It may not be a highway to heaven but is surely the next best thing for native fish in the Condamine River.

The Loudoun Weir fishway near Dalby is arguably the most important environmental achievement for the river on the Western Downs. The simple, almost prosaic name belies its complex design and vital role in the future of native fish in the northern Murray-Darling Basin. Its sophisticated system of slots, gates, chambers and doors sounds more like a medieval prison, but instead provides a safe haven and passage for fish when the river is high and rushing. Each chamber rises like steps up the river, so fish, big and small, can climb past the weir to breed, find food and escape predators.

Shortly after being built in 1997, the fishway encountered some early obstacles. It became apparent that its design was not ideal for smaller native fish and the process of opening and closing the gate valve to make the fishway work was a hassle. It stayed that way for 10 years until local natural resource management group Condamine Alliance decided to repair and modify it as part of its river rescue program. With the help of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Fisheries Queensland, Western Downs Regional Council, Ostwald Bros and Arrow Energy, the fishway underwent a major upgrade and reopened in 2009. Since then it has helped native fish swim up to 150 kilometres beyond the weir and resulted in the return of three native fish species including the Hyrtl’s tandan.

Now part of the Dewfish Demonstration Reach project, which was recently awarded two major national awards for environmental excellence, the Loudoun Weir is recognised for helping dramatically increase numbers of some native fish species. The standout results are definitely bony bream, increased by 200 per cent, dewfish or eel-tailed catfish by 300 per cent and golden perch by a staggering 1000 per cent in parts of Myall Creek, Oakey Creek and the Condamine River.

However, damage to the fishway caused by the extraordinary Summer floods in 2011 threatened to undermine this progress. So in a reunion of sorts, the original fishway supporters pulled together again recently to fix the flood-damaged and silt-choked fishway. This time Arrow Energy contributed $120,000 to the work through its community investment program, Brighter Futures. “We are really fortunate to have the support of local Council, Fisheries Queensland and private companies like Arrow and Ostwald Bros to keep the fishway 100 per cent operational,” said Kevin Graham, Condamine Alliance’s principal project officer for river. These types of environmental projects aren’t cheap, so external support and funding is crucial.”

“At the end of the day, we do need to ask ourselves: Is it worth it?” Kevin said. “You don’t have to go far or ask too many people before you understand that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.” Having now undergone a major clean-out and sporting new anti-silt grates and better access for smaller fish, the improved fishway can finally get back to doing what it does best.

 Words by Heather Smith  |  Images by Janine Waters and supplied by Condamine Alliance