Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Around D town

Got back from Melbourne last week.
Just trying to fit back into the Darwin scene... Work/family/etc...

Have seen a heap of unusual wildlife lately.

Frilled Lizard in the yard,

Green frogs in my bike

 Jabiru at the School

Red-backed Wrens on the way to work
dead pythons on the road

Fischer's Love Bird in the park 

Big Grouper (Cod? Flowery Cod?) in the sea

Managed to get some photos, not all.

Have a nice week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The ways we stay the same

One…. Chance at forgiveness

One…. Chance to forget

There’s that bitter taste of morning

Another chance to try again

Two rings sit on the dresser

They Don’t shine like they used to do

But the sand is warming on the beach now

I hear an ocean of longing, calling out our names

You stand alone at the kitchen window

Three tears fall like ripened grain

One last swim in the ocean

Dive deep, escape years of pain

Sun is shining through the water

Could youth be with us again?

My God I can feel the freedom

And I wish you’d feel the same

But you’re dragged down by the waiting

Waiting for me to look your way

And my eyes are on the horizon

And I’ve thrown it all away

Salty drops fall tired and regretful 
On a miserably sunny day
You know that I do love you

But I could never live that way

(The Loser)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Half Moon Bay

Back when I was a kid in Primary school I attended an excursion to the old mansion at Rippon Lea Estate where we got to wander the halls and explore the gardens created by a 19th century merchant quasi aristocrat.

Anyhoo on that typically overcast Melbourne day we also had a scheduled stop at a local beach...  The mysteriously named Half Moon Bay, Black Rock which suited my sense of adventure far more than looking at some crusty old building full of fancy people's stuff! It was a cold and blustery day as I recall, there was a bitter wind blowing from the South West white caps were smashing against the small promontory which sheltered the tiny bay, barely. 

Off shore something protruded roughly from the water, the sea crashing against it's side leaving still water in it's wake... It was a rusty old ship. As an eleven year old (I figure that's how old I was at the time) I became instantly intrigued. 

"What's that?" Several of us called out to the nearest teacher in the kind of disorganized frantic unison you'd expect from a gang prepared to commit an act of piracy and take the vessel by force if we must! 
The teacher had no idea really... "An old boat she said" kind of interested herself. I don't think there were any plaques visible at the time... I'm sure some existed back then but it was the 70s and defacing signs was like a national pastime. Thankfully the bus driver had taken many a school group to this spot and filled us in with the information we were after. 
"That." He said. "That is a 'breakwater.'" and then he proceeded to explain how a breakwater protects the beach from rough weather. Interesting but not exactly what we wanted to know.
"Yeh" someone said "But WHAT IS IT?"
The driver laughed and said "It's a ship!" Then proceeded to give us the history of the HMVS Cerberus, which I promptly forgot the finer details except the fact that it was a naval ship and it had had guns on it. 

We stopped there in the wind looking at the boat and exploring the reef to the left of the jetty for about 20 minutes after eating our sandwiches... (mine were soggy tuna fish and beetroot sandwiches again... The gladwrap held them together long enough for the contents to stew together into a soggy mess when it came time to eat!) As we left I looked back at the Cerberus and like General MacArthur swore that 'I will return!'.

Years went by and constrained from my natural urge to wander, both by the law and societal expectations of Parental Supervision, I was unable to return to Half Moon Bay, but it remained fixed in my memory. 

I think the next time I visited was in my teens, I had filled some kind of bottle with sweet sherry and port from my parents supply and absconded from school. Caught the train out to Sandringham and trekked the two and a half km to the beach I'd been longing to visit for so long. It was an electrifying sensation to travel so outside the school boundary. I was on a completely different train line... Passing through suburbs which looked so foreign and wealthy. I'd come from bogan heartland of Watsonia and here I was wandering the streets of Brighton and Sandringham... Tennis courts, private schools, red brick mansions and fancy cars like I'd never seen before. It was a mystifying two and a half km walk from Sandringham station to Half Moon bay, every step a defiance of the drudgery of school, schoolyard bullies, rules,  cops, idiots and the grey walls which always seemed to be closing in on me. 

