Another river; the Yarra after rain

I can’t believe it’s over a month since I blogged here, and I have been writing and reading all the while. I did buy a new camera too; a Canon 60D, much better in low light than the old Canon 450, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know how to use it, drawn all the time, of course, to rivers, streams and the edges of things.

So, after a incredibly wet Saturday I was interested to see what the Yarra was looking like and whether it was wild and flowing and bursting its banks or, as it was once I remember, swirling and whirlpooling brown and ominous like the Mississippi in a Twain novel.

Not so. Even after only twenty-four hours the whole thing had settled down, moving quickly and ruffled somehow, but almost back to normal. I could see the debris and rubbish from the high-water mark the night before but I was surprised just how quickly it had come down. Another (local) thing to know.

River walk

Below: Fairview Park on dusk.

River walk

The Comfort of Water

I suppose I was poetically pre-destined to really like this book: a walking journey up a river from the sea to the source. Local, reflective, meditative, walking as pilgrimage and a creative act.

Maya Ward’s The Comfort of Water traces the Yarra River from Port Phillip Bay to its source up in the mountains; a twenty-one day walking journey that upholds the local as the thing most prized. Yes to that!

And there is lots to like here, the celebration of the place, the recognition of the past in the present (particularly the indigenous connections) and the simple beauty of the concept itself. Start at the sea and start walking upstream until you can go no further.

As the Australian review said:

This book belongs to a genre that runs back through Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau in America, and the peripatetic tradition of romantic poetry in Britain. It is seeing a revival, as Mark Tredinnick, author of The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir, suggests in his introduction to this book.

Nature writing, until recently, was associated with a dissenting politics, characterised as a subculture. Now, due to global warming, it seems increasingly mainstream, an ideological avant-garde in the endgame of Western industrial societies.

I’ve written a lot about rivers and streams, they’ve been in my thinking for a long time and in my small way I’ve walked and mapped my local streams in my writing. What disappointed me in the end about the last quarter of this book though was that it became too much about the walkers and not enough about the walk. I liked the natural history, the details of the river itself unwinding through the changing landscape rather than the internal reflecting, theorising and eventually proselytising that took over. There was lots of hand-holding, lots of teary faces and lots of moments of profundity where the place itself seemed to fade into the background a bit as the pilgrims became the story, not the pilgrimage.

Still, a beautiful concept and a really affirming part of that ‘local’ that I think we need to prize more.

You can read more at Maya Ward’s website here

Seeing the place for the first time

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(T.S. Eliot)

I like those moments that help you see a place as it might have been in the past, especially places you might have thought you knew pretty well. I’m interested in those juxtapositions of photos you sometimes see, where you overlay the historical image over the modern city, and see how much (or how little) has changed.

Couple that, with the power and pathos of the concept of dispossession and you have the potential to transform your perspective.

So it was for me recently when I was lucky enough to do the Birrarung walk with Dean Stewart from the Koori Heritage Trust. He took us along a non-descript section of the Yarra in Melbourne from near the Aquarium up to the monstrosity that is Crown Casino and allowed us a window into a different world: the world of early Melbourne as well as the place as it existed before there was such a concept as ‘Melbourne’.

It was a privilege to be allowed into the world as he sees it. He showed us images of early Melbourne, from the perspective where they were painted, but more powerfully shared with us the place as it was before: the wetlands, the crossing place over the waterfall and the smells and sounds of the birds, animals and vegetation as it was then. It was a moving experience, not just because of the passion and understanding of the place, but because of the sense of all that has been lost too.

I recommend it if you’re visiting Melbourne, or if you’ve lived in Melbourne all your life and you think you know it. You probably don’t.

You can read more about this walk, from the AGE and the Sydney Morning Herald HERE.

Looking for Melbourne Poems

Only four days to get something together but I saw yesterday that a publisher of a forthcoming coffee table book on Melbourne is looking for poems about aspects of Melbourne. Sadly, after having lived close to Melbourne now for the last three years, the best I might offer is some things about the Yarra. I’ve liked living close to a big river for the first time. I’ve written a few things, and taken a few photos like my favourite so far (above) which has something of the urbanisation and something of the wildness still of this place.

Details of the Poetica Christi Press idea are below:

Melbourne Poems

Call for submissions : Closing date : March 31st

Poetica Christi Press is seeking submissions of poems on the theme of Melbourne for its forthcoming coffee-table book of Poetry and Artwork.

In particular we would like poems on any of the following –

St Paul’s Cathedral, Degraves St, the Art Gallery, Bourke St Mall, Federation Square, Exhibition Building, Parliament House, The Yarra, Trams, Gardens (Botanic, Alexandra, Fitzroy), the Shrine, Flinders St, Spencer St, Arts Centre Spire, Southbank, MCG, Melbourne University, the old theatres (Princess, Her Majesty’s) Victoria Market, Williamstown, Port of Melbourne, arcades and laneways, State Library, floral clock, bookshops, the Zoo (inc. the butterfly house) al fresco eating, Lygon Street, our closeness to the river, the mix of old and new, the ANZ bank (Cnr Collins and Queen Sts.) birds and wildlife, Flemington, views from tall buildings, the colours of winter, West Gate Bridge, Seasons , the different feel of the east, north, west and south of Melbourne, Multiculturalism.
Please send your poems by email to or by mail to PCP, 493 Elgar Rd, Mont Albert Nth, 3129. Ph: 9890 5885

Limit of three poems, up to 80 lines each, per person.

Outline of Melbourne Reflections book:

Like many Melbournians, we have enjoyed a long love affair with this beautiful city. We have dreamed of it being a city where the presence of the spiritual can be felt and experienced. We want this book to be our salute and tribute to the greatness of Melbourne.

Reflections in glass buildings were the original inspiration for this project. Out of this emerged the idea of combining photography and art with reflective poetry that draws on the heart and life of the city of Melbourne.

Sorrowing that land for the city was bought for a pittance, Poetica Christi Press wants to honour the memory of the Wurundjeri people who lived here prior to white settlement. Acknowledging those who are disadvantaged or who struggle with disability, this book will include work about homelessness, mental illness, the underprivileged and those without a voice.

Our book will bring together poetry, artwork and photography to showcase and reflect Melbourne through its people, buildings, street-scapes, through its great annual events, its sporting and cultural interests, and through its multiculturalism.

It is timely for Melbourne to be celebrated, acknowledged and admired. Melbourne is vibrant, enthusiastic and ever changing. It is also a city where artists and writers are inspired and appreciated. No wonder Melbourne is applying to be the second city of Literature in the World! We are pleased that both prominent and emerging poets and artists have contributed to this book.

ith such a range of voices and media, even those who lived all their life in Melbourne will, on reading this book, discover something new about their city. The aim of Melbourne Reflections is to create new perspectives allowing the reader to see this city with new eyes. And so, visitors will fall in love with Melbourne, and Melburnians will find new ways of engaging with it and inspire many to contribute their energies and passions to this great city, in ways that respect and nurture the diversity of our origins and dreams.