Saturday, December 2, 2023

Travelling Pathetically - Mangrove Fetish Edition

 Gazing at the map of Sydney on my computer I looked for a patch of green that had not yet been graced with the tread of my boot.  Unerringly my gaze zeroed in on Homebush Bay which had been the site of Sydney's Olympic Games a magnificent event I traveled to a different continent to avoid.  In an attempt to make the athlete's surroundings a little less revolting the authorities had remediated and generally defilthed a certain amount of poisonous wasteland and restored it to something approximating its condition before we started discharging factory waste into the area.  Of course they couldn't help themselves and there are also carefully sculpted parks to give people the impression of nature without forcing them to actually encounter any.  It would be to this green spot that I would travel one Sunday a couple of weeks ago.  

I caught the train to Homebush because it seemed that from there I could follow a creek all the way to the Parramatta River and take in the wetlands, mangroves and occasional remnant forest along the way.  Bizarrely this turned out to be exactly right.  Powells Creek starts its life as a rather miserable looking storm water drain near Homebush station and heads north towards the river in a bed of concrete gathering water and enthusiasm along the way.

The less than inspiring beginning of my journey

Once I had found Powells Creek I turned left to follow its path only to find Parramatta Road in my way.  Having skipped through the traffic I followed the concrete bound creek underneath the M4 overpass and somewhat improbably discovered an entire park beneath the sheltering concrete.  The day was already hot and suddenly the M4 went from a concrete monstrosity to a shady area of recreation.  Local citizens were indeed recreating in the shade with ping pong tables and childrens play equipment doing a roaring trade.  Definitely motorways are better from the underneath.

I gazed at this idyllic scene in sheer disbelief for a moment but continued my journey before any of the parents saw fit to report me to the police.  I Followed the "creek" along its concrete path.  This was made easier by the fact that a park had been established alongside it for much of its length.  I was walking on concrete but there was grass visible and even the occasional tree.  Water, I'm not entirely sure where from bulked out the wretched trickle that had been all that Powells Creek could present at first and before too long I encountered an excited sign which informed the world in breathless tones that from this point the creek had been stripped of concrete and returned to something vaguely approximating its natural form.  I took a picture of this auspicious location and carried on.

There, doesn't that look better

In keeping with this new dedication to all things nature the park I was walking through petered out and after a false start walking past some factory carpark I found myself bound by something approximating nature of both sides.  To my right was the creek and to my left the Mason Park Wetlands although given the recent weather they were more drylands or damplands at best.

There is some wet in there if you look closely

Wetlands mean birds and in case you didn't see any there were signs informing you of what you had missed.  Of particularly interest is the curlew sandpiper, a migratory bird that is extinct in the area due to our unfortunate habit of ruining its home, the sign is hopeful that with this wetland now available to them the sandpipers might return assuming there are any left and gives a helpful description just in case you happen to see one.  If, while lurking in the environs of Mason Park Wetlands you do happen to see one of these storied birds of legend please inform the parks authority as I suspect it will enable a number of their staff to die happy.

On I went, past the dampland heading towards my goal.  I passed under yet another motorway (Homebush Bay Drive I think) but there was no recreation area at this one, just the traditional rubbish and odour of stale urine.  Powells Creek on the other hand was really starting to hit its straps.  Liberated from its concrete shackles and inspired by the dampland on its right it went full nature with trees and shady bits and a rather pleasing coastal swamp look.

Yes, this is the same Powells Creek from a kilometre or two ago

Just as I was getting used to this new "back to nature" look I left the creek for a while.  I had reached the official parklands and veered off onto a new track which would take me in the direction of the mangroves which were the principal objective of all this faffing about with wetlands and concrete creeks.  The track took me away from the at least semi natural environment and into Bicentennial Park which is adorned with the sort of stuff that people think a flashy park should be adorned with.

