Calm after the storm

30 October, 2021

Day 30 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

A perfect, almost-still morning in Nangak Tamboree, after the wildness of the past 48 hours.

Path walking towards the lake, edged by trees and long grass

It’s the second-last day of this little writing project, and I’m revisiting a couple of favourite spots – places I will continue to visit. Today’s it’s the ‘beach’ at the top of Sports Field Lake, but there’s only one chair left here. The other one has probably been blown across to Altona, like that flying trampoline. I can hear the sounds of an actual sports team training on the other side of the water. Haven’t heard that for a while.

Oh, no – I see the missing chair. I recognise that glimpse of slender grey bar sticking out of the water. I grab a stick and retrieve it from the lake. It’s not quite Excalibur, but I feel triumphant nevertheless, and lean it up against a tree trunk, where it drips water in a channel through the dirt.

Coots duck and surface, and startle away from me. Fair enough. Across the water, my old friend the Darter is drying his feathers on a fallen tree trunk and shouting at the sky every so often.

Another Darter, a female this time, with caramel feathers, surfaces quite close by and I see now why they are also called Snakebirds. She vanishes and must move fast underwater, because her long neck and dagger-like beak emerge many metres away. She launches herself into the air while her body and wings are still submerged, becoming half-bird, half-waterfall, then drags her feet across the surface before taking flight in an elegant arc across the lake.

View through acacia shrubs across the lake to the island.

There are so many fallen trees and branches down across the state, and this place is no exception. But so many other things have changed in the time I’ve been coming here to write. Lockdown is over now and today is the first day we are allowed to leave the city. So soon, we’ll hit the road to (at last!) get up to my little place in the country to check on it, do some fire season preparation, and spend the night. It feels extraordinary to go somewhere that is not the same as every other night for the past many months. Again. I remember this feeling from this time last year though, and I’m not going to fall for that optimism again. Anything could still happen with this pandemic.

We’ve gone, in the past month of me walking and writing here, from an enforced five kilometre limit to ten kilometres, to 25 kilometres, to the city boundaries, to the state borders. Our horizons keep changing, like a cinematic zoom.

But let’s not forget these little local spaces we’ve explored in such detail while we’ve stayed so close to home.

I’ll be back tomorrow to say goodbye. But I guess I won’t really leave Nangak Tamboree.

Sign showing the way to the university and the creek

Heating up

22 October, 2021

Day 22 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Still and warm this morning – feels like summer is finally on its way. It’s the kind of day that has you checking under the log before sitting down, and has people in fire-prone areas cleaning out gutters and revving up the brush cutter. A cap and sunblock morning. A first day out of lockdown morning. There aren’t many people around. I imagine they’re all getting their hair cut and having breakfast in cafes for the first time in months.

Lake surrounded by trees.

I pass the Council rangers on the walk here, getting ready to burn weeds in Banyule North Grasslands.

‘Good day for it,’ they say. I ask them how they go about the work, and they tell me they don’t do spot burns of individual perennial weeds, but rather patches in between ‘the good stuff.’ (I wish they’d come sort out those pesky ash trees that keep reappearing in my garden.)

On the way back, I watch them for a while, as they move slowly in a widening circle out from where they’ve previously planted ‘good stuff’ like kangaroo grass and everlasting daisies. You’d hardly know they were burning, as it generates very little smoke, and even though it’s warm the grasslands are pretty soggy underfoot and the grasses have not yet died off. It’s not a cultural burn, I don’t think, as those are usually in autumn, but the Council recognising ancient practices for managing vegetation in this country.

In between, I’m sitting on the good old fallen log beside Sports Field Lake, counting birds and trying to school myself on different types of ducks and pigeons. I’m not bad on ducks now, but pigeons, I’m sorry, all look alike, unless their hair sticks up in which case I can spot the difference.

In the dead tree beside me I can see at least four nesting hollows – one pair of galahs, two for Rainbow Lorikeets, and one for Mynas. There are more promising-looking hollows, but nobody has poked a head out of those yet. And that’s just one tree. Trees are bloody good, aren’t they? Should be more of ’em. It’s basically an entire apartment complex of the avian world, with panoramic views and pool.

The lake water’s muddy, but apparently quite clean. It seems even more opaque than usual after all the rain, which is excellent for reflections. I mean, what more can you ask of a lake, really?

