Thursday, 19 November 2015

Protecting the character of Macedon Ranges

In the run up to the last State election, a promise was made to provide better protection for the Macedon Ranges. Just what does that mean and how can such protection be provided?

Wednesday 18th November, the Planning Minister Richard Wynne and local member Mary-Anne Thomas fronted an audience of residents to speak to this. The Minister announced that he will appoint an Expert Panel, to hear community opinions and make recommendations to him, which he promises to act on in this term of government. 

To get the ball rolling, we had community members up the front giving their take on what is needed (from Woodend Primary School, MR Sustainability Group, MR Residents' Association and Landcare Woodend), alongside the Director of Planning and Development, MRSC, who copped criticism for poor communication of planning processes to community members, like the current change to the Riddells Creek Structure Plan, and the review of the provisions for the Rural Living Zone. 

Highlights for me were the pointed questions from the floor (many wise heads with much experience in the room), and the presentation from Christine Pruneau from the Macedon Ranges Residents' Association. Christine laid out 14 recommendations for protecting the character of the Macedon Ranges, based on opinion from the Association's members. Here are those 14 points:

1. Emphasise why protection is needed, and re-align government thinking and decisionmaking with a ‘protection’ culture (by which they mean having protection as the primary focus of planning decisions, rather than facilitation of decelopment)

2. Recognise that Macedon Ranges Shire has its own identity, strengths, constraints and needs, and is different to Melbourne, Sunbury and neighbouring areas.

3. Recognise the services a well-protected Macedon Ranges provides to Melbourne’s population: proximity, breathing spaces and recreation places.

4. Recognise that the contrast between our natural environment and Melbourne is what
drives tourism.

5. Provide an enduring legacy of strong legislation and State policy settings that take
Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 forward.

6. Protect the entire Shire as the “surrounds” of the Macedon Ranges.

7. Make protection of natural resources, environment, landscapes and rural character THE
priority for all decisions.

8. Provide certainty about what can and cannot be done, and how it will be done, in this area, including “must” and “must not” planning controls.

9. Regulate and cap population growth. Towns spilling into rural land, urbanisation of rural areas and intensifying rural living signal a failure to understand and protect non-renewable resources.

10. Identify our towns as integral to the ‘bigger picture’, stop their suburbanisation and make existing town boundaries permanent.

11. Defend water catchments and rural areas with tenement controls and development
restrictions, and by requiring parliamentary approval to reduce subdivision sizes.

12. Build on existing rural strengths by promoting nature-based tourism and recreation, local produce, and reduced food miles.

13. Recognise the inter-generational benefits and sustainability of protecting natural resources.

14. Re-empower this community by making it an equal partner in all decision-making.

In their view, the Council is going in a different direction, and it's up to the community with the State Government to set up strong, permanent protection.

The Expert Panel will start hearing from residents in face-to-face meetings in the New Year, so look out for that.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

What Pope Francis said

At the opening of the Threatened Species of Riddells Exhibition, I quoted Pope Francis from his recent encyclical Laudato Si.In this, he says why we're destroying the earth, and what we need to do. Here is the piece I read:

" ...a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.

"Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right."

There's a lot more besides - find it online.

Ross Colliver, President, Riddells Creek Landcare 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Exhibition of Threatened Species of Riddells Creek

We officially opened Riddells Creek Landcare's exhibition of Threatened Species Sunday 1st October, at Seasons Bistro. These fourteen species are part of the ecological communities of Riddells Creek and all are threatened. The principal threats are continued clearing of native vegetation for agriculture and urban settlement, the spread of weeds and pest animals like foxes and cats, and for grasslands species, the lack of regular burning.

All these species are all listed on the Advisory List of Rare or Threatened Species in Victoria, 2005. The Purple Diuris Orchid (Diuris punctata var punctata) is listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, the Victorian legislation for the conservation of threatened species and communities. Matted Flax Lily (Dianella ameona) is listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Australian Government's key piece of environmental legislation.

The idea for an exhibition came for the RCL Committee of Manageement, as part of our Rail Reserve project.The Reserves along the railway lines across Victoria are an important refuge for native vegetation. In the approaches to Riddells Creek Station, the remnants of the original grasslands are home to four plants on the Rare or Threatened Species List: Purple Diuris Orchid; Matted Flax Lilly; Large-flower Crane’s-bill (Geranium sp. 1); and Branching Groundsel (Senecio cunninghamii var. cunninghamii).