The drink had been drunk, my imagination was firing, I was half cut on a sunny day, free from responsibilities. I was at the 'Away from it all' place I'd heard people talk about when they needed a holiday. I was there! Arrived... Free! 

On that occasion I just wandered the bluff, walked out on the pier, waded in the water with my shoes in my hands and my long pants rolled up to my knees. I couldn't stay long, the travel time was longer than I'd realized and I had to make sure I was on the right train to arrive back home in time for no one to notice I'd gone AWOL.

I soon found out that Black Rock is a renowned nudist beach! Oh Wow! That sure added to the mystique and my desire to be there. Walking the secluded beach around the bluff I would occasionally see people lying naked in the sun. Often they were bronzed older men wearing sandals (True! I saw them wearing their sandals!) Couples and yes sometimes the elusive hot looking young women in their 20s who were looking for that allover tan. 

After that initial liberating experience, Black Rock, Half Moon Bay was one of my key places of refuge and quiet rebellion. When I left school at the age of 16 and started working, before I had my license, I would catch the train out there from time to time on my own. Being there took me far away from my own natural habitat. I dreamed that one day I would break free from my mundane life and start a life of my own based on the freedom I felt on this beach. 

I didn't actually swim out to the Cerberus until I was a bit older, maybe seventeen when I eventually invited some work friends to join me there. By then my alcohol consumption had increased considerably. I'd been drinking heavily from the time I'd left school and I maintained a strong commitment to doing pretty much everything in a state of blissful and mindless intoxication. My philosophy was sound! Without alcohol I was an ineffectual talentless missfit, with it I was a mystic poet worrier and master of my own destiny... (I later discovered I was just a drunk). So with half a dozen cans of Dutch courage sloshing around in my guts I finally decided it was time to show off to my friends (including a particular girl I wanted to like me) that it was nothing for me to swim out to that old wreck we could see on the distant horizon... 

The first time I swam out to the Cerberus I nearly choked on my vomit! It's not that far out but I've never been a very strong swimmer and the exertion and increased load on my lungs really stirred up the beer in my guts... However on that day, I actually did it! I made it and was standing on the boat which had tempted me and taunted my timidity for so long. I had mastered this place! It was now mine. 

After conquering the challenge actually reaching the boat I visited there when I could during the summer months over the next four years. I joined the thrill seekers who would jump through a hole in the deck and swim in the lower decks beneath the water level a few times but life got busy with work and other priorities, Melbourne tends to have a shortage of good swimming days and once I got my license I found other places further afield to visit. 

Since moving to Darwin 20 years ago I've only managed to visit the Half Moon bay about three times, this week being one of them.

On Wednesday afternoon this week I jumped on a train, switched lines at Flinders Street and stepped off at Sandringham Station. It was 5 pm on a 35 degree day. The sky was deep blue, the sea was sparkling. I walked along the coast track to a beach access just before the bluff, stopped at a picnic table overlooking the Black Rock Yacht Club and found a bag of poetry chained to the table. I had arrived! I made my way down through the scrub and sand and waded my way around the rocks which still provide secluded sanctuary to naked sun bathers. The water was clear.

I found a reasonably secure place to leave my bag among a pile of gear belonging to a group of junior lifesavers who were practicing under the supervision of parents and devoted sea sprite instructors. Then I set out across the shallow sandbar to once again swim the gap between paddlers and the mildly choppy sea. It's not such a hard swim to the Cerberus but I'm not very fit so I broke the journey up with a bit of backstroke and dawdled along with a weak breaststroke. Soon I was standing on the slippery wooden deck of that old iron hull. There were teenagers goofing around on the 'out of bounds' half sunken vessel just as they have always done. Just like I had done. I was surprised to see so many girls though. Where were they when I was young? Fearless golden bodies taking foolish risks. 

I stood for a moment on the deck, feeling a little out of place and old... but also there was a stirring. The exercise of the past two weeks I've spent exploring and cycling around my old stomping grounds has awoken a youthful spirit! I watched the kids playing around but knew my age made me conspicuous. I looked again out to sea and then patted the rusted iron wall of the decrepit ship before diving back into the water and making my way at a conservative pace back to shore. 