Lake with dead tree and reflection

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


14 October, 2021

Day 14 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

I’m walking with a stick today. It’s one of those fancy hiking sticks, and I bought it years ago for walking along Hadrian’s Wall (but that’s another story). A colleague shared with me a photo of a tiger snake he saw near the Sports Field Lake last summer, and a very impressive creature it was too, so I am prepared. Most snakes I’ve ever met while walking are only too happy to slink away and I’m only too happy to watch them go. Like most Australian kids I was raised to stand perfectly still at any snake sightings, and I have managed to do that. I even do it in New Zealand whenever there’s a scurrying in the undergrowth and there are no snakes there at all.

But one time, high in the lakes of central Tasmania, fly-fishing without the protection of waders, I was chased by a tiger snake – no kidding, you think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? – its head up, rearing and racing towards me. No standing still that time. I have never run so fast in my life and it came after me, like a scene from an old cartoon, with my legs spinning around like the Road Runner.

So forgive me, reptile enthusiasts, but I’m emotionally scarred. I feel safer carrying my stick, although it’s more for poking around before stepping than any possible violence. Many snakebites result from people trying to hurt snakes or pick them up and I have no desire to do either.

Anyway, today I am bravely striding with my stick through the Gresswell Habitat Link, a bush corridor between Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gresswell Forest to the north that is designed to allow wildlife to move from from end of Nangak Tamboree to the other, and beyond into the forest reserve. This area begins beside the alleged lakes (aka ponds) I visited the other day and runs alongside a golf course and edged by a relatively recent housing estate built on the former Mont Park hospital site.

Walkway through bush

This is grassy woodland, verging on scrubland on the higher ground, and dotted with some truly magnificent old trees – River Red Gums and Manna Gums, mostly. Narrow creeks and channels run through here, under built-up walkways, and alongside wide gravel tracks. There’s even a park bench to sit on and write which is pretty posh, and lots of new planting. I note, with my late spring snake awareness, that there’s no mowing of the grasslands here, but it all looks well-cared for. In the wetland area near the front gate, the frogs are having a lovely time.

There are plenty of people strolling or jogging around here, but the birds seem pretty used to them. I spot galahs, Eastern Rosellas, butcher birds, and hear a kookaburra laughing in a distant tree. But the entire place seems to be populated by Noisy Miners, the annoying neighbour nobody wants to move into the nest next door. I also spot wombat and wallaby or roo poo but there’s no sign of either this evening.

There are a couple of little kids in bike helmets digging a hole with a garden spade. I hope they aren’t burying a body. I suppose since it’s a nature reserve, some responsible adult should stop them, but since I am not a responsible adult, and since I did much the same thing in my neighbouring park as a kid (it was archaeology, I swear!) I walk on by.

I love these pockets of bush tucked away inside suburbs. I used to walk through one to and from primary school and now I think about it that must have been tonic for our little souls, hiking through tall trees every morning and afternoon. On rainy days like today we got to splash through puddles all the way home. Everyone called it “the bush” and when they taught us about the “Bush Poets” we expected to come across Banjo Paterson on our way home from school. Because that was the bush. Right there, past the footy oval. I suppose now people from elsewhere go to walk through it and marvel at the pink heath and the stands of red box. I should do the same one day.

But for now, I’ll keep walking through those kids’ adventure playground.

Update: A few weeks after I wrote this, I spoke to Glenn, one of the Wurundjeri Narrap Rangers, who by the way told me how hilarious it is when people tell tall stories about being chased by snakes. Snakes, he said, if disturbed, are only ever trying to find shelter. They are very territorial and have established bolt-holes in which to hide. So if you ever think a snake is attacking you, it is just trying to get past you to safety. I will try to remember this. (It doesn’t make it any less scary for me, but Glenn is a former snake handler so he has years of experience and great knowledge, and clearly much more empathy.)

Of pathways and picnics

9 October, 2021

Day 9 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Today, I’m walking. And walking. Didn’t have much of a plan, but it’s evolved into following every path I find, around the top of the Sports Field Lake. It’s a Saturday, so there are lots more people around, and since we still aren’t allowed to have friends over or go to cafes, everyone is meeting up outside. Picnics are permitted, under certain circumstances. So every park I visit, every open space, is dotted with people having picnics. Even people who hate picnics are having picnics.

Not so much here, because I’m not sure these places register with people as a destination, but there are many small groups scattered around campus, and I come across them in odd spots along the creek. Here, it’s more about movement – there are people strolling along with kids in pushers, cycling, or walking dogs, or bird-spotting. There’s even a bloody trail bike roaring along (no helmet).