Riddells Creek Landcare is organising removal of weeds that threaten these species. These are weeds that you'll see in many places - blackberry, english broom, gorse, spear thistle, serrated tussock, briar rose, pine seedlings, fennel, mirror bush, cotoneaster, prunis and phalaris. In the Rail Reserve these weeds are crowding out native species, and need to be controlled.

With funding through a Community Grant from the Port Philip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, we are able to employ a contractor (Indigwedo) to spray these weeds. The endangered species have all been mapped, and the contractor knows how to remove the weeds without damaging native vegetation.

Thanks to, we had access to high resolution photographs of all 14 species, and Lyn Hovey has had these printed to canvas, mounted and then hung them at Seasons Bistro. Take the opportunity to drop in and see these delights, and take one home for what it cost us to make them up.

RCL Members and guests at the opening of the Threatened Species Exhibition

Friday, 25 September 2015

Let's create ways to cooperate in environmental action

When the first consultations took place a month ago for the new MRSC Environmental Strategy, RCL sent a comment to the MRSC Officer managing the Strategy development, as follows:

Our members are cautious about MRSC’s invitation to contribute their ideas to another Environmental Strategy. They see the potential, but they want this to be different form last time, when good ideas weren’t acted on, and the Council did not build a partnership with the community around its knowledge, its preferences or what it is already doing.
Community members quite likely contribute in monetary value, considerably more than MRSC does or ever could invest. That’s the nature of the situation – landholders’ investment capacity combined is enormous. Macedon Ranges is a peri-urban community, with remnant and new squattocracy. People have capital to spend on the place they love. Why not engage that interest and partner with that capacity?

What is beyond belief is that MRSC has a history of making its contribution without working with those community environmental groups that have their shoulder to the wheel month by month, year by year, on the things that Council can’t so easily do.

We want a partnership, where the Shire brings and integrates into the work of community groups its own necessary contribution. We want leadership as well, in articulating direction, and the current round of consultation is a way to draw in the community’s direction. But we have been here before, not just with MRSC, but with other strategies, of which there are dozens in the environmental space, all begging for community input (aka My Free Time).

Plenty of talk and a good measure of receptivity up front in forming the Strategy, and when it gets to implementation, zip!

We ask that in the strategy development period, Council staff and members of community environment groups in the Shire work out together to develop a process by which the principles and high order goals of the Strategy will be implemented, so that decisions in different localities, across public and private ownership, use the best of what community and Council can do. We passed a motion at RCL CoM:

“we demand that the environment strategy develop a specific implementation strategy for the involvement of community environmental groups in setting specific priorities for each ward and for allocation of the council’s environment budget.”

We are ready to work with Council on the design of that Implementation Strategy.
By raising the matter of the budget and its allocation, we mean to say that we are interested in the process right to the point where expenditure decisions are made. Granted, those decisions will be made by authorised positions – Council, CEO, line manager. However, there’s plenty of room, we believe, to take account of the opinions of those acting on the responsibilities that come with care for land.

Here's an update as of 25/09/15:

RCL President Ross Colliver spoke with Silvana Predebon, MRSC Enviro Strategy, this Thursday about pathways towards improved collaboration betweeen community environment groups and Council. Silvan thought that sharing decisions making on budget allocation was unlikely to be supported by Council, and that they had in mind points of engagement futher down the participation spectrum, like "Information" and "Consultation."  We came up with a “low cost/high yield” start to Council working better with the community that goes like this: 

What? information sharing session between all those with an interest in each of the Strategy’s three areas of concern – Climate change, Biodiversity and Catchment Management. 

Why? There’s a lot happening that community groups don’t know about. Let’s start with a time to find out about that, and work out where there are opportunities for collaborate better. 

How? Convene a gathering of community groups and agencies with an interest in a theme. People break into discussion groups around specific issues where they see potential for collaboration. Each small group reviews action underway and picks where there’s opportunity for collaboration, between community groups, with Council, or with other agencies. Short report back, and those with an interest proceed with that collaboration as they choose.

