Saturday, 10 January 2015

Walking proposed Roe 8 extension with Kate Kelly and Holly Storey

Banksia attenuata (I think) 

Tuesday 25th November, 2014 

One of the participants on the Sunday guided walk around Fremantle was a lovely woman, Kate Kelly. Kate talked to me about the proposed Roe8 highway extension, to which she, and thousands of other locals are deeply opposed. The highway extension would—if built—force a passage through 97 hectares of Banksia woodland and would severely compromise and damage the remaining wetlands in the area, namely Beeliar Wetlands and Bibra Lakes. As mentioned in a previous post, only 20% of the pre-colonial wetlands in the Perth area remain. The last remnants of these wetlands are needed—­­and need to be looked after—if quality of human life and biodiversity are to be preserved.

For some time Kate has taken people along the proposed path of Roe8 extension on foot. She asked me if I would like to join her. Of course I was keen.
It was quite a hot afternoon when Kate picked me up, the same day that I had walked to Leake St, Peppermint Grove. Without thinking I wore the shorts that had served me well on my suburban ramble that morning. The late afternoon walk cutting through the Banksia woodland. My lack of long trousers meant I walked on the lookout for snakes, attending to the ground ahead and beside me. Despite not fully taking in the horizon or middle distance, I was struck by the variety and beauty of the flora growing so close to existing main roads and suburbs.
Surrounded by suburbs, the only way to see this swathe of bush is is to pull up alongside the main road and step out on foot. Driving past it is hard to imagine what is tucked in behind the roads and houses.

Banksia seed pods
Woody Pear Xylomelum pyriforme Photo credit: Kate Kelly

For the past week or so I have been walking around the Swan River Colony. I have tripped along beautiful river foreshores, where residents and councils are rehabilitating the clifftops, and paced around Fremantle where verges are increasingly planted with indigenous species. Occasionally in the hustle and bustle I have seen some bush that might be remnant, I squint my eyes, trying to imagine another time. All around me Melaleuca Huegelii and other plants collected by Hügel, flower and persist, but it was not until I was inside this bush that, for the first time, I experienced something close to the descriptions recorded in Hügel’s journal.
So it is that I include a record of the Roe8 walk here, because while it was not the retracing of a particular Hügel Walk, I sensed, for the first time, a direct connection between his descriptions of the Swan River landscape, and my own experience 180 years later. The air was filled with silence—despite the close proximity of roads and houses. The intermittent sound of birds calling to each other broke the silence, along with the buzzing and zapping of insects.

mulla mulla Ptilotus... Photo credit: Kate Kelly

 We were walking through this Banksia woodland after many wildflowers had already bloomed, nevertheless Banksia attenuata, their yellow candles standing tall bloomed beside giant Nuytsia floribunda trees whose bright orange flowers glowed in the late afternoon sun. Nestled amongst the grand trees were tiny wildflowers: orchids, woody pears and native grasses, all of which required close observation for full appreciation. The silence, despite the proximity of the roads and houses, was utterly peaceful, broken only by bird calls and insect buzzings and whirrings.

Mooja - West Australian Christmas Tree

Wednesday 27th November, 1833 p.24

As I approached the hill, the native flora became more familiar: Hakea, … Eucalyptus, Acacia. Familiar species all, they have me friendly greeting, and even Hügelia* reached up to me in kinship with its lovely blue flowers. For the first time in years—long painful years—I lived for an hour in the full delight of the moment. In my left hand I held an enormous bunch of beautiful blooms while my right was gathering ever more new varieties.

The sun had set, and only the fact that I could no longer clearly distinguish the colours reminded me of where I was and that I must turn for home. I looked about me, but Fremantle had vanished from my sight. Unwittingly I had entered a small valley surrounded by low hills, which kept out the strong wind. Not one tiny leaf of the delicate {flora} stirred, not a single insect buzzed around the many blossoms, not a bird was twittering or winging its way through the air. Not a track, nor a hut nor a living soul was anywhere near. Perhaps no other foot had ever trodden this patch of earth. The silence was profound but not uncanny. The air was balmy, refreshing and invigorating, and filled with the delicate scents of the aromatic plants I brushed against as I walked. I felt not lonely, but very remote. When I looked at my flowers, such a variety of them and so beautiful, I realized that there was no one for me to bring them to. I let them drop from my hand and sadly climbed the nearest hill to find my way back.

*Now Trachymene coerulea. R. A. Graham. Named Hügelia by Reichenbach in 1828 after Hügel sent him a flwering specimen from his Hietzing garden.

Mooja - West Austrlian Christmas Tree 
Bird of prey hovering above the lake
Human and animal prints in the sand
Snake or lizard?

Tuesday 25th November, 2014

On the way back to Fremantle we pulled over and walked back onto a massive median strip at Stock Road. Kate said that last year it had been set on fire (probably by bored teenagers), the heat and fire had stimulated the xanthorrhea, their tall elegant flowers stretching above us into the early evening sky. ‘Nature’ persists where and how it can, but the biodiversity present in this expansive and beautiful median strip is not a patch on the gorgeous woodland Kate and Holly so generously shared with me.

Kate and the mighty xanthorhea blooms - Stock Road
Back at the apartment I removed my trainers, their porous upper allowed the black dust from the sandy soil to penetrate my socks and cover my toes. I was reminded of Hügel’s journal entry, where he describes, not particularly accurately, the white sand with the black ash.

Thursday 28th November, 1833 p.25

Dawn was just breaking when I rose to resume my wanderings. But when I started to dress I was not a little astonished to see my feet and legs up to my knees as black as those of a native Indian. At first I thought I was suffering from some complaint peculiar to this country. On closer examination I found that it was neither more nor less than a black dust contained in the white sand, which owes its origin to the burning of the scrub by the Aborigines. These fires are caused either by the accidental spread of fires from the campsites of these wandering savages, or by the deliberate burning of a large tract of frest so as to force game (Kangaroos and opossums) to flee the flames, and kill them as they escape.

Blackened toes

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