Lately I’ve been…

Haven’t posted for ages, sorry. I think the pandemic ate my brain.

Don’t know about you, but all through our many lockdowns I found it hard to read, hard to write, and hard to focus. My teaching work has been demanding, with the sudden shift to online and everything else going on (remind me not to volunteer to write any more academic articles this year!).

But I have been chipping away at a few writing projects and right now I’m on my Creative Fellowship at Varuna, the national writer’s house, so I’m ploughing through stuff.

Front view of Varuna writer's house
Gorgeous, wintry Varuna

Here’s what I’ve been working on lately:

Fine Eyes: Miss Caroline Bingley, Private Investigator

I’ve told you this before, but I’ve been collaborating (for the first time) on an Austen-inspired crime novel, with playwright and Austen expert Sharmini Kumar. We’ve had great fun testing out our Regency research and plotting mysteries, and we’re nearly done. I know a few people who write collaboratively, and it’s been such an interesting way to work – especially during lockdown.


Wildfall is a YA historical fantasy novel – I mean, it’s fantasy, set in an imagined world, but influenced by the history of eighteenth century Europe. Sort of. Except with giant eagles. I’m in the late stages of drafting.


What I’m working on here at Varuna is Roar, a YA novel set in the 1980s in London and then in Africa, and especially Apartheid-era South Africa. I wrote a solid draft a while ago, on a May Gibbs Trust Fellowship in Canberra, and then undertook another round of research in South Africa, but then had to put it aside when the pandemic struck – like just about everything else. But I’m enjoying revisiting it now, and hope to have a final draft by the end of my time here.

Lion on a high hill
Lion – Pilanesberg National Park, 2019

They’ll be a while yet, but I can’t wait to share these novels with you.

Art on the waterways

29 October, 2021

Day 29 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Not much walking going on today, to be honest, and not much writing, because as everyone in Victoria knows, last night’s thunderstorm developed into something rather fierce over night and this morning, and it’s still pretty miserable, with lashing rain. There’s a great deal of damage all over the state – roofs off, power out, NBN down, at least one sighting of a trampoline flying through the air, and everything smashed.

Especially trees.

I went back to the Moaning Tree Forest today, after the worst of the storm had passed. Two big eucalypts were uprooted and crashed right near where I sat in my car to write yesterday, and I could see trunks snapped and tree limbs torn off all along the area and in the Sanctuary – I didn’t go in, because it was still pretty wild and teetering branches are not my favourite thing. To be honest, for the final day of lockdown, a minor apocalypse seemed appropriate, after all we’ve been through, and also a little bit freaky. The roads and lawns were covered in debris – leaves, branches, and blossom – to the great delight of a huge gang of galahs who were feeding on the gum nuts and seeds scattered everywhere. I feel very sorry for all the fledglings who were trying to stay in their nests in that wind. I’m sure there must’ve been quite a few casualties.

So let’s think of something happier. I stopped at one of my favourite pieces among the many in the huge outdoor sculpture garden that is the Bundoora campus: Karen Ward’s Hermitage (2001). Before the pandemic, when I was teaching Writing Creative Nonfiction, I’d bring my students here, or to the Sanctuary, for a walk and a few writing exercises. We’d look at things – bark, mushrooms popping up in the lawn, Hermitage, the old hospital buildings, the waterhole with frogs – and everyone would wander off to write some short pieces about place, then stand together and read them out loud. It was always my favourite class. I hope we get to do it again.

Karen Ward's sculpture Hermitage, which is shaped like a timber shack.

And that made me remember that I haven’t yet written about the sculpture that can be found along the waterways in Nangak Tamboree. So here are a few I have admired on previous days’ walks over the past few weeks.

I find my students often don’t realise that they’re studying in a sculpture park. But then, I didn’t realise we had all these different waterways and open spaces. I guess you take it for granted, once you’ve seen a life-sized bronze rhinoceros or an upside-down Governor La Trobe. And some of the pieces along the waterways probably don’t get noticed so often. Which is a pity, because some of them are splendid.

This is another favourite, partly because of its positioning. You can’t get to it easily – instead you glimpse it through a break in the shrubs along the banks of the moat. It’s Heather B. Swann’s Horned Night Walker (2003).