Look for that idea in the draft Strategy when it comes out, and say what you think about it.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Special talk at Riddells Creek Landcare's AGM, Saturday, 15 August: AGM 2:00; Talk 3:30: How did Aboriginal Australians manage their knowledge of plants and animals critical to their survival? What does this tell us about ancient monuments like Stonehenge?

Bill Hall's Introduction to Lynne Kelly's

Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies

On July 3 at La Trobe University, Castlemaine local naturalist and author Lynne Kelly launched her new book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies

In her talk Lynne will explain how her research and discussions with Aboriginal Australians about how they maintained their detailed knowledge of the detailed natural histories of a wide variety of animals and plants gave her the insight to see how Stonehenge functioned that is different from any of the many ideas that have been put forward to now. Lynne is a great story teller, and I am sure her talk will be entertaining as well as important.

Personally, I am convinced that Lynne Kelly's work will revolutionize our understandings of ancient monuments like Stonehenge and how our prehistoric ancestors made the transition from hunting and gathering to managing agrarian city-states.
Dr Kelly is a science writer who started her career as a school teacher with a background in engineering, physics, mathematics, information technology and gifted education. This made her a very good story teller. She then went on to write 10 books for education before turning her hand to popular science titles. Lynne is also a skeptic who became an amateur magician and memory specialist to better debunk mystical and paranormal clap-trap. Her first popular science book, The Skeptics Guide to the Paranormal (Allen & Unwin - click book pictures for more information about each book from Lynne's web site) explains how the magician's tricks and feats of memory work.

For her next two books, also with Allen & Unwin, Crocodile: evolution's greatest survivor - looking at 23 species of crocodiles around the world but focusing on the two Australian species, and Spiders: learning to love them - an award winning look at their natural history, Lynne researched the surprisingly detailed and accurate natural history knowledge recorded in the Aboriginal dreaming.

crocodile_cover-vsmall      spiders-front-cov

On a holiday in England Lynne's husband, Damian, a prominent local birder, archaeologist and IT specialist decided they would have to visit Stonehenge. Lynne tells me she was initially reluctant to go with him because she was so put off by all the nutty and mystical explanations put forward to explain why the monument was actually constructed. Trying to answer why people with no more sophisticated tools than stones, bones and antlers would expend the huge amount of effort required to dig huge ditches and drag stones weighing many, many tons from than 100 km distant, certainly provided an opportunity for fanciful explanations.

Lynne and Damian at Stonehenge
However, Lynne's skepticism, dabbling in magic and mnemonics, and understanding of how Aboriginal Australians used tracks through the landscape to manage their detailed and extensive knowledge of natural history, geography, bush medicine, astronomy, etc. - all without writing - prepared her to see in a totally new light why people would want to build something like Stonehenge. She brought her idea back to Australia, and completed her PhD at La Trobe University in 2013 researching and testing her explanation against observations how pre-literate (primary oral) people around the world managed and transmitted large bodies of knowledge that could only be held in living memories.

In her talk, Lynne will explain how ancient monuments such as Stonehenge act as mnemonic devices in formal knowledge management systems. Systems like Stonehenge helped prehistoric cultures accumulate and transmit the great increases in new knowledge they required to make the transition from hunting and gathering to specialized trades and roles in settled agricultural communities and city-states.

From my own point of view, it took Lynne about 10 minutes to convince me that she had made a great and revolutionary discovery. I have been working for some time on my own book charting the evolution of tools and humans' capacity to manage knowledge from when our ancestors began hunting and gathering on the African savannas up to now. The only transition I could not easily explain was how hunters and gatherers could accumulate enough practical knowledge to take up agriculture and build towns and small cities without any concept of writing.

Lynne's idea that circular monuments allowed people moving from a mobile existence across broad landscapes where they indexed their mnemonic songs to conspicuous sites, to a sedentary existence in much smaller areas. The circles with their stones and pillars also provided memorable locations that could be used to index stories containing essential survival knowledge.

The entirely practical explanation of Stonehenge's functions makes sense of a lot of puzzling observations in prehistoric anthropology and archaeology, and from my own investigations, also coordinates very well with how memory is organized in the human brain.

