Walking the Western Shore of the Derwent River: Taroona to Taronga
(This is a continuation from an earlier post)
‘There’s a new bit of track on the Derwent River,’ a friend told me earlier this week. ‘It hasn’t been open long at all and the council hasn’t advertised it yet.’
I realized that the trail she was talking about was the much needed link between Hinsby Beach and Taronga Road and so as soon as I had a moment, I went to see for myself. And it was true. The track now leaves Hinsby Beach, involves a short walk along Wandella Avenue, then ducks down into a stretch of forest before emerging at the Shot Tower, where the vegetation is compromised by weeds but the path enlivened by river views across to South Arm. This is a stretch I’d chosen to cycle because walking on major thoroughfares at a distance from the river is an unrewarding experience.
A steep stretch of downhill comes next, and then an equally steep stretch of uphill. It’s actually not too much of a slog at all and I sat at the table at the top with the geo, enjoying the views before walking along the cliffs, then turning back and doing it all again from the other direction.
There’s a clue to why this short piece of track may have taken so long to come into being and my guess is that landowners needed encouragement. ‘Private Property – Keep out’ signs – even one ‘Bloody Keep Out’ sign, line the fences on either side, a small sadness really, when contrasted with the UK and some other European countries where rights of way across private land are well established, well accepted and enrich communities… and I speak as someone with a right of way across our land – it’s never been an issue.
Until you reach the bottom of Taronga Road where this track links in with the Alum Cliffs walk, it feels rather disconnected from the water. But it does provide continuity with other paths and coastal strips and so it is fantastic that someone with initiative on the council has managed to work with the community to create this short but pleasant path.
The path crosses two rivulets, but these participators in the making of this landscape had vacated their beds. The shapes of tiny waterfalls were visible on one, and the rivulet it flows into was napping in a few residual pools.
The places I’ve identified have given me the slip so I’m mentally doing circles around High School Point and the beach some call Beck’s, some call Melinga and some call nothing at all to have a little think about the local expression of the human mind.
This is because in misleading myself when it comes to naming, I’m sure I’ve misled you. Perhaps the cartographers, surveyors and the Nomenclature Board have not chatted enough over tea breaks or scheduled sufficient meetings, given that for many years they’ve been part of the same division in the same government agency. This occurred to me because more research this past week indicated one of two things: 1. I’ve misinterpreted local writers’ beach identification or 2. The locals simply cannot agree, are occasionally geographically challenged and at other times are simply not precise enough to help confused readers out. A case in point, Karringal Court is not south of High School Point as one of the authors I read would have it. Whatever, the maps themselves have so very little to say!
Nomenclature, generally, is further complicated because where no formal name exists the Aboriginal community have naming rights. But they are made up of several communities and they don’t all know a place by a single name. Take the Derwent River itself. It has more than one Palawa name. According to a member of the Channel community, their name for the river is unlikely to be formally recognised. I was given this name on a small piece of paper I can no longer find, which is a shame. The name is beautiful.
The second point of difficulty is in negotiating on names with government. I had a chat to someone from the Aboriginal Community when I was at Risdon Cove. They said the government drags its feet. I spoke to someone in government. They said it’s hard to get representatives of the Aboriginal community to the table.
I revisited the foreshore and was pleased to encounter a local who told me he’d been walking these beaches since 1948. An expert, surely!
’Becks, Dixons and Retreat,’ I asked. ‘Can you confirm I’ve got them in the right order?’ He looked at me blankly.
‘I’ve never heard of them,’ he said. ‘The one you’re calling Beck’s I know as Melinga Place Beach. Why would it be called Beck’s anyway?’
I went home. I reopened my books and I clicked through web pages. I rediscovered an article by Reg Escott on the Taroona Book Digitised website, who in his article on Taroona’s boat sheds explains that Taroona has five beaches. Starting at Grange Point, they are:
Retreat Beach [my impression was that he means the whole long strip starting from Grange Beach (not named) and ending at Retreat Cove, the northern beach on ‘High School Point’]
Retreat Cove [the one I thought was Dixons, on the northern section of ‘High School Point’]
Dixons Beach [in front of the high school, south of ‘High School Point’]
Beck’s Beach [Melinga Place beach]
Taroona Crescent Beach [Taroona Beach]
Have a look for yourself. It’s an interesting read if you’d like to know more about boat sheds (of which there were many more in the past) – or are keen to stumble across a clue or two as to the interesting placement and formations of boulders / rocks around these beaches. They have been moved, post invasion/settlement.
I came to two conclusions.
