We were underneath the towering Westgate Bridge and listening for the call of the red browed finch which was sheltering in a grove of melaleucas. Past the melaleucas, loomed the bridge of a cargo ship tied up in the docks on the Bay end of the Yarra. The background roar was not the sea but the tyres and engines of the continuous stream of overhead traffic. Adding to the roar was the air purifying plant recently built to deal with the stinking,corrosive gases building up in the main sewer before it dived under the Yarra on its way to Werribee.
Against that steady roar, the tweets, chirrups and whistles of the birds in the trees were surprisingly easy to hear. In fact, it was easier to hear the birds than see them. We were on a Bird Walk as part of the Westgate Bridge Open Day run by the Friends of Westgate Park. I had known the Park was there but had never been to it and was intrigued to see what it was like.
The reality is a strange juxtaposition of industrial and maritime landscape and a mixture of natural and superimposed native species planting. There has been a huge amount of planting to green the derelict site and, as the abundance of plants sheltering in cardboard milk cartons showed, it’s ongoing.
So far, the birds had offered no surprises and we walked under the bridge towards the lakes. I looked up at the water stained patterns on the concrete base of the bridge. Its ribbed spine curved into the distance towards Williamstown and Geelong and again I felt the strangeness of the location.
The planting was denser and more established on this side and we walked under gum and wattle trees and past an understorey of shrubs. Mulching was underway and there was a pleasant smell of fresh eucalyptus. High in the sky, a Coles truck hurried across the bridge. A large satellite dish briefly loomed behind the trees and two densely packed phone towers spiked behind the gums as we approached the lake
Between the Parks sign prohibiting us from swimming, boating, fishing, letting our dogs off lead and warning us of black wiggly snakes, was a well placed bench. From here, I quietly watched an Eastern Egret hunched and dozing in the sun on an island. As the group caught up with cameras and binoculars, it stood, stretched and took off in a flurry of white to land on a corner further down the lake.
The rafts of algae patched across the surface and the fall of light and touch of the breeze on the water raised images of Monet and water lilies. The cars continued to roar across the sky behind me, seagulls squabbled and noisily groomed themselves on an introduced island to the right, and two black swans floated and fed in the distance. No, it wasn’t Monet, but more a universal truth about the visual power of light, water and nature.
We wandered in the shade along the path, water glinting to our right through the dense melaleuca heading towards another soundscape. More vehicular roaring but this time superimposed by excited shouting over loudspeakers. Ah, there’s a car racetrack there and soon we see big cars, utes, 4 wheel drives mounted on a hill near a commentary box and poles of speakers.
We curve away around the lake and decide that we need lunch. The group drifts on ahead. We are soon joined at our bench by a parent swan and three adolescents who are confident enough to step out of the water and approach us for a discussion about sandwiches. The lake is peaceful, the swans decide that grass is not too bad, the background roar is becoming familiar and now, in the distance, we have a large dock crane overseeing us.
It peers over the distant trees, looking not unlike a large waterbird itself.
The return , which completes the circuit of the lake, is much quicker. We’re soon under the bridge again and back through the newer planting to the Lorimer Street entrance and the Yarra with its surprising narrow beach of yellow sand. The sand is surprising because the Yarra’s banks have been walled, built up with dock infrastructure, walled through the city, grassed and reed patched upstream of Princes Bridge and moving towards clay and mud further upstream.
The river is feeling the influence of the sea. The Park is influenced and created by city dwellers who value the role of the natural world in their lives. It is a living island surrounded by a sea of industry.