Well its pretty I suppose, if you like that sort of thing

One of the things the park is adorned with is a treillage tower.  "Treillage" is a French word meaning "pointless construction".  The tower stands on a rise (because building a tower in a gully rather defeats the purpose) and allows a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  I climbed the tower because, well you do don't you.  A tower in a scenic spot always promises even more scenicky stuff if you expend the effort to climb to the top of it.  I climbed to the top of the tower with my arthritic knee complaining at every step.  When I got there I had a great view of everything I had already seen quite adequately from ground level.  I took a photo because by that time I felt committed.

The treillage tower. 

And this is the view.  This is basically the direction I will be walking in

With the treillage tower thankfully in my rear I down for the last and most interesting part of the journey.  Behind me lay the smoothly mowed park and ahead of me a tangle of estuarine vegetation.  It wasn't just mangroves, oh dear me no.  Indeed helpful signs announced the presence of at least five different vegetation types depending on how many millimetres the land in question was above the level of the river and therefore how likely it was to be periodically underwater.  Mangroves are just one of the soggier options.  I forget the others but none of them were smoothly mown grass.

Mangroves are of course terribly fragile so rather than defile them with our tread walkways had been built so that we could make our way through the mangroves without going to all the effort of blundering through them.  This is convenient as from a walking perspective mangroves are basically tree roots and sucking mud.  Mangroves also abound with life according to the signs.  Life presented itself in the form of far more birds than I saw at the supposedly bird intensive wetland (incidentally wetland is not mangrove there are vital millimetres of difference in height above the river level). 



More wildlife

Even more wildlife

OK we're probably getting sick of wildlife by now

Wildlife as you can tell mostly consisted of birds.  Or at least birds were the only ones who didn't sneak out of the way as I blundered past.  I did see fish when I stared very closely at the water.  Possibly because most of the water I look at is at least somewhat polluted I always seem to see the same type of fish.  They're small and nuggety and look rather like a fist with fins.  They give the impression they could survive in any water that isn't actually solid.  Any other life was buried under the mud waiting for the camera to leave.

More mangroves

When my mangrove journey came to an end I had a decision to make, namely what was I going to do now.  Somewhat belatedly I came up with a destination for my journey.  I would make my way to Wentworth Point, a gleaming new suburb on the banks of the river surrounded by parks, mangroves and, of course, water.  From there a ferry would take me back to civilisation.  For those of you who aren't sick to death of bird photos, hang around.

Actually the bird photo opportunities turned up a little earlier than expected.  I was at the end of the mangrove walk deciding on my next steps when a noise made me look down.  A brush turkey had quietly come to within two feet of me and was eyeing me speculatively.  I got the impression that it would have mugged me and taken my shoes if I hadn't seen it at that particular moment.

Evading the boldest brush turkey I've ever encountered I walked up a path/cycle track/access road that headed towards the river.  Powells Creek now spilling into Homebush Bay was on my right but once again on my left was wetland.  And what a wetland, this one made Mason Park Wetland look like a badly managed puddle.  It is of course wholly artificial, nature very rarely provides perfectly rectangular wetlands.  There were wetlands here once upon a time.  That time being before the advent of dredging, industry and general environmental devastation.  The one good thing about such devastation is that it provides a clean slate to build on if you ever want to bring some of it back.  They have really gone all out here.  Pumps provide the tidal water that would have come naturally before all of the dredging etc and artificial islands have been created to replace the ones that wound up as landfill elsewhere.  Waterbirds of both the migratory and stay at home varieties have voted with their wings and the place is packed with birdlife.

A black winged stilt

A pelican because you just can't keep them away

A rather disappointing photo of a great egret but the best I could get

Wetlands and birds; generic

By this time I was quite giddy with birdlife or possibly heat exhaustion so I moved on.  On the other side of the wetland Haslams Creek which has an even longer and more wretched concrete encased journey than Powells Creek spills into the Parramatta River revelling in its last few kilometres of concrete free existence.  Once across that I took a hard right at the archery centre (a hangover from the Olympic Games) and headed through Wentworth Point towards the ferry stop and my journey home.

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