29 December, 2010


Confluences are something the Barwon doesn't really have in great abundance. Actually, there are only three points at which rivers converge along the 145km length of the Barwon. The first is the point at which the East Barwon and West Barwon branches of the river join near the town of Yeodine.
Confluence of the Barwon and Leigh Rivers
I have not yet been to this part of the river, however I have in the last two days seen both the confluence of the Barwon and Leigh Rivers near Inverleigh and that of the Barwon and Moorabool at Fyansford. The former is in a pleasant rural setting a kilometre or two from the town and is interesting for the fact that it forms a T-intersection, allowing the viewer to stand at the top of the T and look down-river for some distance. When standing in this position, the Leigh flows in from the left and the Barwon from the Right.
The area boasts the usual array of bird-life, however the selection of species is somewhat different to that found downstream. Whilst I have seen Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Galahs, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Superb Fairy Wrens, Pacific Black Ducks, Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes and a variety of others on other parts of the river, I have not so far found Pacific Swallows elsewhere. During the course of yesterday's brief visit I almost managed to get a clear photograph of a bird I had not so far seen and therefore almost managed to identify it. Very frustrating!
As far as I can tell, it was most probably a Blue-winged Parrot (also known as a Grass Parrot) and the specimen in question was sitting obligingly on a fence waiting for me to finish taking shots, however as always seems to be the case, the sun was in the wrong direction, making it difficult to see colour. Looks like I'll have to take another trip to Inverleigh...and perhaps try out Red Door Cafe while I'm there...oh, the sacrifices I make!
Confluence of the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers
Today, I was in the vicinity of the next confluence - that of the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. It was a brief visit as I was in the process of running my first half-marathon distance run in the last three months. The weather was too hot and the distance was too long, but I did complete it. To be honest, I can't say I even considered this junction as I passed. This may in part have been due to a certain degree of oxygen deprivation and dehydration - I was about 14km in and it was starting to become unpleasant - but unlike the Leigh junction, this one is a definite Y shape and surrounded by quite a significant amount of overgrowth, making it somewhat difficult to spot.
In fact, it was quite some time after I started using this part of the track that I eventually noticed it and to be honest, if approached from the Fyansford direction (as I did today), it is possible to miss it altogether.
Viewed from down-river, the Barwon is on the left and the Moorabool on the right. I have previously mentioned that the Barwon is currently quite muddy. I am informed that this is due to the fact that finally, following the recent rain, the Moorabool is now flowing down to the Barwon and bringing the mud with it. This has not been the case in recent years.
Another point of interest when discussing this junction is that the Barwon forms what is known as an "anabranch". This is the technical term for a split in a river which rejoins the main flow at some point downstream. This can result in an island forming in the river which does occur here, however in this case, the anabranch which splits from the Barwon, rather than rejoining it's own river instead flows into the Moorabool River just above the junction of the two, creating what I discover is called Red Gum Island. Now that I think of it, there is another point further downstream where the Barwon divides for a short distance to form Goat Island which is crossed by the acqueduct below Breakwater.
Whilst there are only thee river confluences along the course of the Barwon, there are several creeks which also flow into the Barwon. I have read that there are twelve such creeks: Boundary Creek, Matthews Creek, Atkin Creek, Deans Marsh Creek, Birregurra Creek, Yan Yan Gurt Creek, Brickmakers Creek, Retreat Creek, Scrubby Creek and Warrambine Creek all enter above the Leigh whilst Sandy Creek enters between the Leigh and Moorabool Rivers.
It occurs to me however, that I can think of at least one other creek which joins the Barwon just below the Breakwater at Geelong, namely Waurn Ponds Creek, making me wonder whether there are other, smaller creeks which join the river but do not rate a mention. Perhaps more investigation is required.

27 December, 2010

To the edge and back...

