Billabongs & ponds

26 October, 2021

Day 26 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

It’s the last few days of my time walking and writing here, so I headed off with a plan to walk along a neglected stretch of the waterway. But:

A) I failed.

B) Of course, it isn’t neglected, it’s only me who has neglected it.

This is the water that curls like an offshoot of the campus moat, around the back of the Sports Centre, flows under the circle road and ends up in a pond in the Wildlife Sanctuary (which, oh joy, oh rapture, has re-opened so I’ll be visiting in the next few days). It begins with the Infamous Overflowing Lake. I expect it is linked below ground with the moat, as there are suspicious mounds leading from one to the other. They could be Viking burial mounds, or drains. Hard to tell.

Infamous Overflowing Lake
Infamous Overflowing Lake

The plan was to walk around the north of the lake/pond/billabong, because I know the way is blocked on the other bank by Sports Centre fences. But no. It’s blocked on both sides now, because the car park next to it hosts a COVID-19 testing station. It’s not busy yet, but there’s usually a long queue of cars – I’ve been in that queue several times myself. (The car park on the other side is now used for the COVID-19 vaccination clinic; both good uses of public property in a crisis.)

It turns out, though, that this is a very pleasant place in which to be prevented from walking any further. There are picnic tables and, like the rest of the campus, it’s beautifully landscaped – here with grasses and great patches of Brachyscome multifida, or the purple cut-leaf daisy, with its almost permanent happy wee flowers. On the bank, a cormorant stretches its wings in the early morning sun, and lorikeets, as usual, sweep low overhead. All these spaces I never use or even stop to admire. I vow to come back often when we return to campus.

I’m thinking about this cultural walk I did a few years ago in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, along the river bank. It was led by Dean Stewart, to introduce people to the Indigenous history of Birrarung, or the Yarra River. I learned a great deal from Dean, but today I reflect on one thing he said: he shows people old drawings of the south bank of the river, before it was filled in and built over, and asks them to describe it. Older people say it looks like a swamp. Kids say it’s wetland. How our perceptions change over a generation.

And in a country often suffering through extended drought, you’d think we’d be more careful with wetland. As we are here.

Cormorant stretching in front of water

Anyway, no luck walking this way. I retrace my steps past the Sports Centre (empty but soon to re-open, when hopefully my fencing club starts training again – nature is healing!) and cut down a driveway I’ve passed a million times, past the tennis courts and a stunning row of callistemon in full scarlet glory. To my right are some nondescript buildings I never knew existed until COVID meant our mail didn’t get delivered to the office any more and we had to find it ourselves, somewhere over here. I climb over a bank, which I suspect doubles as a levee. On the left, the rock climbing wall. All those people who were inspired by the Olympic rock climbing will be hitting that hard in the weeks to come.

Beyond the bank is the other end of the Infamous Overflowing Lake, and the sounds of very happy frogs. I walk to the end and discover a very impressive-looking something-or-other. I have no idea, but I’m going to say it’s a local version of the Thames Barrier. Or at least Eildon Weir. Here, I assume, because I’m not volunteering to dive in and check, the water flows under the Thames Barrier and the road and into the billabong on the other side, which is in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

Once, a few years ago, I saw an echidna waddling across the road right here.

It’s too early to go in, so I just stare through the fence into the sanctuary. It’s shady by the banks and the normal muddiness of the water is accentuated by some kind of red algae or other growth. It’s quite pretty, for algae.

Muddy waterhole
The pale headless blur on the log is a Darter

Nowadays, I always glance at the water here as I drive past, after a few trips to South Africa where every waterhole is a wildlife-viewing adventure. As if I’m going to see elephants bathing or at least roos drinking, but there’s never anything.

Or so I think. I walk along the fence and disturb a Darter. She flaps across the top of the water and settles on a tree branch, away from the pesky walking creature trying to take photos through cyclone wire. And who can blame her?

4 thoughts on “Billabongs & ponds

  1. I used to go yabbying at that spot, the muddy bank near the overflow, back in the sixties. The Kingsbury Drive bridge was half the width it is today. Around this time, the Moat was the site for a number of environmental sculptures, part of a larger outdoor sculpture exhibition. Eventually, the assemblages fell apart and truly became part of the environment. Years later, in an adjacent pond, a Security Officer, would try in vain to resuscitate a young boy, who had drowned after becoming snagged under a log. The Moat has had its moments of infamy. All sorts of objects have been retrieved from its muddy bottom, umbrellas, hubcaps, even a rusty old shotgun. And the odd drunk student after an over indulgent Union Hall bar night. However, the Moat, muddy and dull as it sometimes looks, is not with out its moments of delight. There is nothing quite like sitting in the Security Gatehouse as pelicans glide in, skim the water and stop for a brief respite before heading off to where ever life takes them.. Your writing reminded me of the pelicans. Thanks.

  2. Kelly, Thanks for the writing over the last month. I’m a bit late to the party but am looking forward to going back over your blog and learning more. As a staff member at La Trobe, it’s good to be reminded about the culture, history and stories of our backyard.
    Cheers,
    Anthony

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