Heather B. Swann's sculpture, Horned Night Walker, shaped from thin iron bars, seen across the water.

Further along the Moat are two pieces by one of Melbourne’s best loved sculptors, Inge King. (Probably her most recognisable work is the series of massive black-painted waves, Forward Surge, on the lawn between the NGV and Hamer Hall.) There are several of her pieces along here, but the most dramatic (and she was very good at drama) sits almost in the moat, at the foot of the amphitheatre, so that it forms a backdrop to performance and everyone in the audience can see it. It’s called Dialogue of Circles and was commissioned in 1976.

Inge King sculpture Dialogue of Circles - two massive steel plinths hold spirals.

A hundred metres or so further on is a small group work, also by Inge King, called Group of Boulders. It’s right next to the Main Lake, on the grassy slope that I have learned is called Academic Lawn. I imagine that means that it’s a lawn where, on a warmer day than this one, academics are meant to lounge about like extras in Brideshead Revisited, and possibly roll right down and end up in the lake.

Inge King sculpture, Group of Boulders: short painted steel blocks facing each other.

If you want to wander around the sculpture park for yourself and have a look, here’s a map. If you need a reason to go for a walk, it’s a damn good one.


27 October, 2021

Day 27 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

At last! The missing link in the waterways.

Like most of Melbourne, the Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary has been closed for weeks – months. But as an outdoor space, with no contact required of visitors, it has been able to re-open this week.

The Sanctuary is as old as the university, which just tells you everyone had their priorities straight from the beginning. It spreads over 30 hectares and is now protected by a Trust for Nature conservation covenant. The land was once a farm, then part of Mont Park, and includes areas that were once recreation facilities for the patients, like a croquet lawn and cricket oval. That means that while the vegetation now looks substantial, much of it has been reintroduced.

But there are some truly magnificent and very old trees.

Huge old red gum
River Red Gum, estimated to be 450 years old

The older trees are mostly River Reds, but there are also stands of Ironbarks, Manna Gums and what might be Red Box – many of which, I imagine, are around fifty years old and were planted in the early years of the sanctuary. The regeneration work goes on – there are quite a few areas fenced off to protect the flora inside.

When you visit a wildlife sanctuary, you are on the lookout for creatures, right? And I guess I am, but I don’t seem able to concentrate on peering into bushes or focusing binoculars. There are all the usual avian suspects of course, croaking and squeaking and quacking, and I do spot a brushtail possum’s brushtail poking out the hole of a nesting box that is possibly not intended for someone their size.

But it’s actually the trees that are the show-stoppers here, even the younger, possibly self-sown, eucalypts and maleleucas, underlined by local grasses and swathes of goodenia, everlasting daisies, and pomaderris in bloom.

Path through scrub

And of course the waterways. Again, these were dug as part of the creation of the university, and creeks are channelled between them, but I imagine these were planned following natural water courses or seasonal creek beds. So this is the core of Nangak Tamboree, the connected waterways running down from the high ground in Gresswell Nature Reserve and Gresswell Hill, into the alleged lakes at the bottom of the Wildlife Corridor, gathering run-off from the lower slopes on the old hospital site, through the Sanctuary, into the campus moat, where it combines with a creek running underground (now) from Bundoora park, into the campus lake system, and down to the Darebin Creek.

If you can’t visualise it as a system, here’s my little Google map of writing sites.

The sanctuary has its own system of waterways: two waterholes out the front, the reddish pond I admired through the fence yesterday, expansive swampland, and a series of lakes and connecting creeks, with – you won’t believe it – names like Main Lake and Eastern Swamp. (Seriously, someone has to get onto naming all of these waterways properly. That makes two Main Lakes at one university. And name them after trees or creatures, not former Deans. Or maybe ask the Wurundjeri Elders if they would like to put words to them.)

Swamp with trees and reeds
Eastern Swamp

The names may be prosaic, but the waterways are lovely to look at, and are home to endangered Dwarf Galaxia and other fish and eels, a gazillion frogs, and many waterbirds, as well as of course providing water to everyone else who lives here or passes through the bio-corridor, from bats and flying foxes to wallabies and pardalotes. (All I see are a few ducks and a pair of coots diving in the reeds.) In one spot, I walk along an ‘isthmus’ (I definitely approve of that name) with Main Lake on one side, and on the other, a waterhole filled with Water Ribbons (Cycnogeton procerum) while on its banks a line of Manna Gums shed their own ribbons of bark.