Understanding how Stonehenge was used by pre-literate cultures to organize and index important survival knowledge also emphasizes in ways European Australians could not otherwise understand just how important their association with "country" was to our Original Australians. Their Country provided the loci for indexing their memories of natural history, technology and culture in song-lines.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Places We Love - Invitation to a Conversation

Are you concerned that the natural places you love are vulnerable?
Do you want to see more assured protection in law and in the policies of government, including local government?

The Places We Love alliance has invited people to step forward, and start talking to each other about a) what they care about in the places they love, and why, and b) what would better protect those places.

The alliance is made up of 42 state and national environmental groups. I heard about it through Michael Pulsford at Australian Conservation Foundation, who is supporting conversations in the marginal Federal electorates of McEwen (yep, that's Riddells) and Deakin (over the east side of Melbourne).

The change strategy is to connect numbers in communities with advocacy at national level for stronger laws protecting natural places. The alliance formed when the Commonwealth started talking about giving back decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2000 to the States. The EPBC has often been the only thing between developers and a lot of Australia's wild or definitely-wilder-than-urban places.

The alliance has developed an agenda for the conversation, which I learned by being part of a conversation Michael Pulsford ran a few weeks ago. Here's a photo of Michael (on the right, and that's Helen from the Daly Reserve group in the middle, and Chris who's a member of and lives in Diggers Rest).

Speaking personally, I want a way to influence policy, so I'm up for hosting some conversations. The simplest next step after the conversation is staying tuned to what the alliance does at national and State level, and they're offering to keep us informed.

The agenda is simple, but rich: first the Heart (What places do you care about? Why?), then the Head (what enviro issues do you care most strongly about?), and we close with the Hands (what needs doing on those issues?).

As the host, I document our views, and that goes into the Places We Love synthesis of views at the local level.

We need 2 hours for the conversation, and I'm suggesting my place at 288 Gap Road (the house beside the winery), 7-9 this Thursday evening 16th July. My living area has room for 6 people round the fire, plus me, so email or phone to say yes if you want to be in it. 

If you can't do that time, but want the conversation, call or write and we'll find an additional time.

Warm regards
Ross Colliver, 0411 226519

Friday, 10 July 2015

Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies

Dr Lynne Kelly’s new book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture (Cambridge University Press), is about to revolutionize our understanding of knowledge in prehistoric societies. 
Join us at 2.00, , Saturday 15th August, Dromkeen, 1012 Gisborne-Kilmore Rd, Riddells Creek for the Riddells Creek Landcare AGM. Hear what we’ve been doing this year. 
Afternoon tea at 3.00, then Dr Kelly at 3.30, to explore how pre-literate aboriginal cultures rehearsed and transmitted their survival knowledge about plants and animals as they moved through the landscape. Monuments and ritual recitations, songs and dances helped people index in living memory everything they had to remember about husbandry, cultivation, and crafts to build the first urban settlements. 

80 down and another 80 to go

Julie, Heather, Alice and Ross set out last Sunday with pruning shears, saw, mattock and chainsaw to discourage the sweet pittostrum, and we did. My rough calculation is 80 plants, many just babies, but quite a few larger and in seed, so it was good to get them out.

We've left them where we cut them, so wave as you go up Gap Road. But we cleared off the berries, and took them away, and we made a start on the creek side of Gap Road, which is where they are migrating from. That's another project waiting in the wings - another 80.

 Alice Cummins, Julie Macdonald and Heather McNaught with the berries.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Great progress restoring Sandy Creek

Sunday in late June, residents of Sandy Creek (many of them members of Riddells Creek Landcare) walked their way from the start of the creek, near the Blairs, to close to where it joins Riddells Creek. We had done a similar walk 5 years ago, and wanted to look at how the condition of the creek had improved.

We have all been involved in Melbourne Water's the Stream Frontage Program, which provides funding to get rid of weeds and plant native vegetation, though the stream sides often have plenty of seed and small plants hiding under the weeds (blackberry and gorse) that come back when spraying knocks these off.

What a change! The Red Hot Pokers on the Blairs need another round of discouragement, as do the blackberries on Vicki's place, next along the creek. But the Best's place is a delight, and the section from Ross's to Stig's has seen a big change as the blackberry dies back.

