Thursday, 4 March 2021

Wanna dance with somebody

The crowd is bouncing up and down, arms waving, singing along. The band can’t quite believe they’re playing live in front of a crowd, and we can’t believe it either. 

It’s delicious being up and out after so many months of Covid, exhilarating, like when you’ve been really sick and then one day, you feel well. We’re being normal. We’re dancing!

Maldon gets its boogie on!
 

I’m in the main street of Maldon, set out with tables and chairs, for the annual Maldon street dinner. Around 600 people have worked their way through the picnic boxes and run the bar dry, and now ‘The Best 80s Band’ is cutting loose. I didn’t know I knew these songs, but my body does. We’re deep into Whitney Houston, 1987: ‘I want to dance with somebody, wanna feel the heat with somebody, ooo ooooo, wanna dance with somebody.'

So here’s the thing—the town organises this night themselves. They organise the tables and chairs, and the liquor licence, the picnic boxes, and the covid safe check in. They talk to the local constabulary, but they don’t ask the Shire for permission. They just take over the street, and about a third of the town’s population show up.

Nice work Maldon! 

We have our Farmers Market, and the Lions playground, but I did wonder whether we’re too cautious and suburban to take possession of our own town.

Earlier that same Saturday, I was standing in the Main Drain, Murnong Creek, the concrete culvert between the Mechanics Institute and the playground. We were on a Saturday walk around the town thinking about traffic and the centre of Riddell, and we finished our walk here, in the Creek.

L to R: Narelle McGellin, her daughter, Jenny Ground, Julie Macdonald

It was quiet down there in the creek. You can’t see cars driving past, in fact, it’s the only place in the centre of Riddell where you can’t see cars. And it suddenly struck me: how amazing would this be as a place to hang out? There we are standing with Narelle, who has made the Lions playground happen because she thought it was needed, and it would be a cool thing to do.

What if the back end of the Mechanics Institute opened onto the creek, and you could sit in the northern sun? How much work would it take to put a few levels into the slope, with paths back into the pedestrian network? Planting that suited the creek. A place to dance on a summer night.

Moonee Ponds creek is being redesigned for flood control and biodiversity and recreational space. Bendigo Creek is opening to the city, not being kept shut away from it. Perth is turning drains and stormwater retention basins into wetlands and parks.

Why not our creek? 

Ross Colliver
Riddells Creek Landcare

 


 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Take it easy driver!

 It’s been busy up here on the dirt end of Gap Road.

Residents, tradies, curious tourists in shiny new 4WDs all negotiate a narrow road as it heads up into the range and on to Cherokee. For those of you who don’t have reason to use Gap Road often, here’s an up-date.

A driver heading down Gap Road rolled his 4WD in spectacular fashion late January, hurrying home after a few drinks. The corner at 385 Gap Road is well-banked and engenders confidence, but the next corner is flat and loose. The driver slid, over-corrected and flipped nose to tail. Somehow managed to exit the scene before the constabulary appeared.

 

That makes the second rollover for this stretch of Gap Road in the last year, after another enthusiastic driver gunned his Holden Astra through a dip in the road just after the flat corner. He was airlifted to Melbourne.

The slaughter of roos has eased up in the last three months, which is a relief because we had eight killed on this stretch through 2020. Not all died straight away—a roo with two broken legs found on my early morning walk had to be put down by Macedon Ranges Wildlife Rescue. 

A few months on the job with the Wildlife Rescue would make a good community service order for Gap Road speedsters. Sue, the volunteer who actually is the Wildlife Rescue,would welcome anything that gets it through people’s heads that they’re not the only animals out at night. Take it easy driver!

A speed limit of 100 kmh doesn’t send the right signal. One of our Landcare members ran a petition last year to reduce the limit on Gap Road to 60 kmh, which I took to be an ambit claim, but when I actually kept my eye on the speedo, 60 kmh was comfortable most of the way and 70 kmh felt like a reasonable limit.

Heading down the bitumen from Royal Parade, walkers are out at all hours, and there’s a regular roo crossing late afternoon and evening around the 80 kmh sign. Gap Road is not a deserted country road. So take it easy driver.