Now that’s poetic.

Main lake, ringed with trees
Main Lake (no, not that Main Lake, the other one)

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?

Habitat matters

23 October, 2021

Day 23 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Beyond the Nangak Tamboree creek-side revegetation area, huge fences have gone up. They’re starting work on the next tranche of sports developments.

I’m told that the new complex being purpose-built for the Matildas is re-using the former golf range on Plenty Road, abutting the cemetery. That seems like sensible recycling of land that hasn’t been public for years. It’s already flat and the old growth was cleared away years ago.

But next to it, where I stand today, even with its weeds and deposits of old junk and hills of dirt dug up elsewhere and dumped, this is a wilder place. There are many generations of trees, indigenous grasses and shrubs, and it’s home to all kinds of creatures. Right now, up on this hillock, I can hear dozens of frogs, and red-browed finches and red-rumped parrots are feeding in the long grass around me.

It might have been regenerated, like the area inside the fence. But instead it is being flattened out and turned into yet more sports fields, this time for the State Rugby Centre.

This is the area I walked through the other day with Tony, the project manager, and he explained the many careful processes that have been put in place for the redevelopment. So I know that each tree in this area has been audited by an arborist, and the plants surveyed by experts. That the clumps of endangered Matted Flax-Lily can only be dug up, propagated and replanted following a three-year approval process and careful consideration. That before any trees are knocked down, zoologists will come to relocate any creatures who live in them. That nesting hollows can be removed intact and relocated into other trees or to the Wildlife Sanctuary. That trunks are kept for habitat in waterways. That several key precious trees will be kept, and designs will revolve around them. That any trees removed will be offset either by planting elsewhere in Nangak Tamboree or on campus, or elsewhere in a formal offset program. That the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri-WoiWurrung people, have been consulted and are advising on cultural heritage and awareness. That the design will feature careful landscaping and bring people to the area to enjoy the adjoining bushland, lakes and creek even more.

I also know that many big developments don’t bother with any of that, but this project team genuinely worries about all of these issues. And that the Nangak Tamboree waterways and revegetation project is a massive reparation process.

I get all that.

And yet…

And yet…

Offsets are not habitat.

Sports precincts for elite sports are not public spaces. (But universities are.)

Consultation is not the same as rights.

Mitigating loss is never as good as preventing it in the first place.

Tube stock planted now will not be wildlife habitat for years – maybe decades.

Remnant bush, even if a bit dodgy, is rare and precious.

Footy fields are not.

(And I say that as someone from a serious sporting family.)

waterhole, grasslands, trees.

That’s all. It’s going to happen. It is already happening.

It’s not really anything to do with me, but it makes me sad.

Caring for the land

21 October, 2021

Day 21 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

There’s always someone caring for the land around here.

Most of the time when I walk along the creek, there are Council rangers on either Darebin or Banyule bank (or both), and workers mowing or slashing or spraying or whipper snipping. A couple of days ago, I passed two ute-loads of rangers out on the Banyule North Grasslands who were hand-weeding around newly planted patches of kangaroo grass – with those little pokey things we use in our veggie patches. Slowly, carefully, lovingly.

You can see generations of care all around here. There are callistemon planted along the banks (I’m not sure I’d choose them for that spot, but it must have been years ago) and further south a truly impressive bank of hedge wattle and prickly Moses. Both are far too symmetrical to be natural, but they are lovely, and the wattles, in particular, are home to many small birds.

Wattles in flower

I found this terrific short video about Friends of Darebin Creek and the Sweepers who pick up other people’s rubbish. It’s worth a look, even if only to get some great footage of the creek, but also a timely reminder about what flows along with all the storm water we’ve had lately.

But I’m not down there today. I’m at the other end of Nangak Tamboree, in Gresswell Forest Nature Reserve – in fact, technically it’s not part of Nangak Tamboree, but it is, if you like, the other end of the eco-system that Nangak Tamboree connects. A few days ago I walked through the Wildlife Corridor that connects to this area, and today I’ve come to walk in the Reserve itself, which is much bigger and fenced off to protect the wildlife. It is obviously popular with the locals, who are strolling, jogging and exploring along wide, well-maintained tracks, and with the birdlife, which is so prodigious I don’t know where to look next.

