Sunday, November 1, 2009


Last Friday I went on a walk at Bedlam Walls with Susanna van Essen. She drove us to the east side of the Derwent and north to a trail that runs along Geilstone Bay and then along the Derwent to Shag Bay. On the drive I caught sight of a white-faced heron fishing. The trail is a soft track, not stony like most of what I’ve walked here, and follows the shore quite closely, so you can look out at the water—and across to the Oil Depot and the Zinc Factory, which are not exactly scenic highlights.

The path takes you past a stairway that leads down the face of the cliff into some caves which were used by Aborigines for a long time. The entrance to the stairs is blocked by a fallen tree that the Parks Dept. has announced it can’t afford to move, but the stairs themselves are in good shape, and it’s easy to slide under the railing at the top and get onto them if you want to see the caves. The caves themselves aren’t deep. They contain—or did—middens that yielded mussel and oyster shells when excavated.

The interpretive signs along the trail and at the site have been scrawled over and badly scratched—I assume Parks also can’t afford to clean or replace them—so it’s not possible to read them completely. However, one interesting fact I could make out was that it was unusual to find middens with evidence of only two foodstuffs in them. It seems no one really knows why the remains are so limited—the ease of harvesting the shellfish there is one possibility.

The stairway down to the caves and the walk about it are lined by large and very beautiful sheoaks, members of the Casuarinaceae. They have leaves that look like long needles (“fused to slender, erect branchlets, arranged in whorls” it says on the Tree-Flip chart). Their colour has a hint of blue in the green, perhaps, and their foliage is unlike any tree at home. Perhaps it’s their shape or something delicate about the foliage, but they make a mournful note at this place, very near the site at which an Aboriginal band hunting kangaroos was mistaken by whites for attackers and massacred.

Susanna and I went on to the near side of Shag Bay. On the way I nearly stepped on a small lizard, a lovely grey colour with whitish diamond-shaped markings. It matched the weathered sticks it stood on, and so stayed still for me to photograph it. Susanna thought it was called a dragon of some sort. I hope to be able to identify it eventually. We perched on some rocks near the water and opened the thermoses. The shore on the other side went up steeply, a rock face with trees on top, their canopy ragged and open.

After our breeak we went back to the car, and drove to see the remnants of the barque Otago, at Otago Bay. That ship was the first that Joseph Conrad captained. How it ended up here, or just what happened to it, I don’t know. The wreck looks as if there were two ships—two largish chunks of broken ribs lie at the shore. Or perhaps it was double-hulled.

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