So, having run Christmas morning (apparently I was the only one, but yes, I snuck out for a quickie after Santa's offerings had been distributed around the lounge room) and taken Boxing Day off, I decided it was time we all got moving. Today, the plan was that I start running and the rest of the family would catch me up on their bikes.
Hmmm...by the time I was past the Breakwater and heading to Queen's Park I figured that either I was a much better runner than I thought (highly unlikely), or something hadn't gone quite to plan.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the latter proved to be correct. I was betting on a technical hitch with the new gizmo which hubby was using to tow the 6 year old on his bike - I'm guessing not too many kids that age can say they got a metal pole for Christmas - however, it turned out that one of the other bikes had thrown a fit and it was not until all the ball bearings had been captured and replaced that they got under way.
As a result, I took the long route (12km) and they covered a rather more leisurely 5km. The weather was surprisingly warm and annoyingly windy. At the 4km mark I was cruising but by 9km I was struggling. I've not yet managed to figure out why, but I seem to be prone to getting a stitch somewhere past the 8km mark of a run. Today was no exception and much to my disgust I had to stop to sort it out and then again within a few hundred metres of my destination.
On the way however, I did note the usual array of rather more common birds. Nothing particularly unusual except perhaps for the presence of a number of small fluffy additions to the flock. On Christmas Day during a post-prandial stroll up to Queen's Park, we laughed at moorhen chicks hopping from lily pad to lily pad - making the most of it while they were still light enough to do so I guess. Then, in addition to another chick today (it seems we can expect a population explosion in coming months), I saw a couple of black cormorant chicks trying to stay on the upriver side of the Breakwater.
Not far beyond this I saw something else I had never seen before. Shock and amazement!! The greens at the Belmont Golf Course were being watered by sprinklers, and during daylight hours at that! Thanks to the prevailing wind direction, I even received a cooling shower as I passed - a pity I wasn't running as far as the Queen's Park Golf Course, maybe I could have had another hosing down there! After so many years of tight water restrictions it was hard not to flinch at the thought that every single drop wasn't staying on the greens where it should, but then I considered that much of it was probably just taking a slightly different route to get to the mouth of the Barwon - something I intend to do myself one of these days...
So, having dragged myself up the river in varying states of discomfort I then began backtracking a kilometre or more towards my objective - that being a coffee at the Barwon Edge. Quite a pleasant objective, although perhaps not too high on the list of appropriate ways to rehydrate after a run. Upon arriving I was informed of the dramas and that the crew had only been waiting about 5 minutes.
So we sat, we ordered, we drank and we (well the kids) played. I just looked at the view, which I must say is rather lush and green at the moment. Apparently, somewhere in the midst of all the trees and reeds was a river - but I couldn't see it. I decided that the weather was far more suited to drinking coffee outdoors than to running, however I still needed to get home and the quickest way to do that was to run.
So now, fuelled by caffeine, I headed for Landy Field. I have to admit that I failed to note any significant stimulant effects of the coffee, possibly in part due to the fact that I was somewhat distracted by site of the rest of the family straggling along the track. Two were on bikes which needed if not up-sizing, then some fairly serious adjustments to their seat heights before we head to the coast in a week or two while the "two bikes joined by a pole" arrangement clearly needed some tweaking. The basic principle here is that the front wheel of the child's bike is locked in position and elevated above the ground by a pole which attaches it to the rear of the adult's bike. This allows the adult to provide most of the power and all of the steering while the child is able to help by pedaling too. As it turns out, and depending on the temperament of the child in question, the small person on the back may also have ultimate braking rights which turned out to be the case here as his bike is of the variety which has pedal brakes.
As they overtook me, it became clear that the pole also needed to be carefully aligned to upright so that the smaller bike too is in that position - not at the jaunty ten degree angle I was observing. Despite this, he was doing a rather good job of pretending he had one leg longer than the other and keeping himself vertical. From my perspective it was all rather amusing...but then, if it had all gone horribly wrong, I could pretend I'd never seen them before and just keep running...ultimately I didn't have to make the choice as everyone made it back to Landy Field unscathed. Phew!
I can only guess what the other users of the path thought of the whole affair, but from the expressions on the faces of the two boys on scooters watching us pass it wasn't far from a comedy act...