It’s remnant bush, but very different to the creekside: higher ground mostly, although there are still tiny creeks running through it into wetland areas. Scrub, rather than grassland, with Hop Goodenias as big as a car rambling under tremendous old eucalypts – Yellow Box alongside the Red and Manna Gums. Fallen branches are left where they land for habitat.

Yellow flowering bush under tall trees

In fact, I’ve never seen the Goodenia so big, and I’m thinking now I may have made a strategic error with the two I planted in my front garden last year. Another example of care: my council runs a Gardens for Wildlife program, where they tell you all about local flora and fauna, help you design your garden, give you a plant voucher and a nesting box, and empower people to care for threatened or precious species by creating habitat. Which is a backyard version of what we’ve been looking at over the past few weeks.

And people do care for places by being here respectfully. Of course the workers and volunteers have a program of maintenance, weed management and revegetation. Wildlife volunteers and local vets and refuges care for injured creatures. But we all help by walking here, admiring everything, noticing if something’s wrong or hurt, logging birds or bugs in citizen science counts, or simply keeping to the tracks. We help by not wrecking the joint, taking our rubbish home, not killing anything. A low bar, I know, but it’s progress.

Yesterday, walking past the Nangak Tamboree revegetation area, I met Glenn, one of the Wurundjeri Narrap Rangers who are managing the cultural burns in the area, and advising on the project. (They were meant to burn yesterday but there’s been so much rain it’s been postponed.) It was Glenn who suggested moving the Frog Hollow. The last couple of weeks, the Narrap Rangers have been out spraying the invasive introduced grass with an agent that dries it off, ready to burn. They burn in patches, controlled and careful. We’ve heard a lot more about the wisdom of indigenous fire management since the 2020 bushfires, but this is gentle but dramatically effective weed management, blending scientific and cultural knowledge. He told me how the Flax Lilies had come back after the initial burn, and that kangaroo and wallaby grass would spread down the hill and re-establish itself quickly. He reckons it’ll take three to five years to get it how they want it.

Glenn said he’d spotted a brown snake the other day, near the ‘mother tree’, and as a former snake catcher he picked it up to have a good look. His colleagues apparently weren’t quite so enthusiastic, and since a brown can kill you about ten times over I’m not surprised. Rare around here, he reckons, but tigers are everywhere. He says all this with a grin I have seen on snake catchers before – they love snakes almost as much as how talking about snakes makes other people squirm. He also said there were roos in the area, though I haven’t seen any – that’s not surprising in all this high spring grass. They are pretty good at not being seen. I’ve seen them on campus from time to time, in the evenings, and once all the way down the creek near Darebin railway station. But never here.

Which brings me back to today. I’m sitting on a bench by the track, thinking over the past few days, when something thumps gently in the bush next to me, and I look up into the eyes of an Eastern Grey. Some people come along, chatting away happily, and it startles, and leaps off into the bush, followed by a friend I hadn’t even seen.

Kangaroo in scrubland

Even when you’re writing, don’t forget to look up.

Slowing down

20 October, 2021

Day 20 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

I may have been slightly hysterical yesterday. I do need to slow down. But I feel calmer today after a long, slow walk beside the Darebin Creek, back and forth along the stretch between Plenty and Southern Roads, on the muddy, grassy right bank. Or is it the left? The north-easterly-ish bank.

It’s early morning but the sun is warm already and the sky a blistering blue. Summer is coming.

Tree branches against bright sky

The creek is still running high from all the rain. It’s not, you’d have to say, a creek famous for white water. Nobody, I’m sure, is going adventure rafting along here. But with high water like this, you do get a few little rapids.

Water running over stones – bird calls

Trying to record sound, I keep having to dodge perpetrators of my new pet hate – people who talk very loudly on speaker phone while walking their dogs out in the middle of nowhere.

Now I’m at my ‘standing desk’, which is, to all other eyes, an unattractive concrete storm water system something-or-other. I’m sure there’s an engineering term for it, but it looks like a miniature Martello tower, just below the Nangak Tamboree revegetation area.

