Animal, Mineral or Vegetable

Do you remember the game, ‘Animal, Mineral or Vegetable’? It’s the one where the person whose turn it was, thought of an object, mentally classified it as being of animal, mineral or vegetable origin and then answered questions by the players with a yes or a no until they had worked it out.

That game has come to mind recently when I’ve been finding myself not feeling like walking along the Port Melbourne beach front but turning inland to have trees, grass and gardens in my surroundings.

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I walk up Esplanade East past the row of agapanthus which at this time of year are in full flower. The flower heads lean out over the footpath and seem to be irresistible to some people to lop their heads off. There are always a lot of bare stalks truncated at the top. The gum tree trunks on the nature strip here have a strange twisting habit as if they are following the daily path of the sun. But they’re not sunflowers, so I don’t understand that.

I leave the cars behind as I enter Lagoon Park and stroll up the curving path, trees on my right and the grass of the oval on my left. The wattle season is over and the golden wattles are now quiet. I sit on the bench looking west across the oval, over the ring of trees and over the blocks of flats rising between the small houses. The city skyscrapers rise to my distant right. I have trees behind me, grass in front of me and a feeling of shelter. Occasionally, the sound of a diesel horn floats across from the docks; an evocative childhood sound.

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It’s a dog off-lead park so there are always dogs and owners relaxing out on the grass. I used to walk my ancient golden retriever, Phoebe, up here and stand in the middle chatting to the other dog owners and watching the dogs potter around. Now, this dog friendship group has developed its own Christmas ‘Pawty”, advertised by fliers taped to the benches.

I complete the circuit via Esplanade West where the path is flanked by dietes, also in flower now and rosemary. One of the front gardens has a beautiful fragrant yellow rose. The avenue of mature banksia trees overhangs the footpath and it feels like walking under a tree tunnel. The wattle birds love these trees and squawk and flutter through the foliage.

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It’s a calm and satisfying ‘Vegetable” walk.

If I walk along the beach front, I have to cross four lanes of traffic and a bike lane. I look over the sand across Port Phillip Bay to Mount Martha where sometimes I can see sunlight glinting on car mirrors. The Bay stretches out to the Heads over the horizon, making the view one of water and sky. The walk is linear. Turn right and you walk down to Station Pier and the ferry, turn left and head towards St Kilda, and then at some point, turn around and head back. People stride out, trucks and cars roar, the wind blows. Oddly, the palm trees along the nature strip are colonized by rainbow loriqueets which chirp and call and swoop from tree to tree taking no notice of the heavy traffic. I enjoy looking at the remnant dunes which Port Phillip Council have fenced and added some extra planting. Despite these living elements, the walk tends to be purposeful, active, hard-edged and windy. The sea, the sand, the sky, the asphalt, the stone wall, the traffic, the wind dominate the experience. Generally, that walk and view is very ‘Mineral’.

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So there we are: a choice of Vegetable or Mineral walks!

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The Diesel

I was putting the washing on the clothes horse inside our Port Melbourne flat when I heard the strong, rich, vibrant sound of a diesel train’s horn.

“I heard a diesel!”I called out and then started wondering if everyone called those trains, ‘a diesel’. It sounds a bit odd.

We used to hear that sound a lot in Eaglehawk as the train from Swan Hill passed through Eaglehawk on its way to Melbourne. It would sound its horn at every level crossing and I would hear the horn getting louder and then fading away as the train headed towards Bendigo. We lived a good few blocks away from the railway line so usually didn’t hear the train itself, except on late-summer nights.

I remember lying in bed as a child, hot and under just a sheet, and hearing a deep,deep, heavy, groaning rumble approach and then recede into the distance. The familiar horn accompanied it. I could almost imagine the ground vibrating.

These were the wheat trains, travelling slowly and by night, from the wheat towns in the North West of the State to Melbourne and the Port. I liked knowing that about the trains. I think I knew that the wheat was probably going to go on ships, to England, maybe.

As an adult I have driven through these small towns with a railway siding and huge silos and can imagine the work and activity and satisfaction of getting that crop onto the train and sent away.

I’ve always liked the sound of the diesel’s horn and have been pleased to hear in in the urban environment of Port Melbourne. Sometimes at Lagoon Oval I’ll hear it come across from the docks and it feels as if the country has come to the city.

I hope I’ll hear it from inside the flat again, while I’m putting washing on the clothes horse. It’s a far cry from hearing the horn at Eaglehawk whilst helping Mum hang up the washing on the long clothesline in the back yard. I was glad to be reminded of that.