23 December, 2010

Value adding

From a single fellmongery and tannery business on the banks of the Barwon in 1841, these and the related trades of scouring and boiling down had grown considerably by the 1860s to become the mainstay of Geelong's wool industry. This was despite their reputation for pollution and noxious odours which had seen them contained to the area below the breakwater. Naturally therefore, when Geelong's industrial base began to move beyond primary production, the milling of wool was one of the earliest trades to develop.
Godfrey Hirst Carpets, site of the Victorian Woollen Mill and
the Barwon Woollen Mill, later Excelsior Mills No1 and No2.
The first woollen mill in Geelong, established with the aid of a government grant was up and running by 1867 under the name of the Victorian Woollen and Cloth Manufacturing Co. on what is today the site of Godfrey Hirst Carpets at the corner of Swanston Street and Barwon Terrace near the Barwon River.
By 1870 a second woollen mill the "Albion" was up and running upstream of the Moorabool Street Bridge and by 1874 a third - the Barwon Woollen Mill, located to the rear of the Victorian Woollen Mill next to the river - was under construction. The successful tender for the latter building was that of Tippett and Barker of Ballarat, which may yet again prove to have connections to my family history as my paternal grandmother is descended from the same family as many of the Ballarat Tippetts.
By 1892 the Barwon Woollen Mill was in financial trouble and was sold to Godfrey Hirst who renamed it the Excelsior Woollen Mill No1. Likewise, and suffering from a decline in sales as a result of cheap imported fabric and inferior immitations, the Victorian Woollen and Cloth Manufacturing Co. was put up for sale. This too was purchased by Hirst and named Excelsior No2. The two ran jointly until 1912 when Excelsior 1 was destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt as a single storey, brick structure.
Valley Worsted Mill with Godfrey Hirst in the background.
A relative latecomer, by 1925, the last and largest of the woollen mills to be built in South Geelong was under construction at the corner of Swanston Street and on the opposite side of Barwon Terrace to Godfrey Hirst. This was the Valley Worsted Mill which in its day was the largest and most modern mill in the country.
These early companies were the forerunners of a thriving textile industry which developed in Geelong and which eventually took over from the tanneries, scours and fellmongeries as the major business of the town.
Despite some periods of revival - for instance during the First World War - the latter would never again attain the same level of productivity as they did prior to the 1890s. It was now cheaper to export the raw skins than to have them processed here.
Likewise, the textile industry continued to suffer as we have already seen from international competition, this time in the form of cheap artificial fibres developed in Britain and Germany. However, inspite of this, productivity continued to increase and by 1935 eight mills were processing wool in Geelong which also became a centre for research and training in the industry.
In addition to the wool school at the Gordon Institute, a Wool College was established in 1943 offering diploma courses in textiles and textile chemistry whilst Geelong was chosen as the site for CSIRO's textile research division in 1946. Victorian wool was renowned for being the best in the Commonwealth and Geelong was seen as the headquarters of the Victorian wool industry.
Clock at Valley Worsted Mill.
Of the mills which lined the Barwon and were so important in their day, the Excelsior Mills remain in operation today as Godfrey Hirst Carpet, producing quality products for the domestic and international markets as they have done since the 1960s when they ceased production of a variety of other textiles to concentrate on carpet-making.
Valley Worsted operated for 50 years before merging with the company of John Foster and Son (Aust) Pty Ltd to become John Foster Valley Ltd. Such was the secrecy surrounding the merger negotiations that the mill became known as "The Mill of Secrecy" and a book with this title, outlining the history of the mill was published in 2009.
Most recently, the entire site has been put up either for lease or sale and at last report had been conditionally purchased for $6.4 million by a microbrewing company - Little World Beverages - from Fremantle who intend to make the site the base for their east coast brewing enterprise.

21 December, 2010

Sun and Willows

Sunnyside Wool Scouring Company, Breakwater.
The history of the site on which the Sunnyside Wool Scour stands at Breakwater is in many ways synonymous with the industrial history of Geelong and the Barwon River. As early as 1840, wool was being exported from Geelong to London. As a result, the factories required to process the wool and hides began to appear on the banks of the Barwon.
 Purchased initially in 1853 by John Ford Strachan, the site on which Sunnyside stands was sold by 1862 to Thomas Marshall who in turn sold it to Edmund Haworth in 1866. All these names were significant to the development of the wool trade in Geelong during the 1850s and are still recognisable today.
Notably, the nearby suburb of Marshall (formerly Marshalltown) was named after Thomas' sons Thomas and Foster Marshall. Thomas was a fellmonger and wool trader who had emigrated from England in 1840. He and his family lived in a house nearby called "Breakwater".
Many of the local street names still attest to the industrial origins of the area around Breakwater and to the breakwater itself - Breakwater Road, Tanner Street, Leather Street, Tanner Court, Currier Lane, Industrial Place and Fellmongers Road in Breakwater as well as Woolscour Lane and Tannery Road, Marshall to name a few.

