We ran or part-ran five scientific conferences or workshops, including the 7th Taxonomic Workshop at Albury, and the National River Health Program workshop and the AWWA-CRC Regional Catchment Management workshop in Canberra.

Murray River (Andrew Tatnell) Murray River (Andrew Tatnell) Murray River - low flow (Andrew Tatnell)
Murray River (Andrew Tatnell) - the subject of a cap on diversions.


By 1995 we were preparing for the Third Year Review (to be in 1996). We had our first full meeting of CRC staff (AGM), at Jenolan Caves, NSW, attended by 90 staff and students; and the first CRC-Rotary Easter School was held at Albury. The CRCFE joined the Water Forum, a new group of water CRCs, and became involved with the Lake Eyre Basin Steering Group. The Campaspe River environmental flows project began. In response to a community initiative, led by the Member for Wakefield (SA), Mr Neil Andrew MP, the Mildura lab was established to boost our research on lowland rivers, with Ben Gawne as its leader. Also, Prime Minister Mr Paul Keating opened the extensions to the MDFRC at Albury. Changes to partner organisations meant that we now had 15 partners instead of 13, with the Rural Water Corporation of Victoria being replaced by Gippsland and Southern Rural Water, Goulburn- Murray Water and Wimmera-Mallee Rural Water. Sydney Water Board became Sydney Water Corporation. We had 17 Masters and 36 PhD students affiliated with the CRCFE; and hosted nine workshops or conferences. We distributed the first issue of Watershed to partners, the water industry and politicians, and contributed to expert panels on the Barwon-Darling, Murray, Condamine-Balonne and Snowy Rivers.

MDFRC Albury opening  MDFRC_Albury_ opening
The then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, with the staff from the Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology at the official opening of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre’s new laboratories.


In October 1996, Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer opened the MDFRC’s Lower Basin Laboratory in Mildura, rewarding six years of persistent effort largely by Brian Grogan, Chief Executive of Lower Murray Water. The Third Year Review produced a very pleasing report from both review panels: ‘first rate’ science, strong commitment to strategic directions, and impressive management. The Environment Protection Authority of Victoria joined CRCFE as a partner this year, taking the total to 16; and we signed an MOU with the Murray-Darling Association to support each other in various ways. We gained a new statement of the CRCFE’s vision: ‘to improve the condition of Australia’s inland waters’. It replaced our previous statement: ‘to provide the ecological basis for the sustainable management of Australian temperate region surface waters’.

Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill launched AUSRIVAS, the First National Assessment of River Health, part of the National River Health Program; and Peter Cullen launched the Colour Guide to Invertebrates of Australian Inland Waters by John Hawking and Felicity Smith. This book has gone on to sell over 6000 copies (as at June 2005). We supported 43 PhD students and 12 Masters students.

Ausrivas edge sampling Ausrivas labsort Ausrivas microscope work Ausrivas software development
AUSRIVAS macroinvertebrate sampling, and development of software


Peter Cullen wrote: ‘This year has seen a maturing of the CRCFE. Research staff are gaining confidence and trust in working collaboratively, and are starting to appreciate the excitement and creativity that can result from challenging of assumptions and the interactions from people who bring a different perspective and skills.’ It was a good year for tech-transfer, with release of or input to several sets of guidelines and methods — for national water quality and river health, urban water and phosphorus measurement, among others. Living on Floodplains was sent out to >1500 people and has been in demand ever since. Fish and Rivers in Stress sold out immediately. Among its outcomes were the installation of fishways on three NSW rivers and a ban on silver-perch fishing. Peter Cottingham was appointed as our first knowledge broker, based in Melbourne, and was soon joined by John Whittington at Albury.

We were planning a rebid, with all that that entails. We ran or hosted 11 workshops or conferences, including the International River Health Conference, and we had 45 PhD and 11 Masters students.

