Edges

7 October, 2021

Day 7 of Writing Nangak Tamboree

Reeds at the edge of the lake

I walk along the edge of the lake. It’s not yet warm enough for me to startle at every rattle in the long grass, but there are creatures everywhere. I can show you photos of trees and herons and the lake, and I will. But the horizon here is speared by a mobile phone tower and sports field flood lights. Behind me is a high factory wall. And on the edges of my hearing, forklifts, a truck beeping backwards, and a Council worker with a whipper snipper.

Marion Shoard has described the ‘edgelands’ of Britain: the edges of cities, the ignored interfaces where cities meet the countryside, where factories sprawl and spill into farmland and trees are cleared for housing developments. I think the word can apply where development meets remnant bush or regenerated places. Like this one.

My first job was nearby in Bundoora, a thousand years ago on the campus that is now RMIT, before the tram reached so far out of town. I can remember that feeling of passing from established suburbs built in the 50s and 60s, with shopping strips and the odd pub, hitch-hiking from the last tram stop or trundling on the bus past Mont Park and Larundel, through more recent housing developments which clung along Plenty Road. Beyond it was countryside.

So this was once on the edge, but the city now spills well beyond this place, gobbling up Mernda and sprawling out towards Whittlesea. As Shoard writes:

Although yesterday’s interfacial zones are often swallowed up by subsequent building, sometimes they survive as edgeland within built-up areas.

‘Edgelands’, in Remaking the Landscape ed. J Jenkins, Profile Books, 2002 (p124)

I grew up in a place like that – out on the eastern edge of town, in one of those housing developments ringed by bush and old orchards and big new roads. My childhood was marked by bushfires and droughts and blackberry-picking and either mud or dust. There was a filthy creek that ran dry over summer, and horse paddocks dotted with thistles, and an old stone settler cottage where we ran wild. (It’s all beautiful now: Mullum Mullum creek is regenerated, the cottage houses the Historical Society, and like here, it is no longer the edge of the city.)

So these places feel familiar to me. They are many things at once. An edgeland can look like a rubbish dump or a forest of weeds, but it can be a refuge for wildlife and indigenous plants, an escape for people who need it, or a green or blue patch of wild. And in many places, like this, they are being brought back to beauty. Or perhaps they always have an edgy beauty (to my eyes anyway) and regeneration is more about recreating biodiversity and creating urban spaces that are truly interfaces – between people, wildlife, plantlife, aquatic life, wind, water, sky, earth. The Nangak Tamboree project calls it ‘blurring the boundaries’, and I like that idea, but it’s also informed by the Wurundjeri community’s understanding of interconnectedness.

Today, I watch a simply enormous turtle warm itself on the far bank, right next to a football field. A heron struts along the bike path, refusing to pose for a photo.

White faced heron (I think)

Later I hear the heron shouting at something and silently salute Lian Hearn for naming her novel The Harsh Cry of the Heron, because it sounds like it’s being strangled. Such elegant legs and such a honk.

It’s one of those days that my mother would call ‘brisk’ and I would call bloody freezing. A bloke rides by and asks me the name of the lake and he, like me, considers ‘Sports Field Lake’ to be somewhat inadequate. Two handsome wood ducks preen and graze in the grass right in front of me, not in the least worried when I move closer.

Wood duck

They’re not listed in my Gould League series handy pocket guide to birds. It has let me down. But I do see that I have misidentified that fantail the other day. It’s actually a Jacky Winter, which I find thrilling for some reason, perhaps because Jacky Winter sounds like a saxophonist in a jazz band and not a tiny flittery thing.

Here we all are – me, the odd jogger and cyclist, a heron, a turtle, blokes on smoko from the factories, and who knows who else is going about their business in the treetops or under the water or in the long grass. Exploring edges.

What do you think?

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