The owl is calling in the garden. The river is quiet, the mountain is alive with night life of a different kind… the wallabies, bandicoots, sugar gliders, frogmouths and the moths. This is home but sometimes it’s nice to go away and expose yourself to the joys and sorrows of a greater world.
The Trans Siberian Express, and Then Some
I had thought that by focussing my attention on the local coastline I’d subdue the travel bug but that’s a hard call when someone you love wants you to visit them in London.
Of course you say yes.
But to tread more lightly on the earth we decided to take the train from Hong Kong to London – a cruise overland, country and cultures slowly revealing themselves. Sailors who have spent days at sea get this but most people I told were bemused. ‘That’s a long time on a train,’ they said.
In fact, the days flew.
I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat even though you see the damage as well as the beauty.
Whenever he emerged from the vodka soaked conviviality he was enjoying with the Russians in the next compartment, the American would say, ‘Why has China got no bugs?’ And I would reply, ‘Why are we not seeing any birds?’
It seemed a silent summer.
Between Hong Kong and Beijing we saw a horse, a cow and a few tiny flocks of sheep but no birds. We saw new cities of derelict buildings and a countryside devoid of life. As we walked seven stages of the Great Wall one hot and humid afternoon we encountered two red bottomed bumble bees (name unknown) and although about half the bumble bee species known to the world occur in China, I see heaps more in my garden on any sunny summer’s day.
Siberia does have insects. We met our first big winged thing at the border. Siberia also has a multitude of mosquitoes, but across it’s whole extent we barely saw a bird, let alone a flock, despite passing wetlands, Lake Baikel and rivers.
‘There’s plenty of wildlife in Russia,’ said one of the Russians. ‘I’m going hunting as soon as I’ve unpacked my bags.’ And after giving the matter some more thought, he said the train probably scared the birds away.
Slicing through country in a train is no way to monitor wildlife but in trying to find out why the emptiness I found my concerns are shared by Pakistan – they’ve noticed a drop in migratory birds from Siberia.
Personally, I’m sad the birds were foraging elsewhere because Siberian birdlife is magnificent and migrating flocks, though smaller, are also apparently returning home earlier than usual each year.
We saw two storks in Poland, the odd bird in Germany and a small flock of waterfowl in Holland. In the UK the skies were busier but we were on foot and bicycles there and that might have been the difference.
Walking through history and past longboats along the lovely Regents Canal in London, birds were nesting amongst the plastic drifting on its surface (see below – that mound in the water is a nest).
We rode along the Thames to Greenwich, looking at the little beaches where in the nineteenth century mudlarks (the human variety) searched for pickings. A small yacht negotiating the lock from the Thames into the Limehouse Marina was surrounded by plastic litter, a bit like that nest.
No Tasmanian Coastline, This
We cycled from St Michael’s Mount to Mousehole in Cornwall and walked from St Ives to Zennor.
It was summer; it was magical. The weather was warm, the leaves full of sap, the wild flowers in blossom and the breeze was fragrant.
It was tough returning to winter.
Storms had pummelled the island while we were away. The Hobart Rivulet, imprisoned beneath the city streets had flooded and damaged buildings. It had been an expensive and inconvenient pest, apparently, but I felt empathy for its bid for freedom.
It just wanted to do what rivers do best: shape and nourish landscapes.
And me: I’m just dancing in the rain because hey, it’s still a vibrant, abundant world with far more joys than sorrows, and there’s an owl calling in the garden.
‘There is much heaving related to water conditions and light structures are moved with the changes’ ~ David Leaman (1999)
I was on such a high after completing that walk that I couldn’t return to those beaches fast enough. The very next day I was back, sleuthing around behind the beaches, particularly the Grange end of Dixons Beach as well as Crayfish Point.
There, in the shade of the canopy behind the boat sheds at Grange Avenue, was the bed the rivulet had made for itself and heading south was a clifftop track.
I bumped into two locals who’ve live behind the beach (Grange, or Grange end of Dixons, take your pick) for decades. I knew the one – she’d taught my daughter. The man and I soon discovered a common connection, this being Hobart. They were happy to share their knowledge about what to expect from the nearby tracks, set me right about the location of Cartwright’s Point but could not identify Beck’s and Retreat Beaches. ‘My dear, I have not been down to the beach for years,’ she said.