Ross Colliver
Riddells Creek Landcare

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

The weedy season


I'm down in my bit of Sandy Creek, doing what has to be done with the weeds this year. 

I've been able to avoid it till January, because of the wet weather. With all that dampness, and coolness, the thistles are late to flower, and I've put it off and put it off, until .... oh bugger it, if I don't get those thistles before they seed, I'll lose the ground I've been gaining on them over the last few years.

So here I am with my mattock, to lift out the thistle roots with the narrow end, and secateurs and chicken feed bag to stash the thistle heads that are too far advanced to risk leaving them in the open air. The carcasses I stack to be hauled away to the burning pile. 


There's blackberry too, growing briskly after all that rain, gorse of course, re-sprouting, and something I haven't noticed before that looks decidedly non-native, a kissing cousin I'm sure to the water-loving weed I've been targeting around the house this summer. Some serious attention from the mattock and I've cleaned out two clumps.


There are fewer weeds than last year, and fewer than five years ago. Dean Platt, the ecologist who first inspected my place and put me into the Melbourne Water Stream Frontage program, said at the time: 

"We just have to tip the balance in favour of the natives, and they will take over the territory."

The first three years of spaying changed a creek covered in blackberry to this sunlight gully of bracken and the sweet bursaria in bloom now on the northern side of the creek. 

All the creek asks of me now is this annual sweep to discourage the bad guys. 

Then it stays here, from summer into winter and rolling back to summer, living out its life. Any season and any time of the day, I can walk down to another world.

Ross Colliver
Riddells Creek Landcare


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Speaking out

When I’m parking opposite the supermarket, I get anxious. So far, I haven’t backed out over a human being, or into a 4WD coming up Station Street. But every time, I take it very steadily.

And every time I walk from the supermarket across Sutherlands Road, then Main Road to the PO, I notice how much traffic there is. Five years ago, you could park outside the PO, and that was it. But not now.


The Shire has $60,000 earmarked for a Traffic Study of Riddell’s town centre. I wonder if the consultants will talk to those who live here and use the traffic system as drivers, walkers and riders. The Shire’s draft policy on community engagement suggests they should.

The typical set up for engagement has been that Council works out the options and takes them to the people for their opinion. Then it disappears, crunches the data, and reappears with a decision.

For movement of people and vehicles in Riddell, I think we can do better than that. What’s working and not working? We need discussion between drivers, walkers and riders, and with the traders.

This is ‘co-design’ – the people affected by an issue are part of developing the options. Managing traffic is a start, but how does that fit with places to sit, places to meet and talk, access to the Railway Station and light industrial area down Sutherlands Road, and access to the Lions Park and through to the school?


If we talk about this early, a technical study can test out the options, and it will be money well spent. But without that discussion, we get a car solution that doesn’t work for all the other things we want in the heart of Riddell. We’re growing fast – we need to get this sorted!
 

So if you get anxious on Station St, or worry what the increasing density of traffic will do to Riddell, write to the CEO of MRSC and ask the Shire how they plan to go about their traffic study. 

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare
December 2020

Creek Stories


I’m jealous. Here as the centrefold of the Gisborne Gazette is a double page feature titled: “Fond Memories of the Queen of the Skies“. Yes, the big fat jumbo, the 747, is being retired, and here are stories from former pilots, engineers and cabin staff about their experiences with that aircraft.

Gisborne, and Riddell for that matter, were towns where airline and airport pilots lived, and their love of the 747 shines through. It’s a fine piece of journalism of the local kind, telling stories that connect older residents and new to the history of the place, and celebrating the lives that have made our towns.

Turning the page, blow me down if there isn’t another full page on the 747! Then on to ‘Kids Corner’ for three pages, then Pets and then at last, ‘Green Thumbs.’ Yes! It’s the environment and garden double page, and there in the bottom right corner is the first instalment of Creek Stories, a project I’ve been labouring over for months now, finally in print.