Sunnyside Wool Scouring Company, Breakwater.
It is known that wool scouring took place on the site at least as early as 1867 and probably dated back to the 1850s during the period of Marshall's ownership. After purchasing the property, Edmund Haworth conducted both scouring and fellmongering operations on the site. Its location on the river was of course, integral to both processes. Water from the Barwon was used to wash the scoured wool which in the early days was done by hand on the riverbank using what was known as the pot-stick method. This procedure was later replaced by steam-driven machinery. In addition, waste products from both the scouring and fellmongering activities were discharged in to the river and washed downstream. It was important that waste only entered the river below the breakwater as this would have protected the town's water supply. In fact the purity or lack there of, of the river's water supply was an issue which preoccupied residents, industries, local councils and the government alike for decades.

Chimney built by John Haworth at Sunnyside Wool Scour

The brick chimney which can be seen from various points on the river was erected by John Haworth, the son of Edmund who took over ownership of the property from his father in 1899. His initials can be seen built into the brickwork of the chimney.
For several years, John leased the property and in the early 1900s an unsuccessful attempt was made to establish a woollen mill on the premises by Dr Charles Edward Barnard which had closed by 1903 due to poor management by the Sellenger brothers Charles and William, the latter of whom was employed as manager. The next occupant was William Goode & Co probably trading under the name of Breakwater Woollen Mill, followed by the adaption of the buildings in about 1907 to carry on a leatherworks. This company was known as the Commonwealth Tannery Co. and was run by Robert J Kennedy who first leased and then purchased the property outright in 1909. He in turn sold out in 1913 to Henry O'Beirne who once again set up a fellmongery and wool washing works on the site. The years of the First World War saw a boom in wool prices with the quality of Geelong wool considered second to none. However, a slump in the English market following the war meant O'Beirne temporarily closed the works and finally went out of business in 1932. The property was then leased to the Melbourne company Oanah Wool Pty Ltd which may never have operated from the site and then by 1934 to the Dominican Wool Co. who purchased it.
In 1938, local brothers Harold and James Fowler took over ownership and called their company "Sunnyside Scouring Co." They conducted a number building works and made improvements and modernisations to the equipment including the addition of a large, galvanised iron shed surrounding the older bluestone building constructed by Haworth. In 1948, following a dispute with his brother, Harold sold out to James and moved next door to establish his own works, probably on the site once owned by his grandfather Daniel Fowler Snr.
The company suffered a setback when on 2nd June, 1953 it was reported in the Melbourne Argus that a fire almost completely gutted the premises, however Sunnyside continued trading and eventually James passed the property to his son James Leo upon his death in 1969. James Leo then ran it until his retirement in the 1970s when he closed down the works but retained the buildings to store scoured and baled wool for sale when prices were at a premium. James Leo died in 1987. The property was purchased finally by Owen Callan and son Graham, local wool dealers who ran their business from the site.
 Despite varying fortunes over the years, some structures dating back to the earliest days, including sections of the bluestone and timber building erected by Edmund Haworth in 1867, remain. As time passed, a variety of other buildings were added, many of which are still standing, others having been removed to serve the current needs of the owners. Whilst its use has varied over time, the property has remained in almost continuous operation since the 1850s. Today it is the only remnant of the wool processing works which have been conducted at the Breakwater since the mid-19th century.
Willow trees and chimney of the scouring works of
Old Dan Fowler Snr next door to Sunnyside Scouring Co.
There is also a personal aspect to the story of Sunnyside, which I was unaware of until I began to research the company, but soon came to suspect. In 1932 my great-aunt - Bernice Stafford - married one of the many Breakwater Fowlers and they lived at Marshall. Her husband Frank was the grandson of Daniel Fowler Snr, the same Daniel who was grandfather to James and Harold, one-time owners of Sunnyside, making them first cousins. Daniel, was a noted resident and himself a fellmonger and scourer at Breakwater as far back as the 1870s, having arrived from Kilkenny in 1861. He owned various properties in Breakwater and across Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula and in 1881 purchased the property adjoining what would become the Sunnyside Scouring Co. to be established by his grandsons.
This property was razed by fire in 1897, but business went on and Daniel retained ownership of the property until his death in 1930 at the ripe old age of 95. From this time until 1947 it was administered as part of his estate by several of his sons at which point it was sold to his grandson Harold who had dissolved the partnership with his brother James in Sunnyside next door. Harold called old Dan's property the Willows for the trees which grew along the bank of the Barwon at the back of his land. He finally closed it as a scouring works in 1960, however it re-opened for a time when a tenant used it, much like Sunnyside, for wool storage and sorting. Unlike Sunnyside, the building was demolished c1987-8 with the exception of its chimney which was left standing as a memorial to Dan Snr by his family.
The Sunnyside Scouring Co. and the Willows are only two examples of the thriving 19th century wool industry which lined the banks of the Barwon below the breakwater. Beyond Fowler's were a string of allotments all housing businesses devoted to the wool and skin trades including other fellmongeries, scours, tanneries and a glue factory. Earlier business interests of the Fowlers were also established here where they conducted the usual trades of fellmongering, wool washing and tanning.
Those who owned and worked these businesses were the original inhabitants of the towns of Breakwater and Marshall and many of their names and occupations are embedded in the fabric of these suburbs and of Geelong. For those who know what to look for, the last vestiges of this bygone era can be seen on the banks of the Barwon River to the present day.