The dogs and I pondered the rivulet and the bed it has made for itself then wandered along the cliff top track – and, just for the record, we’ve been back many times since then, accessing it most often from Uitekah Crescent on the southern side of the rivulet. The cliffs are unstable (which is why, for some years, it was closed to the public) and to avoid broken limbs and worse, there’s a wire fence along the edge. There’s also the option, further along the walk, of taking the steep steps down to the shore (where Dixon’s Reef lies wide and exposed on a spring tide) or continuing through a lane, along roads and through bushland down to the beaches at Taroona High School. On this section from Grange there are beautiful views of the estuary through the fringe of casurinas on the cliff edge. On the other side of the path are gardens and the sounds of the suburb.
Sue Mount’s article on bushwalking tracks in Taroona explains that there’s been a path running along the foreshore a long time before the Apex Club upgraded it in 1972 and I like the idea that this was Mouheenener made. I haven’t found anything to suggest that it was but there’s a human tendency to take the path of least resistance and so there would have been a big attraction to following in earlier footsteps. This might seem a long way from Taroona, but in his book Lost trails of the Transvaal (1965), T.V Bulpin says the ox wagon trails of the Voortrekkers often followed already existing tribal pathways through Southern Africa.
Sue Mount also writes in such a way that makes it sound as though the track continues along the Alum Cliffs to the south. I was intrigued – did a path linked with the Taroona beaches run all the way to Kingston or did she mean that you walk along the rocks to Taronga Road and clamber uphill to join the Alum Cliffs track there? This blog heads there next. I made a note to self: find out!
I so wanted to show the geo my new discoveries but when, late one evening, I finally got him to walk the garden path with me down to the beach at Grange, malicious little waves were hammering at the steps and the cliffs.
‘It’s gone!’ I gasped, my disappointment profound. You would not have known a beach had been there. For a moment he looked unimpressed but then he turned to watch the wave action on the cliff with growing interest. ‘It’s being undercut,’ he said and we turned and walked back to the car talking beach erosion. And so, perhaps, I took him there in what were for him, ideal conditions after all, but I felt that I had lost my friend, the beach. (Later, on more long walks, I was to realise that just like Lord’s Beach in Sandy Bay, this beach expands into long and impressive proportions along which there are many instances of beach art.)
The dogs came with me to explore Cartwright Creek too. We followed it from the base of Mount Nelson, across the road and down the grassy bank to the reef below. We visited on high tides and low tides, the expanse of reef exposed and one fine day, with my cycling friend, we walked from Lamberts Rivulet to Cartwright Creek. The creek does have friends. The Friends of Truganini group apparently attempts to make headway against the riot of weeds beneath which it is largely hidden and at this point it does not look as though they are winning the war, at all.
The Sandy Bay beaches inspired me to look into history to make sense of their current shape and appearance but Taroona, with the cone of its volcano beneath the Alexander Battery (Leaman, 1999) and the squiggles in the roads indications of multiple repairs, lured me into burying beneath the surface to try to understand the variable geology of the beaches
Going along for the ride
The land here is unstable, the soils expansive. The schools and many Taroona streets and houses are travelling on the back of a slow moving landslip down towards the river, and yes, on some cliff tops, their tenure could be precarious! Cracks in walls, roads and soils, hummocky earth and gutters, contorted trees and sudden shifts in slope angle are some of the clues as to what’s lying beneath, as are the inclinometers that track it’s incremental journey.
For those with a short attention span for matters geological, I promise I’ll be brief!
Simon Stephens is a geologist who has focused his attention on Taroona and he writes that it is ‘a complete microcosm of the geology of the Derwent Valley’, pointing out that the geology determined the way settlement and construction happened in this area. But long before the explorer’s ships anchored, long before the Mouheenener attuned themselves to this land, and at that point in time when the Permain and Triassic rocks had laid themselves down, Tasmania was a part of Gondwanaland, and was a large basin of accumulating sediments, at other times a shallow sea or lowland flats with icebergs visible offshore. Transformed again, a slow river meandered across ‘a vast riverine plain’ (Stephens). I forget dates fast, so I’m not noting the chronological dimensions of eons here – I’m more interested in the different climates and landscapes that have taken a ride through Taroona.
