The river was utilised primarily for agriculture by early European settlers. The landscape of the river has changed dramatically since The course has been progressively disrupted and the river widened in places.
Widening and dams, like the Upper Yarra Reservoir have helped protect Melbourne from major flooding. The catchment's upper reaches are also affected by logging. Industrialisation ultimately led to the destruction of the marshlands at the confluence of the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers in the area around Coode Island in West Melbourne. Today, the mouth and including Swanson and Appleton Docks are used for container shipping by the Port of Melbourne which is the busiest on the continent. The city reach which is inaccessible to larger watercraft, has seen increased use for both transport and recreational boating including kayaking , canoeing , rowing and swimming.
The upper reaches remain relatively healthy. The annual Moomba festival celebrates the Yarra River's increasing cultural significance to Melbourne. The river was called Birrarung by the Wurundjeri people who occupied the Yarra Valley and much of Central Victoria prior to European colonisation. It is thought that Birrarung is derived from Wurundjeri words meaning "ever flowing".
Another common term was Birrarung Marr , thought to mean "river of mist" or "river bank". Upon European arrival it was given the name 'Yarra Yarra' by John Helder Wedge of the Port Phillip Association in ,  in the mistaken belief that this was the Aboriginal name for the river in the Boonwurrung language.
However it is believed that 'Yarra' means "waterfall", "flow", or refers to running or falling water,    descriptive of any river or creek in the area, not just the Yarra.
The name Yarra Yarra is said to mean "ever flowing river",  but most likely refers to the Yarra Yarra falls which were later dynamited. Of their contact with local Wurunderi people in , John Wedge wrote: Sometime before BC, after the end of the most recent Ice Age about BC the Yarra river was probably joined with other tributaries such as rivers now called the Patterson , Kororoit, Werribee , Little, and drained directly into Bass Strait through what is now called the Rip. A dry period combined with sand bar formation may have dried the bay out as recently as between BC and AD extending the Yarra to Bass Strait during this period.
The area surrounding the Yarra River and modern day Melbourne was originally inhabited by Natives of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. It is believed that the area was occupied by indigenous Australians for at least 30, years. The river was an important resource for the Wurundjeri people and several sites along the river and its tributaries were important meeting places where corroborees were held between indigenous communities.
The river's resources were utilised sustainably by the Wurundjeri until the advent of early European settlement in the early-midth century. In , the first Europeans sailed up the river, a surveying party led by Charles Grimes , Acting Surveyor General of New South Wales , sailed upstream to Dights Falls where they could no longer continue due to the nature of the terrain.
He selected a site on the northern bank of the Yarra River, declaring that "this will be the place for a village". The river was instrumental in the establishment of Melbourne along its banks from onwards. The new settlement's main port was sited just downstream of Yarra Falls west of modern-day Queen's Bridge, the place where saltwater met freshwater. Ships would use one side of the falls while the other side provided fresh drinking water for the town and a convenient sewer.
In the city's early days the Yarra was one of two major ports, the other being Sandridge or Port Melbourne , but the Yarra was preferred due to the direct access to the town's main streets and was the location of Customs House. Early industries grew along the banks of the river, rapidly degrading the water quality until Melbourne 's fresh water had to be sourced from elsewhere.
Industries then began using the river and tributaries such as Merri Creek as landfill and for harmful chemical dumps for substances like grease and oils. The first permanent crossing over the river was Princes Bridge , which first opened as a wooden trestle bridge in , the current bridge was constructed in In the early days, the river would frequently flood.
While this was not considered a problem in the floodplains near Yarra Glen and Coldstream , however it caused much trouble further downstream in settlements such as Warrandyte , Templestowe , Bulleen , Heidelberg and Ivanhoe.
The Upper Yarra Dam was later constructed to alleviate the flooding, protecting settlements along the river, yet depriving the river banks of soil and silt deposits and causing other problems such as erosion and salinity. Gold was first discovered in Victoria near the Yarra River in Warrandyte. The find was made by Louis Michel in at a tributary of the river, Anderson's Creek and marked the start of the Victorian gold rush.
The approximate location of the site is marked by a cairn on Fourth Hill in the Warrandyte State Park. The river was drained and diverted in various areas throughout the gold rush to aid gold miners. An example of this is the tunnel at Pound Bend in Warrandyte.
The river was partially dammed at Pound Bend near Normans Reserve at its eastern entrance and near Bob's wetlands at its western exit.
Miners then blasted a m long tunnel through solid rock. The river was then fully dammed at the entrance and exit to the tunnel and water was diverted through m and out the other side leaving a 3.
The Gold Rush saw increased development in Melbourne and "tent cities" of new migrants lined the Yarra during the early years of the gold rush. In the s a weir was built at Dights Falls to power a flour mill and to give some control over the river downstream from there. From the earliest years of settlement, the mid and upper reaches of the Yarra began to be used for recreation.
The river was selected as the site for the Royal Botanic Gardens in and the course of the river was modified slightly for the creation of a feature lake. Further upstream, the Cremorne Gardens were established in Sections of the river mouth and the area around the former West Melbourne Swamp were widened in the late 19th century, to make way for docks, harbours, bridges and other infrastructure. The increasing industrialisation of the river and the growth of the shipping industry saw the need for major infrastructure works which dramatically changed the course of the river in its lower reaches.
The creation of new shipping channels to cope with the growing use of the Yarra by cargo ships was first tabled in the s. The first major change came with the cutting of the Coode Canal between and This major infrastructure project created an island which was known as Coode Island , named after the British consultant engineer engaged to design the works, Sir John Coode. This also included widening and deepening, and in some cases, vast areas of land were excavated, such as Victoria Dock , in order to give ease of access for cargo and later container ships.
Abattoirs , smelters and even mortuaries were to use the river as a means of waste disposal in its lower reaches. This industrialisation also led to a steady deterioration in water quality during the 19th century and into the 20th.
The dock was later renamed Victoria Dock. In , the central pier at Victoria Dock was completed which provided 6 additional shipping berths and cargo sheds and creating a distinctive landmark for Melbourne ports. By , m of the old course of the Yarra River at Coode Island had been filled in, by the s it had been completely filled and land parcels were allocated including a site for the new Fish Markets.
In , the Upper Yarra Reservoir was constructed, primarily to alleviate flooding downstream. Swanson Dock was constructed between and equipped for modern container shipping. Shipping activity at Victoria Dock during this time had gone into steep decline and it was almost disused by the mids. Prior to settlements, the area now occupied by Elizabeth street was a gully off the river. By the s there was a growing awareness of the neglect of the Yarra amongst some residents of Melbourne , spawning various community groups and "friends of Through the s and s, many desirable developments alongside the river began, such as the Victorian Arts Centre , as its lower courses progressively became gentrified.
Growing high density residential development in the lower reaches in the early s coincided with minor government programs such as the installation of litter traps. The riverside apartment complex Como Centre at South Yarra and the larger urban renewal of the formerly industrial Southbank precinct were both built during the late s.
During this era it was also commonplace for the winner of the Australian Open to bathe in the Yarra River as a post victory celebration. Cheap Custom Writing Service.
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A bridge crosses the Yarra River in Melbourne. The city is Australia's second largest, after Sydney.
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