River spot special for Jim Gow

By John Lewis

A bank of the Goulburn River just behind Aquamoves in Shepparton is the perfect place to meet Jim Gow — a little bit urban and a whole lot country.

As we listen to the cockies screech above us and watch the river flow gently downstream, Jim reminds us we are separated from central Shepparton by just a thin strip of bitumen — Tom Collins Dve.

‘‘This is all in our backyard — and we could use it so much more. I do think the river is a missed opportunity,’’ he says.

He has visions of raised decking with maybe a restaurant or a bar — like other river towns that have made the most of their location.

‘‘It could be made more accessible with landscaping or some infrastructure,’’ he says.

‘‘It could be used for festivals and gatherings. Look at Echuca — that’s a multi-million dollar industry and it’s known all over the world.

‘‘RiverConnect do fantastic stuff with the river, but there so much more we can do.’’

Jim’s relationship with the river goes back to a childhood spent fishing with his father and family growing up in Shepparton.

‘‘It’s sort of ingrained — you always leave the river feeling good,’’ he says.

Leaving school meant time spent in Melbourne and at university in Bendigo.

It also meant leaving the river and for 20 years he found other things to do.

But five years ago, with young children of his own and some mates with a boat, he rediscovered the pleasures of a day on the water.

‘‘For men it’s a bonding thing. It’s a chance to debrief about life — check in with your mates. You might have something going on at home; there’s something about this place that relaxes you,’’ he says.

‘‘Jump in the boat head up the river, find a shady spot and have a fish and a chat.

‘‘It’s kind of talking without going to the pub — get some stuff of your chest. If you catch a fish, that’s a bonus.’’

Mental health and keeping communication lines open are important things to Jim.

For the past eight years he has worked as project manager at the Greater Shepparton City Council-funded youth program Word and Mouth.

It is his job to help a 25-strong youth committee organise events for young people aged between 12 and 25 across the district.

But the target audience is really 14 to 17 years old.

‘‘That’s the black hole,’’ he says.

‘‘Kids who have outgrown KidsTown, but don’t yet qualify for the next stage — they’re sort of in between.’’

Committee members learn first aid, event management, communication, how to run meetings, and they get to speak with the movers and shakers of the town.

‘‘They are being the change they want to see. I always listen to their complaints or their dreams and their hopes, and I ask them ‘what are you going to do about it?’’’ he says.

‘‘We have 12000 young people in Shepparton and we have 25 on our committee. It’s only a small percentage, but they are taking part.’’

An important part of his role is opening children’s eyes to the reality of what they may confront — particularly drugs.

He has just committed to another five years of working with Victoria Police youth resource officer Dean Lloyd to bring his drug education roadshow to schools.

Some of his presentations involve shock tactics; how crystal methamphetamine can be mixed with acetone (nail polish remover), or ‘‘brick etcher’’ hydrochloric acid.

‘‘We talk about what it does to your body, being responsible. A lot of the things we do are slow burn. Statistically the biggest problem years are when they start getting an income,’’ says.

He says he can pick the likely drug users.

‘‘I look around the room and I can tell you who will be on it in a few years time. They’re the ones who are too cool — they’re not listening. But I always think if you can change one person you’ve made a difference. As they say, it’s an investment in social capital,’’ he says.

He also uses the Goulburn River as an educational tool, taking groups of Word and Mouth members on canoe trips between Mooroopna and Shepparton.

‘‘You get to see so much you can’t see from the road. One day we met a big male grey kangaroo just standing in the water by the bank,’’ he says.

‘‘He was really big. He watched us go past and gave us the real stink eye; we said ‘okay time to go’.

‘‘There are kids who have never seen these bits of the river.

‘‘This grounds them and helps them realise you don’t have to look externally for real treasure.

‘‘This opens their eyes; it’s all here. It’s not going anywhere.’’

Jim looks out over the flowing waters of the Goulburn and strokes his bearded chin.

‘‘I’m not really that much of a spiritual sort of person, but there’s something here that’s really good,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m determined it’s not going to be lost on me.’’