Today, for instance, there are hard, older rocks on the hills and softer rocks, somewhat younger, on what Stephens refers to as the ‘coastal apron.’ The oldest rock is the Grange Mudstone (Permian) and Fern Tree mudstone also occurs here, sometimes with drop stones in it, as well as worm castings. It smells of sulphur if you strike it – but I haven’t, and I’m not going to run through all the different rock formations either, as there are lots, so instead I’ve linked to relevant resources. Also, because my little project has led to geological conversations at home, I’ll put up the geo’s take on the Derwent and D’Entrecasteaux too, I think perhaps after Pierson’s Point where the view to starboard is of the channel, the view to port the river and Storm Bay.
There are glacial scratches on some rocks that I found along this shore and those stones that have dropped into the mudstone (when it was still mud) have probably dropped out of icebergs and I think that is amazing! It’s actually no wonder that these kaleidoscopic landscapes have led to such a confusing shoreline.
In short, according to Stephens, the climates in which the rocks were laid down varied from Northern Siberian conditions to the sweltering heat of the African Rift Valley. Taroona, (and okay, the island) has had long drawn out climactic moods. But we’ve had our impact too. Here’s a conglomerate of ‘anthropocite’!
There are many fault lines in Tasmania and Taroona has it’s very own (although Sandy Bay has more.) It’s about 60 million years old and when the land subsided and formed the Derwent Valley this fault started opening up, quite possibly as a result of Australia breaking apart from Gondwanaland. Stephens says it runs from close to the Grange quarry (Truganini Reserve), across the Channel Highway and south to the top of Taroona Crescent where it turns and travels out to sea near the southern end of Hinsby Beach and not far from Alum Cliffs. That steep gully I thought so pretty as I came down the wooden steps on to Hinsby Beach? It’s an exposed part of this fault.
Sometimes Taroona exposes its more tropical self in the form of clay soils and fresh water sediments from when it basked beneath a torrid sun. Stephens says that in the area around Karingal Court ‘the sediments are much finer with clay layers which sometimes contain impressions of leaves and other plant matter.’ A friend of mine recently spent time in Coffs Harbour and couldn’t get over all the turtles she saw swimming around in a lagoon. If we could time travel back to when Taroona was (sub)tropical, we could sip on gin and tonics while watching the turtles, rather similar to the Murray River turtles, swimming around our feet in Taroona. It’s true; there’s evidence in those sub-tropical chapters of the rocks.
BLACK SAND AND ZIRCONS
After the last glacial period the sea rose to today’s level. Dolerite from the hill tops weathered and fell into the sea, releasing heavy minerals like magnetite. There is black sand on Taroona beach and well as magnetite you can find zircons here.
So that’s all I’ll say about reading rocks to discover Taroona’s hidden personality and life experience, but the geo has assured me of the need to look at the big picture and not just the local details and so I tasked him with scoping the Derwent River Valley and the D’Entrecasteaux. I think Pierson’s Point is the right place to point that particular telescope starboard up the channel and port side to Storms Bay and the Derwent River valley and in the meantime there more places to go and people to see.
Leaman, D. (1999). Walk into history in southern Tasmania. Hobart, Tas: Leaman Geophysics.
Mount, S. ([n.d.]). More walking tracks. [Hobart], Tasmania: Dept of Sport and Recreation.
Stephens, S. (n,d,). Introduction and early history. [Hobart].
Part 3: Hall’s Saddle to Waterworks: A rivulet’s point of view
The third stage begins: Hall’s Saddle
I was strolling a high contour, the tiny cluster of houses at Finger Post on the far side of the valley. Far below, the rivulet flowed beneath the forest canopy in the Turnip Fields valley and as I walked I tried to hold its presence in my mind. Turnip Fields
The houses on Huon Road hove into sight and the Derwent River in the distance. Gracious eucalypts beside the path had bark I had to stop and admire, she-oaks, orange banksia in blossom, and closer to my feet the tiny red flare of epacris impressa. I was relishing my solitude, enjoying the rhythm of my stride but making slow progress – there were a lot of little water courses I kept stopping to examine. Alone with my thoughts I faced the same question with the rivulet that I’d had when walking above Mitchells Beach on the South Arm Peninsula: how close must you physically be to something to be actually walking it? And in what way can you be said to be walking something when you don’t know it’s there? (I was thinking particularly of rivulets in the city and how, walking down a road we are most of us unaware that a rivulet might be flowing beneath us, imprisoned in a drain.)