The creek keeps changing as we walk down it - the next section through to Lachlan and Suze's has a bedrock bottom, high sides, Prickly Moses Acacia verticillata  doing well, but also many sweet pittostrum.

From there we jumped to Helen's place, well out into the lower slopes, where there's a grand canyon formed only in the last 80 years. Water running fast off the cleared country has eroded the creek, but Dean reckons its stablised now.

Just a little further on, at the Godfrey's place, the creek is back to small banks. Robin Godfrey sent in this photo of this section in the 2010 floods.

Here are grabs from Dean Platt's notes:

Lachie and I found some interesting plants along the way – Gahnia radula Thatch Saw Sedge along the Nicolaides-Best frontage and what may have been Dianella tasmanica nearby to this as well.

Although there was little water in the creek, some ponds supported aquatics – I would like to get back and have another look and Russell will be able to clarify with me, but maybe there was Callitriche near the start of Best end.  I need to correct that the attractive water lily at Russell and Gill’s is actually the Cape Pond Lily Aponogeton distachyos (South African) and is a problem in parts of waterways around the Melbourne area.  So it is one to watch out for lest it becomes completely dominant.  I think the ephemeralness of the Sandy may hold it back a bit. 

It was good to see the Blackberry clearance along the way, long sections have now been cleared.  Excellent and quite probably contributing to the wombat spread into the creek now.  Logic would say that if the wombats have moved into the creek from the forests of the range above then either the habitat is now improved along the Sandy or the habitat has been degraded in the range forests.  I don’t think the latter is true so it is likely that the Sandy has improved and Blackberry removal has been a major change there.  Well done.  Remember there is a local native raspberry growing well in sections as well, hopefully it can spread now.   

We didn't make it all the way to the junction of Sandy Creek with Riddells Creek. Dean says it has "rugged volcanic steps with remnant manna gums above blackberry." Here's a photo, and this will be an adventure for another time.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Working Bee in Barrm Birrm

Sunday 5th July 10-12, meet on the verge at "Riddells Creek Winery" 292 Gap Road.

We're out to kill the sweet pitostrum that has spread into the lower slopes of Barrm Birrm. Birds drop seed, new tree grows up, more seeds. Break the cycle. Bring gloves, pruning shears and pruning saws for the bigger trees. I'll have Roundup.  Ross Colliver

The Big Walk

Sunday 14th June was RCL's trial of the Big Walk from the Snowgums to Volcanic Plains, that is, from the top of Mt Macedon down to Govans Lane.

In 6 hours, with time for morning tea and lunch, our intrepid walkers made the journey, travelling under the power of their own legs from the colder, wetter top of the Camels Hump, with its stand of snowgums, all the way to the drier mix woodlands/grasslands on the plains below.

Here are the walkers arriving at one of their stops, and then a view looking back from the plains to Mt Macedon, traversed in a day.

Put a note in your diary - 25th October for the next Big Walk - Snow Gums to Volcanic Plains.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An Eagle Perfect Day for hanging out the washing!

You might think that hanging out wet laundry to dry is an utterly mundane and boring task to be avoided if at all possible. Actually, it is probably your best chance to see some magnificent eagles navigating their territories as they soar from one thermal to the next.
Two eagles being harassed by an Australian raven. Picture taken by Chris Clarke, near Toolern Vale 2011-04-30. Click here for full resolution picture.
Last Sunday was a very good Autumn drying day, and as usual, I cranked up the Hills Hoist to capture the most sun, which means that I had to look up into the sky to peg things to the line... to see a pair of wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax) flapping along a hundred metres up, coming from the Gap Road area, looking for an elevator to Heaven. They found a small thermal over the Sandy Creek Road that helped them gain  some altitude. They flapped around a bit more and found a better one over the more open ground of the Two Hills Estate that did all the heavy lifting work for them as they took advantage of the warm rising air to soar in circles and figures of eight.

One of the eagles drifted off to the north west towards the Ranges when it reached two or three hundred metres - where I lost it in the sun. The second eagle continued rising overhead in the thermal - entirely without flapping - until it was so high I could barely see it before also drifting off into the sun over the Ranges.

Actually, this is the third or fourth time I have seen eagles this year while hanging out the washing. Good drying days are also good days for our plague of rabbits to come out to bask in the sun, and for heating the ground to form the thermals that make life easy for eagles to hunt them. 

