A writing project about place
I teach creative writing on the Bundoora campus of La Trobe University, and live nearby – within walking distance. I moved close to campus in September 2019 and walked or rode a bike to work for the next few months, along the Darebin bike path or on the roads, past the lake and remnants of bush, over the moat, and into my office. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. For much of the time I have lived in this house, the campus has been closed, I worked from home, and Melbourne was in lockdown.
That has often meant we are allowed only a hour of exercise each day, confined to a five kilometre radius from our homes. So I have walked and jogged up and down the Darebin Creek bicycle path hundreds of times.
I don’t walk far. It’s exercise, not exploration. A pandemic is not a time to be wandering. There’s something about lockdown exercise that makes it single-minded. Perhaps it’s fear. So I stick to the concrete paths, half an hour max. People walking their dogs nod to each other, cyclists charge by, bells ringing. I notice big changes – the creek’s up, the wattle’s out, they’re mowing the long grass before summer. I admire the eucalypts, the new planting, the pockets of wallaby grass. I try to notice tiny things as well, but I’m moving too fast.
We’re still in lockdown #6 – will be for weeks, maybe months. But I finally stepped off the bike path. I slowed down. I walked through the mud and the long grass by the creek, stopped to take photos of honeyeaters and wattle blossom, and reached out to touch the peeling bark of a River Red Gum.
And I engaged at last with a place that had been there the entire time. Nangak Tamboree is a unique bio-diverse waterway corridor which stretches from the Darebin Creek and Banyule North Grasslands, across the campus (which is in itself many hectares of landscaped grounds and outdoor sculpture garden, ringed by a moat), connecting our Wildlife Sanctuary with the Gresswell Forest Nature Reserve beyond.
I am beginning to realise the extent of the bushland and waterways spreading from the creek to the campus. I do not yet understand it. I certainly don’t know it. But I am going to try.
While we are working from home, a major regeneration project is going on around our sprawling university. I’d seen the work crews and diggers, on my rare visits to the office, and stepped around them, wary of getting mud on my work shoes. Thought they were drainage works, which they are. Didn’t even glance at the signs explaining that it was part of a much more ambitious regeneration project.
Nangak Tamboree means respecting/sharing/looking after the waterway in the Woi-wurrung language of the Wurundjeri people, and the project is being developed and undertaken with the traditional custodians of this place. It aims to revegetate and enhance the waterway corridor and the bushland along it, including regenerating indigenous plant species and managing weed infestation through Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung cultural fire practice, and weeding and revegetating 92,000 square metres of open space with indigenous plant species.
The grasslands, bush remnants, waterways and sanctuaries are already home to a wide range of species, from rosella and kookaburra to flax lilies and blue devils, ringtail possums to tiger snakes. The Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary provides nesting, care and protection to protected species such as eastern grey kangaroos and echidna.
But all this wetland and grassland is edged by major roads, sports grounds, an industrial estate, university facilities and housing developments – encircled and marked by development, as my walking is bordered by lockdown laws. It is a liminal space, an ‘edgeland’, a place people pass through, watching out for snakes or swooping magpies, but in which they rarely stop. In many ways it is a large area, with many hidden pockets, but this is also an intensely local project reflecting our current COVID-constrained, neighbourhood focus.
So I hope to write it. Not all of it. But I aim to walk it, to observe and listen, to record and reflect. This is a practice-led process of urban exploration in an environment that feels at times a world away. Can walking and writing help regenerate a sense of place for the walkers, the writers, the readers?
The first steps
- Walk in place every day in October 2021
- Regularly write and record (sounds, images, video)
- Test out creating an Echoes soundwalk
- Publish field notes and reflections in a walking journal online – you can read my posts here
- Research and document details of the area, flora and fauna, and history of specific sites (eg old homestead, regeneration plots)
- Refine the critical framework that informs the writing (in general, drawing on the wide range of scholarship in psychogeography and the growing field of walking as practice, guided by work by First Nations scholars and writers on writing country).
The next steps
After that, we’ll take it one step at a time.