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A legacy of care passed from dad to daughter

26 April 2024 | News
26 April 2024

Building on a 40-year legacy, Rebecca Dohnt is the new keeper of both history and memory. Rebecca grew up watching her dad Ray as he battled weeds, adapted to technological shifts, and floods from the ever-unpredictable Pyrites Creek, Werribee and Lerderderg Rivers. 

During these years, Ray was a reservoir keeper for the water storages west of Melbourne that irrigate some of Victoria’s largest agricultural production areas.

Realising a childhood dream, daughter Rebecca is following on in dad Ray's footsteps. 

“Dad’s legacy is more than the structures Ray's built, it’s the stories woven into each asset,” said Rebecca.

“Dad can remember each thing he’s built – and as I grew up in the keeper’s house at Merrimu Reservoir – it’s a bit like working in a living museum,” she said with a laugh. 

The assets that Ray and the team have built and maintain are integral to how Southern Rural Water manages the water storages supplying water to the Bacchus Marsh and Werribee irrigation districts, two of Victoria’s major food bowls. 

Taking up Ray’s mantle in December 2023, Rebecca’s role is a Multi Skilled Operator for Southern Rural Water.

Based out of the Merrimu Reservoir depot, Rebecca maintains the reservoir infrastructure and catchment areas, including upkeep of recreation facilities, fencing and removing weeds, and helping manage flood events. As part of this, Rebecca and the team look after nearby Melton, Rosslynne and Pykes Creek Reservoirs, as well as Ballan and Werribee weirs. There’s also Lerderderg Weir, from which a four kilometre diversion tunnel feeds into the Goodmans Creek Weir. From there, another 1.7 kilometre tunnel feeds into Merrimu Reservoir. This infrastructure is critical to maintain the water level during drier periods.

While there's many similarities in their roles, Rebecca recalls Ray was passionate in his battles with weeds. “He used to dream about them.”

Ray started as a contractor restoring Rosslynne Reservoir and Lerderderg Weir following the devastating Ash Wednesday fires in 1983. Ray said it “looked like snow was falling, but it was ash.”

Leading up to this, Ray had trained as a sheet metal worker. This skill was converted into building sheds, fences, and dam assets. “I’m a funny bugger,” Ray admitted. “If I’ve got to do something, I won’t rush through it. It’s either a full job or no job at all.” 

Ray witnessed the evolution from analog to digital; from late-night phone calls in the rain, to monitoring water levels during floods inside using automated systems on a laptop. Yet some things remain constant. The pulse of the Lerderderg River, the surrounding steep hills that funnel water down at flash speed – leaving no time to do anything but act to protect communities downstream from flooding.

Ray’s obviously proud of his daughter’s return to Merrimu Reservoir. This follows Rebecca’s slight 10-year detour as a retail manager at EB Games.

“Bec always said she wanted a job; and she finally got it," Ray grinned. 

Rebecca added she knew this from when she was little. “I used to always go out with dad when he was on duty on weekends.” 

There’s a seven-day a week commitment to keep reservoirs ticking over – over weekends, this can range from being on call for emergencies, dam safety inspections, operational adjustments and maintaining recreational facilities open to the public.

Ray smiled at this memory. “Someone’s got to look after the kids, but Rebecca did have to stay in the ute.” 

Safety is a massive part of the everyday work focus, with specific protocols and processes around site access and personal protective equipment.

“Dad would say, you stay here, while I go look at the crest and do my duty stuff, because obviously it wasn’t safe for a little girl. But this time with my dad, these are cherished memories."

One of these was stopping about halfway along the Rosslynne Reservoir 14 kilometre track at Saltwater Creek. 

“It was one place I was allowed to jump out of the car. I liked to watch the water flow under the culvert.  I can’t explain how beautiful Rosslynne Reservoir is. Today, I still stop there every time we do this track,” Rebecca said.