The Blackbird and the Hawk

10.15 am. A flutter of wings at wheel height  in front of me resolves into a blackbird. I’m driving slowly through our semi-underground carpark. The blackbird- is it the one I hear singing?- perches on the yellow metal rail above a tumble of tethered bikes. It settles its feathers and does a little jump.

The carpark is half underground and the top level to the open air is enclosed by a metal grille, too narrow for a blackbird to fly through. I hope it can eventually get out by following a car.

11.35 am. Back home and I’m vaguely looking at the sky and bustling clouds, with coffee in hand. A creamy flash of the underside of a bird banking hard against the cliff face of our apartment building jolts me alert. A hawk! I lean out over the balcony and see its brown back and wings, following the shoreline about twenty metres out to sea. Intently and repeatedly, it flaps up and then dives almost to the water’s surface, behaving more like a fishing seagull than a hawk. The bird heads into the strong Westerly towards Station Pier and the Tasmanian ferry and, in seconds, it was out of sight around the corner of our building.

This was the first time I’d seen a hawk here, so close to the water. I wonder if there is a connection between my two unusual bird sightings. Had the hawk been around earlier and frightened the blackbird into our carpark?

 

Footpath Gardens: Esplanade West, Port Melbourne

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It’s  late February now, the end of summer, and a couple of months after these pictures were taken. The tomatoes are being picked, the lemons ripening and the peppers are colouring- all this on the footpath of Esplanade West.

The gardener landed here in Port Melbourne on a migrant ship from Greece and has lived and worked in Port Melbourne ever since. He is now retired. His front garden has a trellised crop of tomatoes over two metres tall and out on the footpath is his garden extension.

I wonder if the peach tree is the one he was given by a relative and which he initially planted on the edge of the nearby Lagoon Oval. He was furious when the Council made him move it. I was there that day, walking my ancient dog, Phoebe.

At the beginning of summer, I noticed  him walking back to his house with an empty bucket. He’d been watering a further outpost of his empire, a couple of tomato plants planted in a small section of non- asphalted footpath a few houses down. Theseplants are now about a metre high,staked and bare stalked with a few ripening fruits. He nips off the leaves once the fruit starts ripening.

Further down Esplanade West, the footpath gardening is more conventional, such as a pretty border of gazanias and baby’s tears around a melaleuca. There’s a clipped hedge of native shrubs screening a front door from the street.

But nothing to equal the fruit and vegies further up the street.IMG_20141021_115453

Footpath Gardening. A Traffic Shield and a Memory

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This carefully planted and maintained nature strip shrubbery shields the residents of the corner apartment building from the traffic whizzing from Beaconsfield Parade into Pickles Street. I think it would help with headlight glare and be a really good psychological barrier against the barrage of traffic.

A few weeks ago, a couple of days before my hip replacement operation (just wait, there is a connection), I was rung by an admissions nurse from the hospital for some final checking. After we’d gone through that, she commented that it will be lovely for me to go walks along the beach front as part of my rehabilitation. I was surprised and said something like, “Ah, you recognise the address?”

“Yes. I was born and grew up in the house on the corner of the Beach Road and Pickles Street. I used to love living there.”

Still on the phone, I walked to our front windows.

“I’m looking at that corner right now,”I said. “How amazing”

“Yes, I used to ride my bike to Sunday School at the Anglican Church and I was a member of the Port Melbourne Lifesaving Club.The house isn’t there any more. I’d love to be back there.”

“Maybe a retirement plan,” I suggested.

We hung up, each having relished a surprising personal connection and conversation.

Her house has been replaced by a solid attractive apartment building. I had taken the photos for this Gardening on the Footpath project a few months ago. When I can walk that far again, I will visit that corner and think about that nameless nurse and her childhood house opposite the beach.

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Footpath Gardening 2: Bird Poo Palm

I’ve been watching this spontaneous effort for a few years. This young palm would have to have germinated originally from bird poo dropped from a perch on the tree above. It has just quietly grown into its shared space.

What I like is that the Port Phillip Council tree maintenance workers are now treating it like the formally planted row of palms along Beach Street and Beaconsfield Parade. They give it an annual trim of its lower fronds.

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Footpath Gardening

If you’re lucky enough to have a whole nature strip in front of your house, why would you let all that un-concreted, un-asphalted soil just lie there under grass? If you have a Council planted tree on your nature strip, why not put the soil around it to use?