"I Will Return!" 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

A creek a day 10: Yarra River

Today I finally caught up with an old mate and we went for a ride along The Yarra River.

Yarra River - From the bridge @ Diamond Creek trail Lower Eltham Park
Having traveled back and forth across the city I'd caught glimpses of the river from the train but until now I haven't actually spent any time around the Yarra in the whole two weeks I've been here.

We commenced our ride at Lower Eltham Park from Homestead Road and followed the river past the Rosanna Golf Course then doubled back the way we came and headed east along the river and followed it through to Mullum Mullum creek until we reached the old Hill Climbing track in Templestow.
Never even heard of the Templestowe Hill Climb... apparently it was huge 'In the day'
After attempting the hill climb at first on our bikes and then struggling to even walk up it! I had my bike in low gear but couldn't get enough weight over the front wheel to stop the bike from flipping! (A Hill Climb is a motor sport race where people attempt to achieve the fastest time driving a car up an impossible grade/hill)

We headed back again toward Lower Eltham Park. About half way along the track we pulled into Petty's Orchard for a coffee... or two and a yarn. 

Swing Bridge - Ruffy Trail
View from Ruffy Trail bridge
 As we crossed the final foot bridge... it was a very High bridge, we came across a couple of young blokes who looked like they'd been swimming. 

A very High bridge... What the?!
My mate and I both looked down at the water, way, way down below us! We looked at the guys on the bridge, they seemed like they'd just had the thrill of their lives, we looked at each other.... "No Way!"

 Yep they'd jumped! And they did it again. They reckon it was a three to four second fall.

This ride was about 26km

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A creek a day 9: Diamond Creek

Quick one...
Diamond Creek, at Wattle Glen.

Caught the train to Wattle Glen. Had a serious time constraint, I arrived at Wattle Glen at 10:00am, I wanted to visit my grandparents grave in Kangaroo Ground but had to be back in Watsonia by 11:30am for an important appointment. 

It was an uphill ride most of the way I had to climb 166 meters over 7km... I pumped it! The final few hundred meters was downhill... which of course became uphill on the way home.

Diamond creek @ Wattle Glen
Before cycling up the hill I quickly ducked down to the Wilson's Rd bridge, from which I snapped off this image... Is it out of focus? To bloomin bad! 

The sign above my rear wheel advises that poison is used to kill the rabits. (Not impressed!)

Remnant bracken undergrowth huddles unmolested around tomb stones

Kangaroo Ground cemetery is a very quiet and special place. A nice spot to sit and mull over the great questions of life and death while surrounded by the most beautiful views of the foothills surrounding the Yarra Valley. Unfortunately time didn't permit such luxuries on this occasion, but I did take a moment for a walk around before getting back on my bike.  

Gan Gang checking out a nesting site
Gang Gang coming to say hello
This ride came with a great reward! Gang Gangs! My favorite bird and a bird my grandmother had told me the most amazing story about. (no time here for the story) There were about half a dozen Gang Gang cockatoos searching nesting hollows in the large eucalypts near the cemetery. The best way I think I can describe these birds is Delightful! 

Wild forest folk sculpted in pine
So anyway... 'Whatever goes up, Must come down'. After a brief rest I needed to turn around climb the hill to Eltham War Memorial Park (and fire lookout tower) before taking the fast track back to Eltham proper. What a ride! I don't know how long it took me but I think the distance was nearly twice as far and I must have done it in half the time! I was flying! Cars couldn't pass me on the windy roads... not because I was in their way but because they had to brake for the bends! 

Got home easily by 11:00am! 

Thank you Very Much!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

A creek a day 8: Merri Creek

Did a loop ride around Darebin Creek to Cere's and then followed the Merri Creek north to the Western Ringroad.

Merry creek was flowing strongly but was not high, it had previously been in flood as could easily be deducted by the amount of plastic and crap clinging to the trees on the upper banks. (I neglected to photograph the flotsum, preferring an idealist view of the creek)

The downstream part of this creek is far from clean, it was obvious that drains carry a lot of hard rubbish into the creek, the water was quite muddy and smelly in places.