I don't have a good camera for capturing events like this, so I have used some pictures from our sister website, Natureshare, to show what you might see on a good day for drying the washing.

Wedgetails seem to be quite social, as I often I see two eagles together, as I did Sunday, and earlier this year there were three together close enough to the ground that I could hear them having a conversation as they floated over. 

While hanging out the washing, I have also seen eagles being harassed by crows as shown in the Natureshare picture above.

Only about three weeks ago, I saw a large hawk or an eagle being pursued by three crows and a magpie or currawong (identified by white wing marks). The bird being mobbed wasn't large enough to be a wedge-tail, but could well have been a little eagle in the kind of scenario below, photographed by Jason Caruso, near Shepparton, 2013-03-23, where a magpie has just dive-bombed a little eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides).
Little eagle after being dive-bombed by an Australian raven. Picture by Jason Caruso from Tatura, near Shepparton 2013-03-23.

According to Wikipedia, the magnificent Australian wedge-tailed eagle is amongst the largest eagles on the planet. Although not the heaviest species, wedge-tails hold the record for the longest body lengths (over 1 m - thanks to their unusually long tails) and wingspans (over 2.8 m). They are easily identified in flight by their conspicuous wing marking (shown very well in the top picture) and elongated diamond- or wedge-shaped tail as shown very clearly in the picture below.
An adult wedge-tail in soaring flight. Photo by Chris Lindorff, west of Warracknabeal, 2012-07-27. Click here to look the eagle in the eye and click again.
Given the frequency of group sightings, I would guess that at least one family of wedgetails includes Riddells Creek and surroundings in their territory, so if you do a lot of laundry and keep them in mind, you'll probably see them. If you are lucky, they might even land or nest on your property! Up close they are truly magnificent birds as James Booth shows:
This guy might be lurking to pounce on a rabbit. Picture by James Booth, between Whittlesea and Kinglake, 2013-07-30. Click here for full resolution view and click again.

If  you want to know more about these masters of the sky, Wikipedia and Birds in Backyards give good summaries of their biology. For a really close-up understanding of their life, I found an excellent life history study in Australian Field Ornithology. I'm sure you can find more interesting things about them by exploring Google for Aquila audax.

As you can see, hanging out the laundry can sometimes be a pretty exciting task if you keep your eyes oppen!

Monday, 11 May 2015

The cars and chasms of Barrm Birrm

What to write next about Barrm Birrm, I asked myself. 

I decided to talk with Lydia and Ellena Best, my neighbours up the road, and arranged to drop in one Sunday afternoon.

Ellena Best on the left, Lydia Best on the right
They've walked a lot in Barrm Birrm - what did they like in there? Ellena said she liked looking out for animals. Did she have a particular part of Barrm Birrm that she liked? "Where all the crashed cars are," she said. What would she say to someone to get them interested in going to Barrm Birrm? 
"I would say, if you're really interested in wild animals, if you go there often, you might see some. And if you like insects and butterflies and stuff like that, they might be there."
"I think it's authentic, untouched, sort of, the way you'd expect bush to be," said Lydia. Her favourite places: the dam, and the place where the dirt has eroded and there's gaps you can walk through.

It was a fine afternoon. As we set off for BB, I didn't knowing quite what we would do and how interesting it would be for the girls. It was late autumn and not much was out. The land had that empty, dried-out, waiting-for-rain feeling.

I need not have worried. Lydia and Ellena's version of Barrm Birrm was pure thrill seeking, and I had to just hang on for the ride.

At first I was shocked and a little apprehensive. Then memory helped me out, memory of the back of North Balwyn, circa early 1960s, where the houses bled out to orchards, memory of the muddy and dangerous fun that was had at the boundary between suburbia and raw fields.

Fifty years later, I'm trying to be the responsible adult, "keeping an eye on things", but in truth, the girls are setting the pace. I'm back with damp smells and danger, making my way through a world larger than me.

We did indeed see a wallaby loping off at one point, but the afternoon was mostly about cars and gullies, and the afternoon light falling through the trees. Lydia, who has travelled through Barrm Birrm since she was a babe in arms, has the final word: 
"Just come and try it, and if you don't like it, that's fine, but I think you will."