Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Heart of Darkness or One Woman in a Daewoo

Inspired by the ABC television series Two Men in a Tinnie, in which palaeontologist Tim Flannery and writer and comedian John Doyle travelled down Australia's longest river system, I thought I'd do something similar. Okay, there's only one of me, I don't have a boat and the nearest river is somewhat shorter than the Murray – Darling but that's not the point. After all, where would Burke and Wills have been were it not for that 'can do' spirit?

Well, you get my drift.

I could have emulated Flannery and Doyle by heading downstream from the river's source. But I thought I'd make my mark—I'd go upstream. So one woman in a Daewoo set out from the mouth of the Maribyrnong (actually, the Yarra a few hundred metres downstream of the confluence) to find the source.

My Conradian journey started off at the West Gate Bridge, which is a landmark for so many reasons. On 15 October 1971, part of the bridge collapsed during construction, killing 35 workers. A Royal Commission attributed the disaster to a combination of poor design and non-standard building methods. The bridge was eventually finished in 1978. It spans the tidal mouth of the Yarra and sandy spit of Fisherman's Bend, connecting Geelong and the western suburbs to the CBD. It seemed like as good a place as any to begin.

The Maribyrnong meanders through Footscray and Flemington (past the race course) into Essendon. I took a more direct route, stopping off first at Edgewater, then the Boulevard.

Although I live quite close to the housing development at Edgewater, I didn't have any idea of its magnitude. Today I decided to check it out. I almost started hyper- ventilating. It is so freaking big. Hundreds of housing plots spread along the edge of Gordon Street and down the bank and then spill over the flood plain. And the Maribyrnong has quite a substantial flood plain. How did I miss all this? Wilful ignorance, I suspect.

The river bank has been cleared of vegetation and remodelled into a small marina. I spent an hour looking around and saw a few black ducks on the far side of the river, a pied cormorant flapping overhead and the usual grebe. I also took the obligatory crap photo of the latter, which I think might be a hoary-headed grebe. (Although it could be a walrus, given my skills in bird identification.)

Having survived the attack of the vapours brought on by Edgewater, I headed north to Essendon. Much more genteel. Still not entirely Conradian but who knows what strange excesses could be taking place behind the chintz?

The horror! The horror!

Despite the artificial neatness of the river banks, this stretch of the Maribyrnong is good for bird watching. Honeyeaters go crazy when the eucalypts are in flower and there's usually some sort of wildfowl around. On several occasions, I've seen up to fifty little black cormorants lined up on a power line across the river. They favour a perch near Poyton's Nursery. Most of them stare downstream, a few upstream. At these times, any fish that ventures too near the surface can say its piscine prayers as it disappears into one of a dozen black-feathered gullets.

I had to break off my journey into the heart of darkness then. I'll resume it at a later date. Stay tuned ...

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