20 December, 2010

Still running...

On Saturday I managed to get my act together and went for another run. This time I went up to Fyansford and back as far as Moorabool Street before deciding that 15km would do and walking back the rest of the way. Not my best effort and certainly not my fastest, but at least I got it done.
The weather once again was not at all "summery". It was by turns windy, warm, showery and cool which may in part have accounted for my lack of pace. There was nothing too out of the ordinary - unless you count a stray table floating upside down not far from the James Harrison Bridge. Perhaps the result of a Christmas party that became a little too festive?
The only birds in attendance appeared to be the most common and I discovered firstly that moorhens are adept at surfing the backwash from passing speedboats and secondly that they are none too concerned about where they choose to perform certain activities - and that despite the backwash!
Barwon River trail near Queens Park.
This was the first time I had run as far as Fyansford since the track re-opened after the World Championship Cycling. I can't say there was anything astoundingly different to last time I ran there. Clearly the cricket season was now under way and quite a few golfers were getting in a pre-Christmas round at Queens Park. As I ran past the King Lloyd Reserve there was a solid thwack of leather on willow, followed shortly after by a resounding cheer as a wicket was taken. There was no such luck for the teams playing at Queens Park as I passed that particular ground some thirty minutes or so later.
As I headed in the general direction of the Fyansford Pub I was pleased to note that the magpie which had attempted to part my hair on more than one occasion in the past, was nowhere to be seen. Clearly swooping season is finished, so someone needs to tell the cyclists who spend most of spring riding around with little spiky bits of plastic sticking out of their helmets, that it is safe to remove them. Whether this is an effective deterrent or not is debatable, but as a runner, I can't say that the thought of running a significant number of kilometers with the plastic equivalent of a porcupine strapped to my head is particularly appealing. Perhaps I'll just avoid that end of the river during the season.
I have many favourite sections of the Barwon and the part near the Queens Park Golf Course is one of them. The trees on either side join in the middle to form a continuous canopy which not only provides very welcome shade, but at this time of year is green, leafy and it makes me think - very English. It will be a different story come late autumn after a few showers and with the leaf-fall well advanced at which point it will be more like skating than running, but at the moment it is very pretty.