By the edge of the lake, where there’s a kind of beach (dirt, not sand), someone’s left two outdoor chairs, and there’s a woman sitting there, reading an important-looking document, talking on the phone, and sipping on a takeaway coffee. She looks like she’s parachuted in from a Brunswick Street café. I can’t imagine where she came from – or the coffee.

Two chairs overlooking a lake

I walk discreetly around her and vow to come back to write in this spot later. But for now I keep going, following a track that meanders through casuarinas and Prickly Moses, following the curve of the lake.

Track through casuarina trees

People, and presumably creatures, have made tracks all through here. I follow them all, around where the lake narrows at a little wooden footbridge, disappears under the road, and then pops out the other side to join the campus lake system. But I don’t follow it north (is it north? it feels north). There’s another track winding up what looks like a headland. Pukekos squawk hilariously but they don’t seem too perturbed by my presence.

path beside lake

Someone asked me the other day why I call them pukekos. Australians know them as Purple Swamp Hens. But in normal times I spend a great deal of time in NZ, where they are called pukeko, and they are iconic. You can buy pukeko fridge magnets and t-shirts at the airport. We have a sequinned pukeko Christmas tree decoration. New Zealanders think of them as uniquely theirs and my Kiwi friends and family visiting here in the past have been shocked that they dare to exist across the Tasman. As if I’ve stolen them. Like the pavlova. They are dear, funny birds, and there are many around these waterways, and if I was one I’d rather be known as a pukeko than a Swamp Hen.


So today the pukeko and I go about our business, not bothering each other. I scout around the headland. Three little kids rush past in their Speedos, parents trundling behind with pool noodles and beach towels, and even though it’s pretty obvious I ask the kids if they’re going for a swim.

‘Yes!’ they shout. ‘They made us stop and have a picnic and now we’re going back in.’

‘Is the water cold?’


Not sure I’d swim here – at least, maybe not in October.

I wonder if these are the kids who made this excellent cubby house on the high ground.

Cubby house made of sticks leaning against gum tree

If you grow up near places like this, making cubby houses in the bush is a full-time occupation. I’ve made plenty in my time.

I keep on, following the track. It’s a hot day, and I’ve come out without a hat or sunblock, like the genius I am, but here there’s dappled shade and a breeze off the water. Wish I had a picnic lunch. Down near the shore, I peer through the undergrowth to spy on a darter drying its wings on its own personal island. At least, I think it’s a darter. It’s about the size of a B-52. It doesn’t dart, or swim about pretending to be a snake, as they do, but it’s having a grand old time.

Darter on rock

The track leads around to the sports grounds, which I decide to explore some other time. I circle back to the footbridge, prop myself on the now deserted chairs for a scribble, and then keep randomly following any narrow trail that presents itself, until I’m back on the bike path.

I like how people make use of places: the grass flattened by dozens of picnic blankets and socially distanced bottoms; the cubby house of sticks; the chairs picked up from the side of some road and brought here; the fallen log that every kid clambers along; the little spot someone’s made by the lake where you step through the reeds and balance on an old timber pallet and watch the water; and the paths trodden by thousands of feet, enticing me to keep walking.

A track through long grass


8 October, 2021

Day 8 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Today I’m in a spot I really didn’t know existed before we were locked down and unable to travel more than five kilometres from home for exercise.

Gresswell lakes

I haven’t set foot here before. These are a couple of large ponds, or maybe small lakes, forming part of the Gresswell wildlife corridor at the northern end of the Nangak Tamboree waterways. They are carefully landscaped and nestled into what is now suburbia.

But it wasn’t always.

The original inhabitants were the Kurnaj-berring people of the Wurundjeri clan, and before the British invasion there were Brolgas (yes, Brolgas!) and platypus, freshwater mussels, eels and plenty of other creatures. But once the colony expanded, the land was cleared for farming, with only a few pockets of remnant bush left intact.

This specific area was once the Mont Park complex, which opened in 1912, at which time it was called the Mont Park Hospital for the Insane. It was an isolated spot then, surrounded by farmland. My great-grandfather worked there. His Army enlistment file records his occupation as ‘Warder, Lunatic Asylum.’ I hate to think what life was like in the hospital then but it was about to get a great deal worse. War broke out in 1914 and from then on the hospital had to deal with huge numbers of returned soldiers suffering from what became known as shell-shock, and other war-related traumas. My great-grandfather, after years as a stretcher-bearer in Palestine and on the Western Front, returned to work here.