Creek Stories (www.creekstories.net) are stories about creeks and the people looking after them. It’s a project of the environment groups of Riddell, Gisborne and Macedon, in what’s known as the Jacksons Creek catchment, at the top of the Maribyrnong River.

Like the 747, creeks are lovely things, and like the 747, then need a lot of looking after. Creek Stories celebrates the people who put in their time voluntarily to look after their local creek. Their efforts benefit the plants and animals that live in the creek, and the humans who retreat to the creek for the solace of moving water and the spacious soundscape of a healthy creek.

Creek Stories is signpost to our local creeks, and a celebration of the people who keep them healthy. One day, we might find these stories splashed across the double page centrefold of the Gazette, but in the meantime, the bottom right-hand corner of Green Thumbs is a good start.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare
November 2020

Photo Credit: Robin Godfrey

At the foot of the stairs

At the foot of the stairs, on the way to the shed, or taking something out to the car, I step into a scent that’s spicy, warm, transporting. A cloud of memory. The boronia is flowering. It’s the first flowering since I planted it here on the east side of the house near the back steps, where I figured it would get enough sun, but not too much, and I could keep it damp, because boronia comes from the wet forests of Noongah country, in the damp south of the south west of Western Australia.


Alice is delighted: that’s where she lived her first four years. When I moved to Perth in 1975, the men from the south still arrived in Hay Street Mall in Spring, their buckets full of dark brown boronia, selling to the city people. That heady scent was a sign that the cold time was passing and the hot time was coming.

Alice went looking for the Noongah word for boronia. She didn’t find a direct translation but she did learn that for people of the south, boronia was a marker for the arrival of the season known as camberang. The other markers are baby swans, and dugites and tiger snakes out in the sunshine but still dozy from winter, so take it easy, hey? 

Here in Riddell, what are our markers for Springtime?

It’s the time of rain and sunshine.

The time of wearing only two layers sometimes
The time of the appearance of bare arms.
The time of the dawn chorus of symphonic proportions.
The time of the grunting koala.

The time when you look to the hills, and wonder what summer will bring this year.

But I wasn’t going to be gloomy. The scent of the boronia is a wonder, and to have it at the back door, a joy. Bring on those sunny days!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare
October 2020

Country living



The barricades went up this week at Barrm Birrm. MRSC Operations laid great thumping trunks of trees across the entry tracks, along with signs stating plainly: ‘Private Property’. Even before the crew was done, a 4WD pushed through light scrub on Gap Road to avoid the blocked access, and runs the dogs there - him driving, dogs running behind. ‘Hey, what are you doing, that’s illegal?!’ yells a passing walker, as he flattens saplings.

 

Prince of Wales Terrace on the north end remained open, and the trail bikes in any case found the tree trunks no impediment. Saturday, then again on Sunday, bikes spent three hours tooling around the slopes, carving their tracks and turning up the clay ready to be washed downhill next rainfall. A regular weekend for them.

The Operations Crew were back Monday morning, lifting out the logs they had mistakenly placed across Princess St and Prince Albert St. These are gazetted roads, and Council must keep them open to the public. This obligation doesn’t extend to maintaining the roads, nor yet to blocking the tracks running up and down the slope.

What’s next? A trail bike for Senior Constable Johnson? Surveillance cameras, with Shire Local Laws staff dropping in for a quiet word to trespassers? Education, public shaming or legal action? 

There are no obvious solutions here. 

Bring your trifocals to Barrm Birrm, first, a fine-grained lens to enjoy the small glories unfolding as winter lightens up and spring sneaks in, a second lens to see the damage being done, and a third to see, behind it all, the struggle to control intemperate youth and cultivate a deeper care.

Riddells Landcare cleans up after the adolescents and patiently explains – ‘This is a fragile hillside, and you’re damaging it.’ But any reason to walk into Barrm Birrm is a good reason. Days of showers and sunshine now, the bright purples of hardenbergia coming through and wattles bursting overhead. Bracing air. The distant wail of chainsaws, and a plume of mud and stones as a trail bike roars past. 

Real country living!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare
September 2020