13 December, 2010


In search of more birds and to check out the new facilities reported to have been built I set out for Tait's Point for the first time since my first visit earlier this year. Well, the facilities, such as they were, consisted of a viewing platform similar to that at the end of Ash Road on the other side of the lake and a few rock retaining wall thingies held together by chicken wire. There was however, no sign of the reputed loop trail along the edge of Hospital Swamp. Perhaps it is phase two of the plan.
What I did find, was a somewhat larger array of birdlife than last time. I very quickly discovered a number of crested pigeons who were quite happy to be photographed at a distance of only a few metres before flying away with that peculiar whistling noise their wings make. As usual, Superb Fairy Wrens were everywhere along with Red Wattlebirds, Willie Wagtails and a small, light brown bird which despite a lengthy game of hide-and-seek, wouldn't sit still long enough to be photographed and identified.
Musk Duck.
On the water, I discovered what I later found to be a Musk Duck, an odd little black duck with a bulbous scent gland hanging below its beak and a lone Black Swan. It seemed that the majority of birds, rather than making their home at Tait's Point were merely passing through. Overhead I saw a pair of Black Swans, a flock of Silver Gulls, a bird of prey which didn't hang around long enough for me to identify, a Little Black Cormorant and on several occasions, what I suspect was some species of tern, but again it didn't wait around for me to find out. Unlike Reedy Lake and the opposite side of Lake Connewarre, there were very few birds actually on the water, most were in the air or living in the scrubby cover on the edge of the lake.
Next, I headed back towards town hoping to see some of Hospital Swamp and the sections of the river below Breakwater. This proved rather more difficult than I hoped and in the end, the best views I could find were from the end of Horseshoe Bend Road in Marshall. The river at this point was similar to some of the in town sections; relatively wide and lined with reeds. Swallows, Willie Wagtails, Australian Reed Warblers and a nest of Mud Larks were all around. Perhaps the most interesting part of the view was the old buildings and overgrowth on the opposite bank of the river at Breakwater.
Which was where I headed to next. I had intended for some time to investigate a short overgrown section of the river past the breakwater. There is no formal path, but more of a goat track - worn by I didn't really want to know whom - which follows the river a short distance along the south bank. I took a few shots of the river and the opposite bank and was already feeling somewhat uncomfortable about the length of the grass to either side of the track. I turned back, then changed my mind and decided to push past an overgrown section into a clearing where I found myself perhaps five metres from a rather large, but fortunately rather immobile brown snake.
Needless to say, I beat a rapid retreat, but not before managing to snap off one rather hasty shot. I wasn't hanging around to wait for it to take up a more flattering position. Consequently, I'm not exactly sure how long it was, but if diameter is anything to go by - it was big! I don't think I'll be heading back to that part of the river any time soon...

12 December, 2010

Just Do It!

Today I decided to adopt the Nike principle. I had a spare couple of hours while the rest of the family were occupied elsewhere, so I had just enough time for another run provided I didn't go too far (no problem there) and provided I went immediately. Rather than procrastinate I figured I'd just get on with it rather than considering my options. So I did. The weather wasn't too bad. Once again a little too windy to make life easy, but it did help to keep the temperature down.
With limited time, I figured I'd head down to Breakwater then round to Princes Bridge at Shannon Avenue before heading back to Landy Field. My resolutions about hills went out the window in deference to sore ankles and I walked home - despite being short of time. Oh well, next time.
This time I resolved to pay more attention to counting bird species and less to my lungs and was somewhat rewarded. Of course larger birds are easier to spot as are those which are fairly common or those - like the Willie Wagtail - which are quite outgoing. One of the latter followed me along an open section of the path near Barrabool Road for some distance and seemed to find the going significantly easier than I did at that point as I was beating into a significant headwind. This fact was rather apparent when I later checked my pace for that section of the run. I don't like headwinds any more than hills.
Grey Butcherbird
By the end of my run, the total tally of species was as follows:
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
Crested Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Common Black Bird
Common Indian Myna
Mud Lark/Magpie Lark
Silver Gull
Willie Wagtail
Dusky Moorhen
Welcome Swallow
Little Pied Cormorant
Pacific Black Duck
Grey Butcherbird
as well as possible sightings of Little Black Cormorants in flight, a Starling or two and perhaps a female Superb Fairy Wren. I also heard plenty of Red Wattlebirds, Jacky Winters, some Rainbow Laurikeets and possibly more Fairy Wrens or, given what I know of the location, possibly Grey Fantails, however despite being highly vocal in all cases, none of them showed themselves.
As for the progress of my run, aside from not covering quite so much distance this time (11km) and at a somewhat quicker pace, the other point of difference was the number of people using the track. In contrast to Friday morning when half of Geelong seemed to feel the need for a walk along the river, there were very few pedestrians, a single cyclist and I was the only person foolish enough to be running on a Sunday afternoon. However, given that the alternative was to accompany a significant number of small children to see a kids' flick at the movies, I think I got the better deal. Admittedly this was a different part of the trail and in general the section from town to Breakwater does not see quite the same traffic flow as that from town to Queens Park, but even so, it was quiet. I did come across a father taking his daughter fishing at Breakwater and in fact almost became their first catch of the day when, preceded by his rather long rod, he wandered across the path without so much as a glance. I dodged and kept running. I don't think he noticed even then.
I wonder if they caught any eels...

