Recognition of the degraded state of rivers across the world has prompted the development of management programmes which promote river repair through rehabilitation practices. Efforts to date have emphasised concerns for biophysical attributes of rivers to the relative exclusion of socio-cultural values. Ultimately, the process of river repair must move beyond this technical focus and incorporate collective societal engagement, participation and ownership. However, the inherent complexities of informing and managing this process limit the prospects that engagement will be translated into an effective and sustained practice. This qualitative case study research analyses the community's knowledge, views and opinions regarding geomorphic river change and river works projects undertaken in the Upper Hunter catchment, New South Wales, Australia. The responses and views expressed by the participants highlight how ineffective communication and limited understanding of past river work practices has inhibited the connection and ownership between the people and their river. Essentially, historical river management was viewed as a technical process that failed to incorporate social values and aspirations, and which gave inadequate consideration to local knowledge and experience. Participants identified the need to address both diversity and commonality in vision-building and the need for greater confidence and transparency in river science and management. In light of these responses, this paper argues for the adoption of a geo-social, transdisciplinary approach to river rehabilitation.