Near McDermotts Saddle
I reached the abandoned paddocks of McDermotts Saddle, the lumpy land that bears old traces of a building. Superb blue wrens flitted ahead of me and a raven called lazily. A little while later I got a view of dark water down at Waterworks. I came to the steps and descended, then lingered. Gentle Annie Falls and a series of cliffs demanded exploration – their’s is a long quiet dreaming up here in the eucalypt forest. Contemplation over, I followed the Circuit track, paused again at a poignant memorial seat to young life cut short, then finally arrived down at the rivulet at last, just where it emerged from the forest running small and shallow, slightly cloudy, over its dark forest bed, a stride wide, meandering around boulders. I walked beside it companionably, stopping to capture its voice at a cliff and again where it runs over pebbles.
The rivulet enters Waterworks
Shortly after this I had a choice of path but the rivulet had none. The rivulet is tricked as soon as it enters Waterworks, apparently for the misdemeanour of flooding (or landscape building, depending on your perspective) in earlier days. It is sneakily led into a moat that runs around the reservoir to the right while the usurper, the reservoir, inhabits the bed the rivulet made like a gigantic cuckoo’s egg.
Cuckoo’s egg: The Reservoir
I could have walked beside it, commiserating, but having been that way so many times before (the bitumen, the picnic tables), I went left and walked a forest trail. As usual the gulls were hanging out on the water and when I crossed over between the upper and lower reservoirs there was a raven grubbing for food, some tassie hens, ducks and plovers. Munching on an apple, I rejoined the disheartened rivulet as it moved unwillingly down its moat, squeezing itself into the very centre as though it didn’t really belong there. I passed a bbq in action and a couple arm in arm enjoying the view. Two ducks, flying low, winged pass me on their way up to the top reservoir and as I approached the gate I spotted the first exotic plants: an escaped agapanthus. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Displaced rivulet: the ecosystem blanks out. No life to foster, no landscape to build
I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my own individual balance of life, work and human relationships… My situation had, in certain ways, more freedom than that of most people, and in certain other ways, much less.
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
When I was pondering the shape this blog should take, it wasn’t to other blogs that I turned but to my friends, the books. My reading for pleasure over the past year has been almost solely confined to sailing – mostly circumnavigations by people made of different stuff: Bernard Moitessier, Joshua Slocum and Tania Aebi to name a few. I thought about the writer’s like Dervla Murphy, who have carried me with them on their bicycles, writers like Laurie Lee with whom I walked out one midsummer morning through England and into Franco’s Spain, while managing to co-exist in a boiling high school classroom.
Recently I’ve been listening late at night to The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane. One moment we’re on an ancient pathway then I wake up to find I’m with him on a boat. Roger Deakin (‘I went to Wales because the place was stiff with magic’) would be right at home adding the chilly Derwent to his Waterlog but wild swimming is not entering into my plans. I like to stay warm. My favourite kayaking companion has always been the enigmatic imposter, Grey Owl, back when you could truly lose yourself (and your identity) in the Canadian wilds. And more recently I’ve also read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, about the walk she did down the Pacific Coast Trail after her mother died.
I’m no writer, no adventurer. I read, I holiday, I work with people whose memory and bodies are failing them. They are losing their history, grieving the loss of themselves and everything they hold dear. Around me there are beaches. I have two dogs for whom a stretch of sand and a cold current represent the penultimate adventure. I have a helpful geologist who knows his vegetation too. I have feet, a bicycle, a kayak and a yacht.
But reading about grander adventures is inspiring. It occurred to me that down in the depths of the oceanic web I could start a modest blog so that I can scribble a little, fiddle about on beaches, mess about in boats, think as I cycle, sense the earth beneath my feet, carry dreams on my wake and reflect on memories as I peer into rockpools. In trying to shrug off the notion that only great adventures matter I thought again about getting to know the beaches and coastlines and in so doing discover the nature of the world we’re fast rubbing out before loss becomes our nightmare and our sorrow, and the beaches disappear insufficiently recorded.