After the war, in the hope of helping the patients feel that the world was not a complete horror, they built cricket grounds and tennis courts, in what is now the Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary. The land stretching to the south, where the university campus now sits, was the Mont Park farm, growing food and grazing dairy cattle to help provision the hospital. It doesn’t sound like a great spot for a picnic:

…desolate, run-down farm in a swampy valley, devoid almost of trees or of views less depressing than the encircling panorama of mental hospitals, a cemetery, school yards, gasworks, and industrial backsides.’ 

Roy Simpson, Master Planner, quoted in Breen, W., Salmond, JA (1989). Building La Trobe University : Reflections on the first 25 years 1964-1989. La Trobe University Press. (p. 39)
Raven staring at the camera
Raven going full Gothic

There are still buildings from Mont Park and its sister institution Larundel dotted about all over here – many were derelict for years and some have now been turned into apartments or townhouses, and a few house university departments or accommodation. They are very stylish – Arts and Crafts or later 1930s brick and stucco. I wonder what stories those walls hold. I remember visiting a friend in a ward in Larundel when I was about twenty and it was pretty stark. But eventually people grew to understand mental health and illness better (and the language around it evolved too), and these hospital-based institutions were closed in favour of (in theory, if not properly supported with funding) community-based health services and supported housing.*

And this huge swathe of land was set for re-use. The Bundoora Mental Hospital became the magnificent Bundoora Homestead art centre & gallery, surrounded by spectacular parklands. The university opened in 1967, and the moat and southern waterways dug over the next decade or so. The housing estates around here are much more recent. Beyond the ponds (look, I can’t call them lakes, seriously) stretches a golf course and the Gresswell wildlife corridor and nature reserve, which I have yet to explore properly.

This doesn’t feel so much like an edgeland anymore, unlike the other end of Nangak Tamboree. There’s a pavilion for people to sit and watch the waterbirds (today, only a pair of ducks, and single pukeko, grebe, and coot eyeing each other off) and the vegetation carefully tended by the Sanctuary staff and local volunteers (I think). I walk around the pond/lake/dam/billabong and up onto the golf course, where people are playing again after months of no sport. To be honest, I preferred it when golf was not allowed in deep lockdown, and everyone could wander all over Melbourne’s fifty gazillion courses and explore them without being shooed away or hit by a ball. I bet the local wildlife liked it too.

This is a suburban open space, edged by houses and roads, with buses trundling by and kids on bikes passing, and clearly enjoyed by people out strolling, masked up, getting their allotted hours of exercise.
yellow daisy
Everlasting daisy

We have never needed these places more than in these last two years, have we? We’ve never so intimately explored our neighbourhoods, noticed the seasonal changes in gardens and parks and our own backyards, chatted over front fences (at a safe distance), counted the birds, pounded the pavements and followed the bike trails.

I wonder if we’ll keep doing it, when the pandemic is over. Or will our horizons shift outwards again?

* Note: There are still hospitals and clinics, of course – just not here, and not enough.The pandemic has laid bare the great need for responsive and accesible mental health services of all kinds.


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.


6 October, 2021

Day 6 of Writing Nangak Tamboree

I’m sitting on a fallen log by the lake. It’s a bright, clear, breezy morning after days of grey sky and rain. After something like 245 days of lockdown over two years (and I managed to get locked down in Auckland as well over summer), we could do with a bit of blue sky. Light ahead, all that.

One small but seemingly significant aspect of lockdown is extreme hair length. None of us have been to the hairdresser or barber for months. So last night I hacked off all my hair. Had to happen. And this morning, out here, my ears and forehead are cold and it’s all my own fault.

This is a favourite sitting spot. I often see people here, resting mid-ride with bikes scattered everywhere, or feeding kids in pushers. There’s a young man who often practices tai chi by the water of an evening.

Dead trees in lake

It seems to be mowing time, after the rain. I walked along freshly slashed tracks to get here. Across the lake, on the sports fields, someone’s pushing a mower, leaving stylish lime green stripes in their wake. How strange, all these not-quite abandoned places, standing empty for so long during lockdown but kept on life support until the return of the (vaccinated) hordes in slightly-too-tight sports gear.

A jogger slogs past, puffing, feet slapping on the bitumen. I feel like cheering them on.

