I was lucky enough to visit Walden Pond on a trip to the USA over ten years ago now, in a time when travelling overseas seemed a normal thing that one might aspire to. It was a pilgrimage of place, to the place that inspired Thoreau in his life and writing.
You can read a bit more about that trip on my earlier post HERE
I was reminded of all this by this short film I came across, just called Walden, a Ewers Brothers Production with input from Ken Burns and narrated by Robert Redford. I enjoyed it on a rainy late winter morning. You might too.
A friend of mine bought a drone and too me out flying it, setting up dual controls. He flew, and I took some photos. I was interested in the change of perspective, of seeing this familiar coastal strip from a different angle. Here’s footage, flying towards Bird Rock, where I’ve spent many summer afternoons. It was a clear winter day and the water was so clear.
What do you learn when you consider this landscape as it once was?
Hard to say, but I thought there was something worthwhile in the consideration of that idea, as there I was, on a cold and showery Saturday morning, joining perhaps thirty others, to watch the launch of a series of heritage signs at a local beach: the appropriately named Fossil Beach, ten minute walk from my home, and a place I’ve written about before.
What did we expect I wonder?
We saw signs unveiled and launched, and we heard first-hand, the stories of the family who excavated this place. Those who told the stories were children then and returned to the place. They told of regular weekends spent unpacking the debris of the past.
We heard of the shifts in the earth that sent this place askew, pushing fossils out of the base clay, the layer called Balcombe clay, and how few places there are where you can see the evidence of how such things happen.
We heard of the indigenous people who live and ate here and walked these tracks and of the shells they left in heaps through the thousands of years of their passing. We heard how their oral history of a great flood matched the geological records of the bay filling, a thousand years ago.
Then, with settlement, industry; a short-lived cement works whose remnants lie in broken stones intriguingly half-hidden in the bush; this is progress you might be seduced into thinking, putting these stones together which have already gone to pieces.
Later, we heard of a young woman artist who painted the ruins of the cement works, a Romantic gesture like Wordsworth’s salute to the ruins of Tintern Abbey. She was eighteen, taught and influenced by the colonial artist Eugene von Guérard. An expert talked lovingly of the perspective and the frame; she’d spent months researching the provenance of the frame; what Melbourne company might have made this.
What do you learn from all this? Maybe you learn about the layers. First the primeval. The geological, the tectonic.
Then indigenous, their stories of the Bay as a great, open swampland, before the ocean rushed in, that ancient memory story, now backed by scientists.
How quickly progress became nostalgic in the art of the ruined romantic landscape.
And, finally, stories of the near-present, the place bordered up with warning signs and cyclone fencing, for years you couldn’t get in.
We listened to the speeches with rain coming in bursts from over the bay. Looked at the arrangements of rocks and the place where the tower was. A month later, and two of the fresh new heritage signs have been ‘tagged’ by some teenage vandal eager to leave his incoherent layer to all this as well.
Last week I walked down to the evocatively named Fossil Beach, not far from my house, and walked beyond the track and the sea-wall over a litter of sharp and chaotic rocks to where they dig for fossils.
Above: The work of fossil hunters
Fossil Beach is renowned in scientific circles for the fossils that have been found there over the years and I soon saw evidence of places where people had been tapping away, cracking open the rocks, looking for evidence of the ancient past.
But what struck me, once again, even before I reached the fossils was the layer of shells by the path, the edge of a midden in the process of being revealed.
This was a place where Aboriginal people, the Bunurong people, lived and ate and died, for thousands of years. These shells are remnants of their meals and their community.
It reminded me of a poem that I wrote ages ago when I first realised that the beach I thought of as my own, belonged to someone else, originally.
Maybe it’s worth re-sharing this Australia Day weekend.
At the end of my street
blackened mussel shells
layered under earth
on the track to my beach
I read Gwen Harwood
about Oyster Bay
is this what dispossession is?
You can read more about Aboriginal middens HERE and HERE and about indigenous Australians on the Mornington Peninsula HERE
There’s much to be said, and has been written, about the virtues of walking in nature. I’ve written about it myself, read about walking, and it’s something that I’ve always connected with writing.
This holiday break I spent a few days walking sections of the Great South West Walk, a trail in south-west Victoria that’s been developed over the last twenty years. We walked bits of it, day-walks and nothing too arduous, but memorable nevertheless.
Two things resonate me now that I’m back at home: the site of an wedge-tailed eagle making its way along the dune-line. We stopped and watched for whole minutes. There’s a poem coming, though I doubt I can outdo Hopkins’s The Windhover, which was in my mind over and over as I watched.
And, the long walk along the wild ocean beach of Discovery Bay. In the distance the sky was getting black and blacker, surely a storm was coming, and the white of the surf became almost luminous. In four hours on the beach we saw no other human beings.