I’m doing the Bird Count in a more relaxed fashion today, after yesterday’s frenzy – glance up, anything there? hear a call, focus binoculars. A Willie Wagtail chirrups from the wire fence, and when I move on it keeps me company, reminding me of the robin in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It’s the little birds that elude me but also delight. On my way here, a New Holland Honeyeater almost flew right into me, swerving at the last moment, and a flock of fairy wrens always makes my day.

There’s something flitting about in a Cootamundra wattle on the riverbank, but I can’t for the life of me catch a glimpse. A raven sitting in an old acacia hunches its shoulders at every croak, like some minor Dickens character.

I walk on towards Plenty Road. This is a lovely stretch. The escarpment rises up on one side, just under where they’re moving Frog Hollow. I can hear the heavy equipment in action today – I don’t want to go look because I fear for the swathe of grassland and eucalypts in between the former golf range and the hillock of old fill.

trees on a hilltop

Apparently one day there’ll be a bike path through here too, which my bike-riding self approves, but my walking self wishes it could stay like this always. It’s hard to believe I’m in the middle of an enormous sprawling city, next to a major road and a university campus.

Track through bush

Slow/fast writing

19 October 2021

Day 19 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

I’m back on my writing rock today. Well, it might be the same boulder as I sat on to scribble the other day. Or a totally different rock. So observant.

This morning I was reading this excellent essay on Slow Writing by Melissa Matthewson. It begins:

I’ll invite you to read this slowly. To remember that a voice is embodied in this text, that in this process of following the sentence towards its meaning, in a kind of walking, as in a procession or parade, the writer’s creative process will emerge, a deliberate motion with care as the foundation for which the writer is then able to articulate beauty and suggest some new knowledge, but of course, this will take time.

‘A Revolution in Creativity: On Slow Writing’, Melissa Matthewson, LitHub, 12 October, 2021.

She’s so right. I am all in favour of slow food and slow travel. But when it comes to writing, speedy is my default setting. Even here. Sometimes I dash to Nangak Tamboree, stand and look and listen, scribble a few notes, take a few shots, then dash away again. What I try to do, and want to do, is walk the long way here, then keep walking, and write in a few spots as I go over an hour or two.

It depends on the day, the time of day, and what else is happening. Ideally, I’d spend long slow hours here, but ideally I wouldn’t have books to finish, emails to send, meetings to attend, assignments to mark, meals to cook, and seemingly endless To Do lists. So I visit before or after work, and can stay for longer when it’s not a work day. Then post each evening.

Old eucalypt tree in long grass

But anyway, I write fast. Even writing a novel, I draft fast. It’s not a race, but sometimes it feels like it. There are so many stories to tell and so little time. I am not one of those people who thinks writing is painful. I enjoy it and I like drafting fast. If I have a writing week or, even better, a month, especially at a writer’s residency, I aim for 2000 words a day and often go well over. But then, I don’t have to think about anything else – just writing, sleeping and eating. Maybe a walk once a day. I wish life was always like that, and I know it is for some people. But not for me.

I have two academic papers to finish in the next two weeks and a big conference this weekend, on top of everything else, and that seems ridiculous (and it is) but it’ll be fine. Somehow. Then I’ll tell myself never to put myself in that position again.

Until the next time.

So even though some days I curse the person whose idea it was to come here every day and write (me), it’s writing that’s just for me. If anybody reads it, that’s a bonus. I’ve had some gorgeous emails and comments over the last few days about these posts and I’m genuinely surprised that you can make head or tail of these scribbles.

But I do admire the idea of slow writing. I link the idea in my mind with the essay by Michael LaPointe I mentioned the other day, on writers walking, and making sure that the walking doesn’t just become a chore – or a race. Or subsumed into some other frenetic activity.

Like the bloody Bird Count. It started yesterday. Today I’m out on a hillock near Sports Field Lake, and the Bird Count app timer is going (you have to do it for 20 minutes) and I’m looking this way and that and madly pushing buttons to record them all (24 wood ducks!) and end up swearing. I decided to do it since I was here staring at birds anyway, and I’ve never been part of a citizen science event, but measuring the blighters is a whole other thing. Thank God it only goes for a few days. Because that does feel like a race, let me tell you. Writing about them is much more fun.

lake with dead tree


17 October, 2021

Day 17 of Writing Nangak Tamboree

It’s a Sunday. A lockdown Sunday. But this one feels different, because this morning we watched as the Premier announced that lockdown was lifting. Vaccination rates are high, and hospitalisations are lower than expected, so the Health Orders are changing in a few days.