I followed the creek as far north as I could before it met the the Western Ring Road.

Merri Creek by the dam wall at Coburg lake (Opposite the notorious Pentrige Prison)

Little fella catching some rays

One of many pedestrian bridges

An old bluestone bridge

Another dam wall
Upstream things didn't look any better, too many houses and factories.
Then I discovered this....

Interesting graffiti - shame  about the filthy crap this drain is spewing

Foul smelling foamy slush pouring out of a local drain!
One of the many drains emptying into the creek was spewing some disgusting filthy sludge directly into the creek! Right beside it was the number for a water quality hotline! Must happen all the time! I  called the number, there was no response just an answering machine... I left a message.

There were a few other interesting scenes. I was most impressed with the amount of food produced in the high flood plain river soil and the edible 'weeds' lining the drier banks near the industrial zone. I reckon a lot of it was planted out years ago.
Local small holding farm

Black Berries (on these fairly long rides I always manage to find enough to get me through)

In this section there were: Blackberries, Prickly pair, Cherry Plums and Fennel

Delicious Plums!
After making my way back through an industrial zone at Thomastown I headed back to Watsonia along the Western Ring Road bike path. I'd taken this rout by foot from the airport on a previous visit, along the way I discovered a couple of plum trees hanging over a fence, laden with ripe fruit, after a couple of hours riding on a fairly hot day these fruit really hit the spot!

Monday, February 06, 2017

A creek a day 7: Plenty river again

OK, I know I've already done the Plenty River but I did intend to visit here again. There are some special places along this river I'd like to share some stories and photos of. Unfortunately I couldn't reach those parts of the river. Because of the heavy rainfall yesterday and through the night the Plenty River is swollen and flowing fast!

Plenty River with good flow of water

Pebbles Crossing, Plenty River with a decent flow of water
These photos are of a part of the river known by the ratbag local kids of my vintage as Pebbles Crossing. It is a point in the river where several tracks converge at a shallow bar in the river where the opposite bank has been cut away. 

The track we used to take through the cow paddocks is still there, it used to follow the fence line past the cattle yard and troughs and linked up with an old roughly cobbled path, we were never sure of the history of that track but the new sign they installed when the area was turned into a park calls it Cobb and Co. Track... Well that's pretty interesting! We always imagined it was used by horse drawn carts.

Cobb and Co. Track
For most of the year this is an easy place to cross the river and follow the bush track north toward what is now signposted as Janefield Ridge. It's a good steep climb up the other side but once over the creek the country changes dramatically. Thick clay and black soil gives way to a much thinner profile which barely covers a rugged quartz and shale hillside. Beyond that a volcanic igneous rock starts making an appearance.  

When I arrived at the creek I took one look and knew I would not be attempting to cross! When we were young, my mates and I used to have a lot of fun crossing when the river was high, or even in full flood! We'd try to get across with our bikes and too many times one of us would get dragged a long way downstream, bike and all. There were too many close calls! We nearly lost a few bikes at that crossing and once or twice came close to losing more than that. At my age, level of fitness and sundry adult responsibilities, with no pier pressure to inspire me into an act of utter stupidity, the decision was simple. Turn around and enjoy the civilized side of the river with it's paved bicycle paths and street signs and fresh water drinking fountains. 

As I headed back along the paved path I did get to see some pretty cool birds. 
Crested Pigeon

Red-Rumped Parrots

Rainbow Lorikeet

Boy did we have some fun back then... (Idiots!)

Following the scent

For 20 years I've lived in Darwin NT. I came there by accident, needed a change of scene from life in Melbourne and decided it was as good a place as any to make a space for living.
One thing led to another, l set down roots, took on social responsibilities, studied, fell in love, got married, had a couple of beautiful children, and before I knew it I had become a long term resident. I have a very strong feeling for the Top End, the environment and the people, particularly those I've met and worked with in Arnhem Land... But something keeps calling me 'Home'. 

