So, what is the Common Galaxia?
Around one kilometre north of where the mouth of the Maribyrnong nudges its way into the Yarra on the tip of Port Melbourne, the bends of the river flatten out into a strait of slow water.
This stretch of river is home to the Common Galaxia, an entirely unremarkable and utterly fascinating little fish. Silvery and fantailed, found in half the rivers of the world, the Common Galaxia, as singular fish, live for a year but, as a species, outlast everything built around them.
For thousands of years the Common Galaxias propped up the lifecycle of the Saltwater River, feeding the eel and bigger fish and, in turn, feeding the Wurundjeri people. In 1835, Europeans sailed into the river and cut through the scrub and, over the next century-and-a-half, the steady march of industry – from tanners to candle makers and metal works to acid factories – started crowding the banks of the Maribyrnong. In short time, the little whitebait had a lot more to worry about than Southern Black Bream or Short-finned Eel making a meal of them.
Not only did the Common Galaxias have to adapt to their river home becoming more industrial waste than water, they were forcefully relocated as the join between the Maribyrnong and the Yarra at Footscray was closed to continue the line of wharves along the river. The waterway had become something lived on rather than lived in. But the little fish refused to give up, laying low and holding on among the weeds that clung to the riverbank.
And things have a way of coming back around. The city grew. Industries changed. The river is running a little easier again as homes have replaced factories and parks dot the river bends where the docks once stood. The deep heart of the river still beats strong through a small silvery fish, hardly known but vital to this stretch of land and water. The Common Galaxia is a tiny reminder that nature will survive everything we build, and you can only ever borrow a spot on the bends of a river. A spot like this one...