Saturday, December 19, 2020

Travelling Pathetically - Berry No Longer an Island Edition

 In the latest of my increasingly desperate attempts to fill the yawning void in my life during the time when I'm not at work I have boldly struck out across the harbour to examine some of the lowest parts of the Lower North Shore.  To be strictly accurate Berry No Longer an Island should really be named Berry Never was an Island Except for a Brief Period in the Nineteenth Century When We Accidentally Made It One.  I think we can all agree that this is a little much to put on a business card so for the purposes of convenience we call it Berry Island.  For the record Berry Island sits in Sydney Harbour but was connected to the mainland by a little isthmus.  In the nineteenth century our habit of dragging boats across said isthmus carved sufficient of a groove for the harbour to flood in and make Berry Island a genuine island.  Sometime after that we filled it in again and turned the former isthmus into a park thus solidly anchoring Berry Island to the mainland.

The former island is located in the suburb of Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft was named after a guy who was related to somebody who was related to the person who wrote Frankenstein.  This is Wollstonecraft's big claim to fame.  The suburb itself is charming, leafy, village like with harbour views and close to the city or to sum it all up in one word "wealthy".  The population of Wollstonecraft falls into that category of people who are sufficiently wealthy to be in the highest tax bracket while not being wealthy enough to avoid paying taxes at all.

My knowledge of Wollstonecraft was actually limited to how to spell the word until my Tasmanian correspondent mentioned Berry Island.  I was suggesting that with most internal travel restrictions lifted I might visit her in Tasmania.  In desperation she suggested I visit Berry Island instead.  With the seed thus planted I checked out Wollstonecraft to reassure myself that I didn't need a passport to visit it (technically no although the inhabitants might prefer it if I did).  A quick glance at the map told me that Wollstonecraft's railway station was at the opposite end of the suburb to Berry Island but also that there appeared to be an extended stretch of green (at least it looked green on google maps) that would take me from the station to my not quite an island destination.

In contrast to my previous excursion the day was grey, overcast and always seemed to be teetering on the edge of pouring with rain.  Fortunately it settled for a light drizzle.  I hopped off the train at Wollstonecraft and set off, making my way past a stationside pet cafe called Chew Chew.  Shortly afterwards I consulted google maps again, turned around and walked in the opposite direction.  A neatly trimmed park rapidly turned into what is referred to as "remnant bushland".  Remnant bushland being code for "it was just too much bother to actually bulldoze and build on this".  A creek ran through this bushland and since the name of the creek was Berrys Creek it seemed propitious for eventually turning up in the vicinity of Berry Island.  A sign requested that I keep to the path and invited me to look out for all of the exciting animals that lived in this tiny shred of nature.  Eels and lizards were particularly mentioned.

I kept a close eye out for eels but there were none on the path.  In fact I was looking for eels so assiduously that I almost missed a rather handsome lizard overcasting itself on a convenient rock.  As you can see he is the perfect colour to be camouflaged against the background if he hadn't picked a bright green rock to sit on.

The photo is fine.  It was the lizard that was blurry


The path and indeed the bushland essentially followed the creek down to the harbour.  It was a narrow sliver of nature sandwiched between housing which was frequently so close that I could probably have held conversations with people in their back yards if I was so inclined.  I wasn't so inclined.  Despite this the area still managed to give off that calming vibe that comes from being in a part of nature not famous for its carnivorous animals.  The only sounds were the gurgle of the creek, the trill of birds and the gentle rattle of the trains in their natural habitat a couple of hundred metres away.  If you tilted your head thus and were careful with your camera angles you could imagine that you were alone with nature (let's not think about how terrifying that would actually be).

Totally unspoilt by the houses approximately ten metres on either side of this picture

Encouraged by my lizard triumph I carried on eager to see if eels would be equally photographically accommodating.  They weren't and my trip would be eelless nevertheless I forged onwards making my way from the Lower North Shore to the Even Lower North Shore.  Along the way, possibly under contractual obligation, a brush turkey wandered out from wherever it had been hiding and posed for photographs.  Apparently being bright black and red is the perfect camouflage for a largely green and grey background because I didn't see the thing until it was about five metres away and prancing back and forward in the hopes I would produce a camera.  Produce a camera I did but once the photo-op was out of the way each of us thankfully went about our business.  We're unlikely to stay in touch.

Can you see the brush turkey hiding in this photo?