What is Home? Well like they say it's '...where the Heart is.' My home is with my family, my wife and kids. But I still have a strong connection to the place of my birth and, where I grew up. My extended family, the Landscape, places I spent my youth, these memories keep calling me back. The places.  The narrow stretch of land, remnant bushland between housing developments which follows the course of the Plenty River, the smell of dry grass in summer, the potent oily resin of eucalyptus, magpies, the coast, Port Philip Bay. 

Whenever I come back to this place I like to find connection with the land, as I get older I am searching for those friends who managed to survive our youth and lost years in between. I see my family, siblings, nieces, nephews and my parents. I try to help them with the manual stuff around the house which they are finding too difficult to manage on their own.

The ticket says 'REAR STANDING' But with the Bos on stage it was UpFront Dancing!
I made this trip with one specific thing in mind. To see the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert! Due to lack of finances in 1985 I missed out on the concert, which I believe 'Went Off!'. I have been a devoted listener to Springsteen's music ever since that time so when I found out he was coming to Australia this year I made the snap decision (with approval from my wife) to get down to Melbourne and see him. This could very well be the last chance. He is 67 years old! 
(No offense to my religious friends but for me this was a 'spiritual experience')


So now that I'm here in between catching up with family and helping my parents around the house, I'm trying to squeeze in as many adventures as I can before I return to Darwin.

So far I have been blessed to spend half a day with my nephews on the day the eldest started his first day of school. I rode my bike along a section of the Maribyrnong River and visited Ceres without falling off my bike and breaking my neck (again)!
Overlooking the Maribyrnong River valley after a hard climb

Fixing bikes with George and some handy kids at Ceres
 I wove my way through the inner urban heartland of Melbourne, enjoying the strange fusion of old neighborhoods transformed by inflated property prices and wealthy investors, yuppies and those odd looking marvels of cultural appropriation... pseudo-craft flogging Hipsters!
St George's Rd bike path... (They were in the process of cutting down trees)

Blackberries (Not cultivated but left to grow)

A pear, too woody to eat but there were plenty of other fruits hanging from trees

Somewhere among mess of people and groovy new development I found a few remaining thresholds of first generation European immigrant Australians (mostly Italian and Greek I reckon) who still maintained their beautiful front yard  veggie gardens and bountiful fruit trees which in some places, hang over the fence into the street.
Had dinner with my little brother and spent some quiet time with mum and dad... (occasional rants at the TV news aside)  

Front yard food
Sat in my favorite spot on the Plenty river, where time stands still and the spirit of my youth and ghost of a lost friend reside.
I felt he was speaking to me.... "You Shall Not Pass!

My new secondhand travel rig. Love this bike!

A glimpse of my special place
Unfortunately attended the funeral of a member of our extended family who was taken far too soon, then went and visited my aunt at Indented Heads, cherishing the lives of those still with us. I sat a while at Port Pier contemplating time and purpose on this earth and how to best honor it.

Fish'n off the pier at Port

When my ship comes in

Visited a couple of lifelong friends in Ballarat, it was so great to re-connect after so many years. One of them, my cuz has cancer, it has caused her a lot of suffering over the past couple of years. I was so grateful for the brief reunion that I was oblivious to the fact that they'd just sat down to watch the first televised game of Women's football! Woops!

The following day I caught the train back to Geelong and cycled the Bellarine rail trail from Geelong to Queenscliff
Bike on a path (bracken and hay behind)

Bike beside rails

Cruised across the bay on a ferry

Big boat that opens up and cars drive in! (only $11 to cross with a bicycle)

Toured the bay side of the Mornington Peninsula from Sorento to Rosebud and yesterday spent a day with my oldest mate and his family in Rosebud before cycling on to Frankston station just in time to beat the flooding rain! 

Laughing Kookaburra in an enormous ancient coastal Banksia tree @ Rosebud foreshore
Bike in the foreground Swans to the rear

Regatta - Safety Beach, Mount Martha

Dudes jumping in the sea
So far it's been great except for one major detail, I have left my family at home in Darwin and I miss them.

Graphic wall art Bundoora Concord