This  unofficial commandeering of public space by residents is officially called ‘personalization of space and environment’. Port Melbourne and surrounds have some enjoyable examples.

There is a magnificent aloe in South Melbourne, which feels a bit of an adventure to park in front of. There are two trees planted up like this and I like the bizarreness of their spreading size in the street scape. I speculate as to how old they are and am glad that Port Phillip Council has left them alone to grow so absurdly.

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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!

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.

 

 

 

Blackbird Song

The blackbird sings its song to a variety of accompaniments.

Yesterday morning, in relative silence after the huge rumbling,shaking and flashing thunderstorms which crashed over Melbourne overnight, the song was a tuneful counterpoint to the steady hissing of rain and tyres on the wet roads. I hoped the bird had been safely sheltered from the elements.

A few days ago, it was singing along to the arrhythmic hammering of the carpenters on the nearby building site. If I knew more about music, I think I could talk about jazz.

Sometimes, I hear it filtering through ‘builders’radio’ which is less than pleasant for me but I suspect that the bird doesn’t notice.

My favourite time to hear the simple, pure song is in the dark early morning when there is no light, just sound.

BIOPHILIA

BIOPHILIA

I learnt a new word a few weeks ago – biophilia.

I liked the idea of ‘love of life’ as a simple definition. It corresponds with I’ve been thinking about in defining Urban Nature in my writing.

Biophilia refers to having an ‘innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world’, and the concept was developed by the academic, Edward O. Wilson in his book, ’Biophilia’, published in 1984. Wilson talks of an urge to affiliate with other forms of life. He, in turn, derived the word from the psychologist Erich Fromm, who was talking about ‘a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital’ in the 1960s.

Then, on the ABC’s ‘Catalyst’ last week, 23.10.2014, I heard the word again with reference to the positive role of plants and the natural world in open plan offices. Aha! I thought. I know that word.

And it jumped up again! This time in The Age on Saturday, two days later, when I read that there is a film of Bjork’s show, ‘Bjork – Biophilia’ whose theme is about the link between music, nature and technology.

There’s clearly something in the air and also a chance to use another word I love.

ZEITGEIST

The First Cruise Ship of Summer

“What’s the Channel 7 helicopter doing?’

We went out onto the balcony and there, behind the red and white Spirit of Tasmania ferry which is always there in the morning, was a towering white ship. The first cruise ship of summer, the Dawn Princess, had come in silently overnight and berthed on the other side of Station Pier. It was about twice the height of the Spirit and longer, a white, floating apartment building.

So! Not the first swallow of summer but the first of many summer season cruise ships which appear in the morning and are gone by the evening. They are a clear marker of summer in Port Melbourne.

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Later, I walked down to the pier, and realized that there were actually five ships jammed around the pier. There were two small Navy vessels rafted up against the wharf and a black and white lighter tucked up against the Dawn Princess, a lamb next to its mother.

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I’d seen the Navy boats coming up the Channel yesterday but had thought nothing more of them. But seeing them today made me realize that they were possibly part of yesterday’s Commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of Australian soldiers sailing off to World War 1 from the next pier along, Princes Pier. Suddenly on the TV news last night, Princes Pier had flashed up on the screen in the background of a ceremony honouring those soldiers of 100 years ago.

Outside the fish and ship shop, a group of people sat with large cases in front of them. Others were striding off down Beach Street wheeling their cases and more were piling up at the 109 tram stop trying to make sense of a transport system new to them. I suppose they’d already bought their Myki public transport swipe cards from the IGA because there were large blue temporary Myki signs stuck up on bigger signs and fences.

Yellow taxi after yellow taxi crawled up the road towards the ship and a taxi bus from Traralgon was parked awkwardly waiting for its passengers to take back to Gippsland. Huge fuel trucks and garbage trucks joined the stream.

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I turned around from photographing the traffic and looked straight into the grey, hairy trunk of a palm tree. It was a happy surprise to look closely at something natural after all the traffic and bustle.The diamond pattern of its crisscross strips of bark and the fraying strands escaping from it were a satisfying combination of the simple and complex in one structure.

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Later that afternoon, I was writing this piece and got up to check the size of the ship. And there it was , sailing away down the channel already. Well, that was quick!

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