Spring is here, the weather has slowly been progressing towards a more stable, predictable pattern. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, this is still Melbourne and it could still hail at any time without warning. Time to start thinking about hitting the beach. That was my initial intention for this weekend, the temperature on Friday hit the low 30s for a while. Heading down to Brighton was on my mind, I may have even got a little bit excited about feeling the sand beneath my feet, enduring the still cold sea wash over my ankles. You can imagine then, my disappointment when waking up on Saturday to find the weather a bit, well, drab.
Not be put off, Elena and I got up reasonably early, threw on some shorts and our thongs still full of optimism. Our first point of call for the day was the market, where we’ve taken to now doing almost all of our weekly shopping. Not only is it cheaper than the local supermarkets, it’s a lot more enjoyable to amble through, there’s rarely a queue to pay, and the food is often fresher. On the way, we found that it was significantly colder than we’d anticipated. Thoughts of the beach became less appealing, I began to slip into what has become a disturbingly frequent apathy towards anything at all. Before things became to despairing, we did manage to do a fantastic job at the market, although we came home completely unaware of how we’d managed to spend so much…
The rest of the day looked like it was set to be written of as a total no show. We were stuck for ideas of what to do, where to go, I for one was starting to think of giving up, going to sleep, waiting for tomorrow and with it the chance for a fresh start. Fortunately, something, somewhere in the back of my head decided to spark up, slap the rest of my ready to retire mind into getting itself together and just going anywhere, to do anything. Not too far from us, no more than 4km, is the Yarra Bend Park, far enough away for me not to have a made a journey out that way more than once, but close enough to squeeze in an afternoon’s visit. Hey, I thought, there’s got to be something of interest out that way, even if we just end up taking a stroll along the river, that beats sitting here, wallowing in our own self-imposed state of nothingness.
Driving through Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood I realised that even after two months I still haven’t bothered to take some time out to simply wander the streets of my new neighbourhood. This has to change, soon. There’s so much out here, an endless supply of opportunity that I’ve, so far, been letting go to waste. I made a mental note to add this to the top of my to-do list for next weekend, or earlier if I’m feeling perky enough after a stint in the office. By now the day had brightened considerably. There was, for a brief moment, a frustration that spread over me that we hadn’t committed to the idea of the beach regardless of the weather. That moment passed quickly as we arrived at the park, finding a place to leave the car. This is the last significant area of natural bushland in inner Melbourne. My mood improved immediately, there was every shade of green on display, a seemingly infinite number of direction to walk in.
Our little adventure started off exceptionally well, strange and unusual sounds bombarded us from a nearby tree. I made some enquiring glances towards the branches in our immediate vicinity where I spotted a kookaburra receiving some grief from a willy-wagtail, before launching itself into the distance. As we headed down the hill towards where I thought we’d find a weir based on some brief viewings of a map, we found a man who advised that he’d spotted a couple of snakes or lizards slither or scurry across the track. Elena told me almost immediately that if we see a snake she’d be going back to the car. I was, naively perhaps, less concerned. Coming from a country where the most dangerous animal you’re likely to encounter on a stroll through the rolling hills is an angry farmer, I don’t think I really considered the implications of the rising temperature combined with our bare feet on the track, slowly decreasing in width, as it twisted through the grasslands.
Elena felt that I was a.) walking too slowly, and b.) not paying enough attention, eventually making the decision that we weren’t well prepared for a possible run in with a brown snake. I was, admittedly, not best pleased with this sudden change of plans, feeling like we were bound to miss something good, as we headed back the way we came. On later reflection, I’m quite glad that the decision had been made by one of us through choice and not forced upon us by a snake bite. Returning to the road, we continued on, spotting the weir much further round that I’d anticipated. This time the path was wider, more used, so we headed down again.
The park is in itself, quite the surprise. It’s something like 600 acres of bush, a meaningless measurement really because I’m fairly certain nobody knows how big an acre is, in the middle of the city. You can quickly forget that you’re minutes drive from the CBD. Every so often an apartment block, or a tarmac path, a concrete wall of graffiti across the river reminds you that this is still suburbia. That said, the natural beauty of the area is in no way affected by these occasional hints of civilisation. The air is thick with the smell of eucalyptus. The drone of highways, the main roads nearby, are drowned out by the vast symphony of bird song. The trees, grasses, other various plants, grow together creating a carpet of greens, yellows, reds and browns, that roll up to thick walls of branches and leaves.
With plenty of time left when we arrived back at the car, we drove further on journeying along the Yarra Scenic Drive which covers I know not how much of the river. After missing a couple of car parks, we eventually pulled over to see what we might find, if anything at all. A signpost greeted us, pointing the way to the flying-fox viewing platform. I took this to imply a rather plain, view point that might offer some good views back in to the city, maybe at certain height in the tree. I only considered as an after thought that it might actually be a platform from which to view flying foxes. As we approached the river I was at first completely oblivious to the social activity in the trees before us. A few metes from the river’s edge the platform became visible, that’s when I noticed these odd, black fruits hanging from the trees.
These were no fruits at all but a massive colony of flying foxes. Cast your mind back to last summer, when I was at the Botanical Gardens for the Moonlight Cinema watching these same creatures take off for the night. I mistakenly assumed that they were living in the gardens, turns out that they used to but were relocated to Yarra Bend Park as it provided a more sustainable environment for the size of the colony. Apparently, I then promptly forgot they even existed as I did not expect to run into them on our day out.
These little critters, who when spreading their wings were definitely not that little, were out in the masses. There’s anywhere from 3000 to 30,000 living here throughout the year. In my mind, bats have always lived in caves and I’ve assumed that, as they’re known for being nocturnal, that they would be sleeping. Turns out that during the day, they’re busy socialising, hanging out with their pals, generally enjoying being a grey-headed flying fox. I was suddenly having a most excellent afternoon. In the river, groups of people were coming through in kayaks (something else to add to the list, I need to know how I can do this.) and in the treetops above us, the noise was unbelievable. These little hanging black parcels of animal were everywhere, as I’m sure you can tell, I’m still not over quite how many of them were here. Once we’d had our fill of flying mammals for the day, we decided it was probably about time we headed home. This is definitely one to come back for though, around dusk when they take off for their night’s feed is bound to be an incredible spectacle.