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Jake fishes metal litter out of Melbourne’s waterways with magnets. It’s helped his recovery from substance abuse

Jake Robson hit a point in his substance abuse recovery when he needed a productive distraction.

“I had a lot of downtime, and I needed to fill that void,” he says.

Mr Robson had served time in prison and was in the early stages of recovery when he stumbled across YouTube videos of people pulling metal scrap out of rivers and docks using magnets attached to rope.

He quickly bought his own equipment, and now goes magnet fishing several times a week to clean up Melbourne’s waterways.

“I have taken a lot from society over the course of my life,” he said.

“I’ve done a lot of wrong things, and this is my little way of giving back.

“It’s taken me away from all that downtime, where I used to fill it with negative things — substance abuse and things like that. It’s given me a new lease on life, where I can spend that time so much more wisely.”

Jake Robson inside cleaning up waterways as a way to give back to society.(ABC News)

The father of three, who works as a tradesman, said the hobby had also helped him reconnect with his family and friends.

He takes his 13-year-old son Hayden out on fishing expeditions with him, and has already started teaching his three-year-old how to pick up spoons and forks with magnets.

His friend Travis Carra, who also has a history of substance abuse and criminal charges, has seen Mr Robson transform.

“He’s a lot happier, you can see he’s focused on something, and he’s lost a lot of stress as well,” Mr Carra said.

Two men stand on a river boardwalk in front of the city.
Jake Robson introduced his friend Travis Carra to the hobby.(ABC News: Isabella Tolhurst)

Mr. Carra has also gotten hooked on the hobby.

“I do find it very therapeutic … out with a mate, both sober, throwing the magnet out into the water, seeing what we can get, bonding [with each other] and stuff like that,” he said.

“And also, doing the right thing at the same time, cleaning out, getting the litter, the toxic metal out of the water.

“It’s kind of giving back that little bit, for all the stuff I’ve done in the past.”

A little help can go a long way

Mr Robson can pull hundreds of kilograms of metal litter out of Melbourne’s waterways every week, collecting everything from e-bikes, to shopping trolleys, to fishing hooks.

Parks Victoria conducts its own river cleaning programs, dredging litter and debris in the Yarra River with litter traps.

So far this year, it has collected more than 100 e-bikes and e-scooters, about 40 trolleys, and more than a dozen tables and chairs.

A rusty trolley on a river board walk.
Magnet fishers find all kinds of metal objects in Melbourne’s waterways.(ABC News: Isabella Tolhurst)

It does not have data for metal waste specifically.

But Mr Robson thinks if enough people pick up the hobby, they could make a significant impact on clean up efforts.

“We got a bike today in a matter of two hours. If we had 10 people here doing it and they all found a bike, that’s 10 bikes in a day,” he said.

The community-run Yarra Riverkeeper Association said volunteers like Mr Robson are always needed.

“There’s only so many people employed to clean up the river, and especially as a community organization, we rely on volunteers very heavily and they’re always welcome to get involved,” the association’s Anthony Despotellis said.

“Many hands make light work.”

A rusty bike is a boardwalk.
It takes two people around two hours to pull a bike from the river.(ABC News: Isabella Tolhurst)

Mr Despotelli said plastics were the worst contributor to river pollution.

“We’re finding plastics as a general category to be one of the most littered items,” he said.

“When we do clean ups and community days, that’s what we target.

“We are still finding trolleys and bikes dumped in the river. The message is really simple, just leave it where you found it, put it back. There’s no need for it to be in the river.”

And while Mr Despotellis said magnet fishing was often best left to the professionals, he said hobbyists could make a difference.

“If you’re removing material that shouldn’t be in the river, then you’re helping the water,” he said.

Proceeds to go towards addiction charities

Metal waste can be sold at scrap merchants for cash, earning about $150 per tonne.

But Mr. Robson does not have plans to pocket the cash. Instead, he wants to continue the good deed.

He plans to donate any money generated by the metal scraps back to substance abuse charities.

“I’m looking at helping some treatment services in regards to people struggling who might benefit from the funding,” he said.

“I’m not looking to make money, it’s about cleaning up the waterways and helping out.”

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