Having rid myself of the pushy brush turkey I continued on down the creek until I hit a small snag.  The creek disappeared.  One moment there was trickling water and then a couple of small pools and then nothing.  Fortunately the path was better informed than I was, a mess of boulders later and the creek leapt out again with just a hint of smugness.  I looked carefully but there were still no eels.

So far I had navigated myself through the untamed wilderness of Wollstonecraft with aplomb but now the path had reached the sea.  Or more accurately it had reached a cove which in turn reached the harbour which (several kilometres away) did indeed impact with the sea.  In celebration of this fact the path split in two and a helpful sign pointed the way to Berry Island.  I promptly managed to walk in circles for ten minutes and was also terrified by a stealth spaniel.  It is embarrassing to be terrified by a spaniel.  It's like being mugged by a pensioner.  Still after a few deep breaths (and the possibility of several years of therapy) I managed to continue getting lost.  Since there was essentially only one path this required a special effort on my part but fortunately as I passed the signpost for the third time I noticed the direction I had to follow lurking modestly among the undergrowth and, only slightly dizzy, continued towards the island that isn't.

The sea beckons, now to steal a boat and make my way to freedom

And just like that I was out of the bush and onto a street.  A helpful sign had a map pointing out the direction I had to travel to get to Berry Island (just down the street) but I still studied it for ten minutes to make sure I wasn't going to mess it up again.  Thirty seconds walk down the street brought me to the aforementioned park that had been built on the isthmus we destroyed and in front of me loomed Berry Island in all its glory.  In fairness it probably looms a little more gloriously when it isn't grey and drizzling with rain.

That clump of trees is Berry Island

One of the many traits that I share with Field Marshal Montgomery is my habit of bringing a packed sandwich when journeying far from home (I'm also socially inept and a pathological liar although I do like to think I would not have dropped a parachute unit right on top of an SS panzer division).  I sat enjoying the drizzle and my sandwich while Berry Island issued its siren song.  Finally I could bear it no longer and drawn by forces I could not explain set out on the path that would enable me to circumnavigate the "island".  I had to stay on the path as a thin rope fence formed an impenetrable barrier to plunging through the bush.  Signs informed travelers that the bush was being regenerated (apparently a slower and less convenient process than Doctor Who would lead us to believe) and could we please stay on the path.  Oh yes and please not drop dog faeces anywhere.  Reluctantly sticking my dog faeces back in my pocket I trotted obediently along the path.

To my left was a tangle of (apparently only partially regenerated) bushland while on the right I gazed across the water to massive fuel tanks lurking near the shore.  Lurking near the fuel tanks was a rather shabby looking vessel called the ICS Reliance.  The ICS Reliance was built in Vietnam, is flagged in the Bahamas and is apparently cleaned by nobody.  The only reason why I didn't think it was derelict is because I googled it and apparently it is still operational.


Some rather handsome looking fuel tanks.  The ICS Reliance was too grotty to photograph

Berry Island was once a popular location for the Cammeraygal Aboriginal people due to the abundance of food that could be procured.  The views were pretty good as well.  Along the path is an Aboriginal rock carving of what might be a whale or might not.  Despite the fact that it is well signposted its actually difficult to identify the carving.  Being exposed to the elements the carvings naturally erode over time.  Traditionally Aborigines would continuously maintain and redo significant carvings to ensure they weren't lost.  Sadly, for depressingly obvious reasons, there is no one left with the skill or the knowledge to maintain this carving.  We're not even really certain what its a carving of, whale is just our best guess. 

With Berry Island under my belt there were decisions to be made like "how am I going to get home?"  Despite my problematic relationship with maps in general it appeared that if I continued my journey I could wander through some more bushland and wind up in the general vicinity of Waverton railway station.  Strangely this actually worked.  I walked through what appeared to be virgin bush.  At least it would have appeared to be virgin bush if it weren't for the signs popping up every so often to inform me that this was by no means the case.  In the nineteenth century and presumably before it became a home for the wealthy there was a certain amount of industry in this part of the North Shore including a timber works, a sugar refinery (which didn't last long) and a gas works (which did).  Once these industrial behemoths had been swept aside by the tide of history parks and sometime bush were inserted in their place.

I trotted through the not so virgin bush until I hit a fence with some very serious invitations to keep out posted on it.  For a moment I was outraged then I saw a whole bunch of floating stuff painted grey and decided not to challenge the navy for this part of the foreshore.  Instead I climbed parallel to the fence until I found myself on a street only five minutes from Waverton station.  How's that for navigation?

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