The day of the turtle

2 October 2021

Day two of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Different site today – one that is familiar, and yet not. Nangak Tamboree waterway stretches through the campus where I work. I’ve been coming here – first as a PhD student and more recently as a lecturer – a few days a week, for years. But of course for much of the past two years, the campus has been closed except for critical research (keeping plants alive in greenhouses or lab work) and we’ve all been working and studying from home during lockdown. So I haven’t seen it much lately, and I certainly haven’t sat about scribbling.

Ours is a classic outer suburban campus, built in the 1970s on old farmland, with buff-brick buildings of an era anyone who studied at Monash or Macquarie will recognise. The site is dotted with magnificent old River Red Gums, landscaped beautifully, and also has another layer of life as a massive sculpture garden.

Statue of rhino
Run For Your Life, by Gillie and Marc 

But one of its most famous features is the Moat, which flows through to the lakes south of campus, circling the buildings and grounds. It’s the vital link in the waterways between Darebin Creek and Greswell nature reserve, and it is – normally – a legendary part of campus life. There’s an amphitheatre overlooking the moat, an annual Moat theatre festival, a running track alongside it, picnic tables and lawns and community garden, and different disciplines use it for applied work – studying water quality or aquatic life, regenerating plants or whatever those mysterious science people do, wading about with equipment and serious faces. In the early years, it used to host boat races and all kinds of high-jinks, but I think the water quality studies may have put paid to that. (I just made that bit up.)

It’s quiet today. It’s a rainy weekend, and anyway we’ve been locked down for months now, so there’s hardly anyone here most of the time. Some students are still living on campus and I feel for them – it is usually alive and filled with people, cafes open and the evenings filled with the thunk of tennis balls and distant laughter. But not now. I walk along the gravel path, slippery after the rain. There are a few cyclists, the odd jogger, all probably passing through from nearby suburbs.

path with beware of snakes sign

Here the water is edged, in some places with bluestone blocks, and guided on its way. I’m on the lookout for ducklings, but today they’re hiding. Coots scud along, heads bobbing back and forth like pistons. I creep up on a turtle warming itself on a rock – I think it’s an Eastern Long-Necked (or snake-necked) turtle, and I’m told they can walk for miles and miles.

Turtle next to water

This one has no interest in moving anywhere. Two more surface in the water nearby, and – at the risk of anthropomorphising them – kiss. Then all three spot me at once, and vanish, leaving me, and the water, and the sky.

Not Monet’s waterlilies

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