The Culgoa River near the Queensland–New South Wales border, reduced to a chain of waterholes during a drought. (David Eastburn) cover of Living on Floodplains To enable fish to migrate during normal flow conditions, fishways are being constructed on weirs. (Karen Markwort)
Excerpts from Living on Floodplains by David Mussared (CRCFE & MDBC, 1997)


Very very busy. Projects were being finalised. The Fifth Year Review stage I was at Albury in August, and stage II was at UC in September. The rebid application was delivered to the CRC Secretariat on 29 September ’98, the interview was in February ’99, approval was granted in April ’99 … and CRCFE mark 2 began on 1 July ’99. We ran, hosted or sponsored 12 workshops and conferences, including the ‘Challenge of Rehabilitating Australia’s Streams’ conference. Peter led a working group that reported on dryland salinity, and then investigated implementation options. Martin Thoms was granted access to Cubbie Station for field work on the Lower Balonne floodplain wetland project. We had 52 PhD and 14 Masters students, and 27 Honours students.

Terry Hillman at Ryans Billabong Biological assessment techniques developed as part of Australia’s National River Health Program were trialed in Indonesia
Dr Terry Hillman, Deputy Director CRCFE Watershed article: Biological assessment techniques developed as part of Australia’s National River Health Program were trialed in Indonesia


The start of CRCFE mark 2, with five new partners (QDNR, DLWC, DNRE, SCA and Griffith), new research programs (listed below), a new regional lab starting up at Goondiwindi led by Glenn Wilson, a new communications manager (Lynne Sealie) and 51 PhD and 12 Masters students. The Program Advisory Committees were a new initiative. In knowledge exchange, we evaluated the ecological outcomes of the COAG water reform agenda and the Murray-Darling Basin Cap on diversions, and contributed to the WAMP process in Queensland, the Sustainable Rivers Audit for the MDBC and the Indicators for the Catchment Audit for SCA. For these, we developed a new joint industry+CRCFE approach to identifying the issues underlying general water problems. We ran our 5th annual Rotary-Murray Easter school at Albury, a host of other education initiatives, and sponsored or ran seven workshops.

The five CRCFE mark 2 research programs were:
Conservation ecology - A/Prof Arthur Georges (UC)
Flow related ecosystem processes - Dr Gerry Quinn (Monash)
Restoration ecology - Prof Stuart Bunn (Griffith)
Water quality & ecological assessment - A/Prof Richard Norris (UC)
Education - Dr Ian McKelvie (Monash)

Professor Barry Hart was Director of Research and Dr Terry Hillman was Director of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre that included the satellite laboratory at Mildura and the laboratory at Goondiwindi. Professor Sam Lake, as Chief Ecologist, ensured our ecology was top class, and helped to build the ecological capacity within the Centre. A Director of Knowledge Exchange position was advertised, and filled by Gary Jones.

CRCFE mark II  logo Perisher Creek - the Australian Alps Stream Health Monitoring Project
A new regional lab started up at Goondiwindi, led by Glenn Wilson CRCFE Mark II The Australian Alps Stream Health Monitoring Project was started in 199/2000


Another year of change: Terry Hillman retired in July 2001, Ben Gawne moved to Albury as Director of all MDFRC labs, Shaun Meredith took over the helm at Mildura, Peter Cullen retired on 30 June 2002. In an interview, Peter said: ‘I believe my biggest personal contribution has been in the delivery of knowledge. We understood the need for media and communications to familiarise the public and the professions with what we were doing in the CRC, but this wasn’t sufficient. We needed to better advise our stakeholders on a technical level and this led to the evolution of the knowledge broker concept. This strengthened the links between the producers of the knowledge and the users of this knowledge. I believe this put the CRC ahead of the pack.’ For the National Land and Water Resources Audit, we made a national Assessment of River Condition (and the Snapshot of the Murray-Darling Basin River Condition). We conducted an Expert Reference Panel assessment of environmental flows and water quality for the River Murray; the Dryland River Refugia project began its major study of the Cooper, Warrego and Border Rivers; the Narran Lakes project was scoped; and we surveyed the aquatic biodiversity of the Sydney catchments, among other things. We ran the Fenner conference ‘Biodiversity Conservation in Freshwaters’, co-hosted the 5th International Conference on Toxic Cyanobacteria, and supported 15 other workshops. And we had 47 postgraduate students.