Beach identity is (always) in a state of flux along this shoreline. For eg, Beck’s is named for a land owner (and perhaps before that was called Mitchells after an earlier owner bearing that name) but now it’s transitioning to being named for a street. Dixon had a farm somewhere in Taroona.
We keep messing with the landscape. Had the road not been built down to the shoreline, Beck’s and Dixons (if I’m identifying these correctly) would be one beach.
But, guess what? I probably still don’t have the order right. This morning I revisited the Taroona 1:25 000 map (no 5224) and this is the nomenclature that’s listed, north to south:
The Grange Picnic Area (at Cartwright Point! Go figure.)
Dixons Reef (in the region of Karringal Court)
Dixons Beach (which I’d figured was Retreat Cove – see above)
High School – the site indicated but the point not named
That’s pretty meagre and laxadaisical, if you ask me, given this map is supposed to be authoritative. What’s more, The Listmap, supposedly the most current source, given that it’s online, has even less information! And so I’m giving up. Here, in this city of 250,000 people more or less, we know and care so little about the coastline we haven’t named it up. The alternative view is that the coastline rejects our spurious naming methodology, if it can even be called that. Why name something so grand and long enduring after unexceptional land owners? Why name it’s spots but not it’s freckles?
I like the view of the coastline slipping free of its transient names, even though names would be so helpful when you want to text your lift your whereabouts. May it stay wild and secret in the city forever. And perhaps Andrew Short who numbers the beaches, and my friend, who is fine with degrees of latitude and longitude but not with names have a point because if we’re not in a relationship with the coast, and we don’t value it, then it’s nothing but a nameless stranger to us after all.
Apart from the links above, see the Place Names Tasmania database. Here’s the official document on the rules with regard to assigning Tasmanian place names.
“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”
― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
My favourite beach is usually the one I’m standing on, lying on, sitting on, swimming off, kayaking by or sailing past no matter where in the world I may be but truly, there is no best beach in the world. Beneath the most polluted and abused appearance, beneath that mangrove mud, despite those heel busting pebbles, all beaches are good, are beautiful as Tasmanians will testify about the beach that once held a lake but now lies drowned at the bottom of a dam.
I love their shapeshifting nature. I love the element of surprise a beach throws up, if not in an altered shape then by the unexpected flotsam and shells suddenly exposed. I love the intoxication of salty air suspended above crashing surf or still water in sheltered coves. There is nothing about a beach not to love except when the waves are at your ankles and the cliff at your back.
When the centre isn’t holding, when disintegration within, without, and all about fast forwards, a beach is a good place to go to elongate time, to contemplate the underpinnings of things, to return to what is real and simple and beautiful.
For a small island Tasmania has an abundance of beaches. I’d done my first walk for this blog before I discovered that Andrew Short had long ago realised this. He became acquainted with them in 1990 and 1996, walking them, measuring them, counting them. But they’ve changed. The sea is having its way with the dunes and there have been changes wrought by marram grass, recreation, marine farming – all sorts of human insistences and arrogances founded in ignorance.
Tasmania also has a plenitude of islands. There are the larger islands most Tasmanians know – Flinders, Cape Barren, King, Maria and Bruny – and then there the scatterings of island groups, most with a beach or two at the very least, but some rock alone with seal haul outs and seabird rookeries.
Long ago, long before I discovered Andrew Short’s work and his astounding figure of 1,269 beaches on mainland Tasmania (with a further 348 on a few selected others) I’d thought of creating a beach blog. I started taking pictures of the ones we were walking – Verona Sands, Half Moon Beach, Nutgrove, Cosy Corner – but this project quietly died before I’d even selected my blogging software – or stopped in disbelief before that daunting number – 1,269. That was a hapless, short lived effort and I hope this time I do a little better.
This week I attended a conference at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart. It’s built on Chaffey’s Point (aka Wrest Point) with beaches to the left of it and beaches to the right, the suburbs behind where once there were forests and behind the largely built up foothills the mountain, a reminder still of what the land closer to the river once was like. We talked about living and dying while engaging in creative pursuits while outside the Derwent flowed, the seagulls sat on rocks and watched it and our small yacht lay tethered to the marina rocking on that timeless water.
I like the notion of trying to live each day as though it’s your last but it can be hard to achieve. When it happens it can infuse a little intensity into life, a little like a threatening diagnosis can make life feel richer, poignant, and totally desirable at that point of potential loss, or conversely, how being fully immersed in a creative project illuminates a day and brings together apparently disparate events and objects. Beaches, rivers and the sea. I thought that if I knew the year was going to be my last then along with people and animals I would surely include books, boats, beaches and waterways.