First steps

1 October 2021

Day one of a new project: writing Nangak Tamboree.

As it happens today is also about Walking the Land’s Watermark project, an international collaboration about walking and making art. So I’ve joined in, to be part of a (sort of) synchronised walking and making moment, this month on the theme of flow.

Today is about starting, about walking, and about flow.

I walk the long way around. No short-cuts today. In fact, I squelch my way along the creek bank. It rained yesterday and overnight, so the creek is way up, flowing fast, and my feet slip on muddy gum leaves. There’s nobody else here. I spot a Noisy Miner tucked into a nest, a lone currawong, and red wattle birds sweeping. Frogs fall silent when they hear my footsteps.

On the far bank, someone stands alone in the bush practising on their trumpet, the notes long and low over running water.

Darebin Creek
Darebin Creek

It’s spring here – tadpole season, or Poorneet in the Wurundjeri calendar, as I have only recently learned. The wattle blossom is finishing – even the Prickly Moses is browning off – and the leaf tips show bright new growth.

It takes me a while to reach the corner where Nangak Tamboree meets the Banyule North grasslands. I wander along the creek a little further and then uphill to the Sports Field Lake (which really needs a more glamourous name). And there, in spite of the mud and the little black ants, I sit at the water’s edge and watch and listen and write.

There’s no flow in me right now, but that’s fine. There’s flow in the water, the reeds, the swooping swallows, and the wind flicking at the eucalyptus leaves. I listen.

A pukeko (or Purple Swamp Hen) flies ungainly as a freight plane across the lake and crash lands in the reeds. Welcome Swallows dip and arc. Gulls croak high up and gather on the footy ground, before someone startles them and they scatter, screeching.

Things I don’t know today:

  • What is the roaring overflow thing in the middle of the lake?
  • How old is the lake and is it man-made?
  • What did it look like before?
  • Where are my binoculars?
  • How will I write this place? Can I?
View of lake and grass edges

There is a flock of fairy wrens skittering about me as if I’m not here. I stay still, and I’m so busy watching them I’m not looking at the lake when an enormous fucking fish leaps out of the water and splashes back down – I see a glimpse of white belly and white water. That’s all. The water subsides until its skin is still unless rippled by light.

This is the edge of the place I’ve chosen to write. From today on, I’m going to come and write around here somewhere every day for a month. But don’t worry: sitting and staring and cataloguing birds is going to get very dull very fast, for all concerned. Every day will be different. I don’t know how yet. I’m trying not to plan it, or not to do too much research beforehand. I think of all the other people walking and creating today, finding watery edges and flows, capturing sensation and space. I wonder what they’ll make, where they are. I’m not sure, given the time zones, whether I’m ahead or behind. I’m on the other side of the world. I’m here, always here, in the same place – five kilometres from home, masked up – that I’ve been all through this lockdown, and the many lockdowns before that. But it’s still new to me, this place.

I walk some more, skirting around a section of grassland that is fenced off as part of the regeneration project, and climb up on to a tussock. This is not a wild place. It is edged by busy roads – I can hear the traffic murmur to the north – and factories – someone’s hammering somewhere – sports fields, schools and my own university. There’s a flash of red as someone ride by on the bike path. If you look in one direction you see only eucalypts and grasslands and the water. Turn your head, and there are gulls scattered across carefully mown fields, goal posts and floodlights and the silvery new stadium.

At my feet, wallaby grass but also dock and wild fennel. Nearby, in an area that looks like it’s been burned, blackberries are shooting up from the earth. The regeneration of this place is going to take a while.

I hope I get to see it.

I hope I can show you.

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