The 2002 Rotary Murray-Darling School of Freshwater Research The 2002 Rotary Murray-Darling School of Freshwater Research The 2002 Rotary Murray-Darling School of Freshwater Research
The 2002 Rotary Murray-Darling School of Freshwater Research


1 July 2002, Gary Jones stepped into Peter Cullen’s shoes, and encouraged us into greater landscape-scale thinking and acknowledgement that humans and the environment must share rivers. The new research portfolio began, as we were now three years into the new CRC. Ralph Ogden joined in February ’03, assumed the ‘Director of KE’ hat, and the team of knowledge brokers and community scientists began to expand. We worked on the ecological assessment of environmental flow reference points for the River Murray system, set up the Narran Lakes project in partnership with MDBC to study that area of the Lower Balonne Floodplain, identified the importance of effective imperviousness to water quality in urban streams. We had 52 postgraduate students. We organised 14 workshops/conferences, including the international hydrology symposium at Alice Springs, the international dragonfly conference at Albury, and the Freshwater Forum at Mildura … and prepared everything for the Ninth International Conference on River Research and Applications (‘NISORS’), to begin in early July ’03 at Albury.

Gary Jones Narran Lake (CRCFE) Ralph Ogden - director of knowledge exchange
Gary Jones, incoming CEO of CRCFE Narran Lake. CRCFE partnered with MDBC to study this area of the Lower Balonne Floodplain Ralph Ogden, director of Knowledge Exchange


A year of house-moving for regional labs. The Northern Basin lab moved to a much larger new premises near the centre of town, officially opened by Senator the Hon. Ian Macdonald (Federal Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) on 27 August — and promptly doubled its staff. And on 21 November, the new permanent home of the CRCFE’s and MDFRC’s Lower Basin Lab was officially opened at the La Trobe University campus at Mildura.

A year of historic water policy decisions. In August ‘03, COAG agreed in principle to a National Water Initiative. In September, we delivered the SRP report on environmental flow options for the River Murray. In October, the MDBMC agreed to the first step decision to recover 500 GL over the next five years for the environment of the River Murray system. And in June 2004, COAG finalised a new program of water reforms, as the governments of NSW and Victoria set up plans and policies for their states’ sustainable water future.

A year of hectic preparations for a 5th year review and the rebid. In late 2003 the Boards of CRCFE and CRCCH moved to create one new CRC in place of the two. The rebid schedule was again tight: first-stage bid by late March ’04, preceded by an internal review; second-stage business case by early July, preceded by an external 5th year review. Again, CRCFE received an excellent report card from its two review panels. In October 2003, the phase 2 research projects took off, preceded by a 3-month write-up period for the completed phase 1 work. In January 2004, DWLBC in South Australia joined the partners of CRCFE, bringing our total temporarily to 20. We ran 28 courses or workshops including the 15th annual Taxonomic Workshop, as well as NISORS and the international Symposium on Urbanization and Stream Ecology. We had 49 postgraduate students.

PhD Student Claire Sellens (John Baker) PhD Student Simon Linke Debbie Heck
PhD students in 2003-2004 - Claire Sellens and Simon Linke, along with Education Program Leader Debbie Heck.


In July, Lower Murray Water and Sunraysia Rural Water Authority combined forces, taking us back to 19 partners. The October general election delayed the interview for our rebid until early December, and the go-ahead came in Christmas week. Success! followed by a busy program winding up research projects, planning new ones and adapting our thinking to embrace a new eWater CRC culture in July. MDFRC Albury lab crossed the river to new premises with La Trobe University at Wodonga in February. Goondiwindi lab ran a successful Northern Basin Freshwater Forum in November ’04. The lab closed at the end of June ’05, as did the CRCFE.

Collecting zooplankton at Shed Waterhole, Cooper Creek  (Jon Marshall QNRM) Cooper Creek (Robert Ashdown) Cooper Creek (Robert Ashdown)
Cooper Creek - studied as part of the Dryland River Refugia project