I cried. But then, I cried this time last year for the same reason, and then we had no vaccines. So even though we’ve been here before, it does feel different.

And it does feel a bit different being out in the world today. We ride our bikes along the Darebin bike trail up to Bundoora Park, spy on some roos and emus (what even are they doing there?), and double back to ride through Nangak Tamboree – past the Wildlife Sanctuary, over the moat a couple of times, through the empty campus grounds, and around all the lakes. The water is still high, the creek running fast, puddles everywhere, and all the tracks muddy.

View of the moat

The moat – Sanctuary end

The bike path is like Bourke Street before the pandemic with people strolling and sprinting, little kids on training wheels, an elderly man on an electric scooter, and dozens of dog-walkers; every park is filled with people having picnics on soggy ground, playgrounds are crowded with kids – everyone is out in the world.

Soon we’ll be able to go anywhere we like instead of sticking close to home. I wonder how it will affect the way people use these spaces. Will people still go down the the creek bank for a picnic close to home, at these spots they’ve recently discovered, when instead they can drive across town to the beach or the hills? Or will we keep using our public spaces close to home in ways we never did before the pandemic? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am limbering up for two citizen science events: The Backyard Bird Count, which starts tomorrow, and the Great Southern BioBlitz (22-25 October). I won’t bore you with my daily counts, don’t worry, but here are the results of today’s practice run.

Kangaroos: 9.

Emus: 2.

Greyhound of our acquaintance: 1.

Ducklings: 0.

Turtles: 0.

Snakes: 0.

Young men in loud drumming rehearsal in the bush near Sports Field Lake: 3.

I might need to sharpen up my observation technique.

Flooded Callistemon

Water, water everywhere

16 October, 2021

Day 16 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

So much rain last night. Just so much. The Darebin Creek is gushing and swirling, way up above its normal sluggish level, and judging by the swept reeds and grasses along the banks it was even higher overnight. I’m worried about ducklings getting swept away, and then as I approach the campus I see a pair of ducks leading a flock of ten or so fluffy dots across a roundabout. I stop to make sure no cars come along but then – drama! A magpie swoops out of nowhere, presumably defending its own nest, and attacks them. Then another.

How dare they? The adult ducks fight back bravely. I shout, though that probably isn’t very helpful since it freaks everyone out. Then the magpies get distracted by a pair of Noisy Miners who are swooping the swoopers and are of course much more threatening to everyone’s baby chicks. So they all go at it and honestly it is like the last flight of the Red Baron. Bird drama galore. While everyone else is busy brawling, the teeny weeny ducklings waddle happily on their way towards the moat. Phew.

It’s very soggy underfoot. I traipse across mown lawn to check out the Small Lake which is, naturally, small and is the link between the moat, Main Lake and the Sports Field Lake. I have walked past it so many times and never bothered to walk around it, because I’m usually striding along from home to office. The view from the footpath next to the road is of a brownish sort of channel, so it hardly invites exploration. But I have long admired the lines of this road bridge.

The underneath and pillars holding up the Kingsbury Drive bridge

Honestly, the aesthetics of basic civil engineering (especially in the 60s and 70s) take some beating, don’t they?

Even though the grass is mown, the Small Lake feels a little bit neglected. It’s not glamorous like Main Lake, which is overlooked by important university offices, boasts sweeping lawns and picnic tables and even has its own island (which I feel must raise the status of any body of water), and it’s not half-wild like Sports Field Lake. There are a few blackberries growing along the banks, a bit of rubbish swept in on the storm water, and not a single duck. There’s a gate under the bridge, twisted open long ago, which leads into a pocket of woodland with grass so vividly green after all the rain it’s almost neon. The traffic thundering overhead along Kingsbury Drive means it’s never going to be a picnic spot of choice.

Small Lake is Nangak Tamboree’s middle child.

But it’s actually quite lovely and I vow to visit it more often.

And as we have established, it has the most excellent bridge.

View of lake looking back towards campus