Abandoned picnic places

Picnic spot

I’ve always been fascinated by those places that time and history has passed by: Industrial archaeology, the stone circles of Celtic Europe, or the smaller, more intimate places, derelict houses or picnic places that have been by bypassed and abandoned.

Near where I live, and cycle regularly, there is a short stretch of the highway that was diverted off perhaps thirty years ago now and replaced by a newer streamlined bit of more modern cornering. The original stretch of highway, that we used to travel on as kids, maybe 400 metres or so long, was just cut off and left to grow over.

Sometimes, riding in the area, I like to take that old detour and explore that old niche. Included in the off-cut was a roadside picnic table and stools, now being overgrown in grass and emerging saplings. Here, I like to think, families would pause in their travels, unpack a thermos and some sandwiches and take a rest. I blogged about it already in 2011 in a post about The Lost Highway.

It’s still falling apart gently. And, I was reminded of it recently when I saw a recent article on WebUrbanist about 150 Vanishing US Rest Stops, which a photographer had been documenting. An admirable project I thought. I heartily approve.

Below, another photos I’ve taken over the years on that theme, a drawing and a poem too. Seems that these ideas keep bubbling up in lots of versions.

Picnic table

Abandoned picnic table

Picnic Place

These families with their picnic baskets,
their kids weightless on the swings
legs flashing in the sun,
think they invented this place,
think they found this place near the bridge
by the estuary where the creek flows into the sea.
They think they found this place this summer evening,
but we were there.

I walk from the swings and the families,
their wine glasses and picnic plates
their kids racing to the jetty,
the last sun shining in their hair,
someone putting on a jumper against the cold.

Up ahead, up river somewhere,
I can hear the beating of wings.

Top: Picnic spot, near Mildura, VIC. Photo: Warrick
Middle: Abandoned picnic spot on ‘the lost highway’, Mt Martha Photo: Warrick
Bottom; Picnic table, iPad drawing. Warrick

The Eye

I’m sure this will be a poem sometime: sitting in the bird hide in the Briars late yesterday afternoon, after a walk in the cold and wind, just enjoying being inside and watching some cormorant drying their black wings, suddenly a white egret flying in and sitting inches away, feathers rustling, holding itself close against the wind and the cold, it’s bright, unblinking eye.

Egret in the Briars
Egret in the Briars

The end of place

Any long-time half-listening reader of this blog would know I’m fascinated by place. The placeless of the place. Where things were. What happened here. Maps. The uniqueness of these coordinates: where the battle was fought, where the rivers converge, where the babies came home.

I write often about specific places, landscape poetry sometimes, landscape-memoir my daughter calls it. I try to capture some of these in my poems, or photos. A kind of preserving.

So, I was a little sad on a long holiday walk last week to find our old house, our first house, falling into disrepair. It’s in roughly the same area we live now, only a few kilometres away but I don’t go up that way often. So, I was saddened to see what had become of it.

We weren’t there very long; less than five years, but it’s where we started as a real family. We bought the kids here when they were born, thirty years ago now. My grandfather and my father helped me build bookshelves and extend the verandah. We planted trees, I was proud of a native frangipani that somehow thrived in the sandy soil. We built a sand-pit, a barbecue and put up a tin shed. My daughters hid letters and drawings in the structure of new cupboards and bookcases for the future. Which is here now it seems.

It looks like the place is being pulled down. The fences are gone and it looks like it’s being dismantled bit by bit, the materials being stacked up to be sold. Maybe a block of flats next? To paraphrase Dylan Thomas: Place passes. Have a look. Place passes.

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Below: a long time ago, when the house was new.

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Fading Victoria

For a long time I’ve been interested in the changing landscape. particularly the changes at the suburban margins as development overpowers the old lines of the land. I’ve documented some of those ideas in the Suburban Margins project on my poetry web site.

So, it was nice to see some connections with those ideas in Fading Victoria, which is a collection of images of change, more semi-rural than suburban, but great images and ideas all the same. They’re from Rowan Crowe who writes:

Consumer hunger for residential land and infrastructure is slowly destroying many historical sites located near the steadily expanding fringes of suburbia. Weather also takes its toll on beautiful rural buildings that have been abandoned by their owners. What causes them to just walk away?

In Ruins

From Russia With Love

As one who has been intrigued by ruins and remnants of the past long before I read Christopher Woodward’s In Ruins, ages ago, I was interested in this blog posting about Seven Abandoned Cities, with its accompanying evocative images.

I’m not totally sure whether it’s the historical cataclysms that have left these places un-improved, the human stories and poems that they tell, the strange beauty in these fragments of lives or something else, but it’s something that has always interested me, and recurred often in my own writing. The past, the pastness of the past. Lives that were just as vibrant and intensely lived as now, but now which aren’t.  The marble statues on Delos in the Greek Islands, the abandoned farm-house at the edge of the suburbs, the remains of the cement works at Fossil Beach, the rusted foundations in the rocks of an old pier, these things ring with meaning for me.

Cube 37

There was a good turn-out to the forum organised by Garth Madsen at Cube 37 this morning. I took some photos, which I’ll put here at some stage, but it was great to see that there is genuine interest about how this place might better serve writer and writing.

The photo above is not of Cube 37 this morning but at the opening of an exhibition in June 2006. Photo by Premonition

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The Power of Photographs

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Picked up a book at the bargain basement at Readings tonight called Beach by a British photographer called Mike Perry. Powerful understated direct glances at a stretch of non-descript British coastline, some stones, shingles, small waves, the pull of wind on the surface.

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Nothing startling here, just the simplicity of the ordinary landscape. The photographs are understated, soft in tone, plain, without human or animal figures, without narrative.

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Yet, I found something powerful and moving in this plain-ness, this un-averted gaze, in the currents of light and dark. Something like poetry in the avoidance of narrative, in the captured moment, in the sense that this was both a real beach and a metaphor and somehow important.

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And it made me think (again) of the power of the photographic image as well as its linke to poetry and poems.

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