The water glitters in the early morning light, reflections rippling up under dead tree trunks. Three ducks zoom past, arguing about something. My handy pocket guide tells me they’re Pacific black ducks, although frankly up until now all ducks look the same to me. It’s the same handy pocket guide to birds as I had when I was a teenager, though. Do birds go out of date? (Don’t worry: I also have an app.) Some, at least, are extinct – more all the time – and some have taken over the world. When I first had my handy pocket guide (Gould League series, published 1969, though I bought this 1990 edition for an entire dollar at an Op Shop), ibises were dead exotic and Mynahs hadn’t yet pushed every other bird into the margins.

I spend quite some time trying to photograph a pair of Little Lorikeets before realising that the Rainbow Lorikeets on the other branch are taking it in turns to swoop at me. They’re nesting in a hollow. Everyone’s got the swoops lately. I move back so they don’t have to worry.

Rainbow lorikeet

A decent nesting hollow is as valuable as beachside real estate. They take years to develop. Here, and all through the parks around the area, trees are dotted with nesting boxes to compensate for all the nesting hollows lost in land clearing years ago. There are different designs for different birds and creatures (I have one at home for microbats).

nesting box high on a eucalypt

This one’s been colonised by bees. Not great for the intended occupant, but it does make an excellent mini-hive.

I’m sure they’re very cosy if you’re a possum or flying fox or rosella. It seems a sad business to be making plywood boxes when you could have just left the trees in the first place. But that’s where we are now – regenerating vegetation that’s been lost, cleaning up waterways, reintroducing species and keeping them safe.

See? Light ahead.


4 October 2021

Day 4 of Writing Nangak Tamboree

I walked quite a long way today: from home, meandering along the Darebin Creek to the Sports Field Lake, then almost completely around a huge section of grassland that’s fenced off for plant regeneration. work. I thought I could circumnavigate it, but there’s been so much rain I couldn’t get through the watery sections closest to the sports grounds. These are, after all, wetlands. And it is very wet.

But one advantage of that – more frogs! (This time featuring the distant roar and rattle of the Plenty Road tram for a touch of authentic Melbourne.)

This is the area I barely knew was here before a few weeks ago – I certainly didn’t register how enormous it is. It runs from the Darebin Creek bike path turn-off and pedestrian bridge through to Plenty Road. The majority of it is grassy Eucalypt woodland, spreading over undulating hills from lake to creek.

Stump in foreground, grassy woodland

It’s not untouched, by any means. It seems to me there’s an old house site at the top of the hill – perhaps a farmhouse – as there are old pine and fruit trees circling. Further down near the creek, you can see fragments of rusted metal sticking out of the mud – perhaps where cars were dumped decades ago. I skirted around what must be a huge pile of landfill, perhaps dug out for the lake or sports grounds years ago.

Galah in tree

There was nobody at all around, besides the usual feathered suspects (rainbow lorikeets, magpies), a galah nesting in a high hollow, dusky woodswallows, and some kind of thornbill in the paperbarks by the creek. I had to remind myself to stop and write instead of wandering about staring at things and wondering.

But I am wondering, so now I’m off to absorb a bit more history of these places.


3 October, 2021

Day three of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

It’s swooping season here.

In other words, it’s magpie nesting time, when eggs and young must be defended at all costs from interlopers.

Swooping season was never a thing when I was a kid, even though magpies were everywhere near our house. I first remember hearing about it from people who grew up in Canberra, where children apparently lived in terror of springtime and everyone had a theory about how to prevent your eyes being plucked from your head by a marauding maggie.

I have been swooped a few times since, and it is freaky. But you know what is deeply unnerving? Being watched solemnly by dozens of magpies as you walk along. They’re on the ground. You’re way bigger than they are. They don’t care. They don’t shuffle aside. They follow you along the creek path to make sure you keep walking. Move along, pathetic human. This is our place.

So you do.

Don’t look back.

Darebin Creek track, on my way to Nangak Tamboree

But generally speaking, when they’re not psyching me out or swooping at my head, I love magpies. Most countries have birds called magpies, but they aren’t as gnarly as ours. And they don’t sound the same.

The carolling of magpies is one of the most familiar sounds of my childhood, along with a cricket broadcast on a distant radio and suburban lawn mowers. When I first moved back to Melbourne after a few years in NZ, I woke up and heard the magpies and wept. (In NZ you wake up to the distinctive warble of the tui, which is beautiful but not the same thing.)

If you’ve never heard it, here’s an adolescent magpie carolling by the creek. It has a few friends in the background.