Time to get running

Run Geelong 2010, cnr Maud and Swanston Streets.
By Friday I'd decided that it was time to get back into some running. I was a netball game or two short for the week and hadn't covered any serious distance since the Run Geelong "fun" run on 21st November, so I dragged out my running gear and headed down to the river as per usual.
Having walked the Breakwater section on Tuesday, I headed upriver to Queens Park, taking it relatively easy. It was somewhat windy, which tended to make the going a little more difficult than necessary and at times the sun would come out from behind the clouds with a burst of heat further adding to the discomfort. None-the-less, my progress wasn't too bad and I was able to maintain my pace.
Being a Friday morning, there were people everywhere; most of them walking in smaller or larger groups, including a rather large cohort of elderly walkers who I think have a regular assignation with that section of the river and who require some serious navigational effort to avoid.
Pairs of women seemed to be a common combination of walking companions as did younger mothers with babies and toddlers in prams, all of which had to be circumnavigated. The male of the species was rather under-represented in all age groups and other joggers and cyclists were at a bare minimum.
As I thumped my way around the track, I made my usual attempt to notice the birds, however as I hadn't run for nearly three weeks, I think I spent more time concentrating on my lungs, legs and dodgy achilles than on the resident fauna. Having said that, I do find that even at a slow jog, it is significantly harder to observe your surroundings than it is at a walk, consequently, many things no doubt go unobserved.
One thing I did notice however, was the remnants of the disruption caused by the erection and subsequent removal of the temporary Bailey bridge which was put in place over the river at Queens Park for the World Championship Cycling held in September/October. The event was fantastic and the views of the cyclists from the permanent Queens Park Bridge were impressive, but having the section of the river trail from Queens Park to Fyansford out of action for more than a month was a pain, to say the least. However, everything has been returned pretty much to rights and the track is open again. Now to start using it...
On this occasion, running only as far as Queens Park, I managed to cover a little over 14km which wasn't too bad given my recent lack of application and in a time which was within acceptable limits - just. I even managed to run the 1.4km uphill section from the river to home. I figured it was the least I could do considering recent advice that to improve my running times I should take up some fairly serious uphill training. I am still in two minds about this as my competitive urge is probably almost as great as my desire not to burst a lung during training sessions. I don't do hills!
A final distraction to deal with as I headed back through town was the rowers, or more correctly their coaches with their bikes and megaphones, exhorting their charges to keep their line straight or their strokes even. As for the coaches themselves, keeping their own line straight on one side of the path doesn't seem to be a priority. Getting past the rowing sheds can be an interesting procedure at that time of day too. Pedestrians and cyclists are required to give way to the odd-looking 16-legged crustaceans that regularly make their way between the river and the rowing sheds, so once again, evasive action was be required.
From there, it was plain sailing to Swanston Street and the stump which has come to signify that the end of my run is, if not actually in sight, then at least no more than 1.4km away. I have really come to appreciate the sight of that stump!

11 December, 2010

The Lakes Complex

Following on from Tuesday's walk, I decided it was time to move further afield and investigate parts of the river I hadn't seen before. I'd been curious for some time as to what became of the river once it disappeared from view past the breakwater, so Wednesday night I researched the best way to access the system of lakes which lie downstream of Geelong.
As far as I can tell, the answer is that until someone spends the tens of millions of dollars required to build a continuous trail from Geelong to Barwon Heads (I believe the quoted figure was somewhere in the vicinity of $44 million), then the only real access is at specific points around the edges of the various lakes and swamps which together form the Lake Connewarre Complex.
At this point I had no real experience with this part of the river, with the exception of a single trip last January to Tait's Point on the south side of the river where Hospital Swamp meets Lake Connewarre. This time, I decided I would approach my subject from the north bank, entering at various points along the edge of Reedy Lake and Lake Connewarre where local roads provided access at isolated points.
Black Swan on Reedy Lake.
My first stop was the end of Moolap Station Road which runs down to the edge of the very aptly named Reedy Lake. The ground was quite swampy and very reedy, however there is access by foot through clearings and along a narrow track for several hundred metres towards Woods Road. Various places provided a view out over the lake and the birdlife both on and off the water was prolific.
Most obvious were the Ibis both on the ground and overhead. They were everywhere and in quantities I haven't seen elsewhere. All were Australian White Ibis, no sign of the Straw-necked Ibis I saw a couple of months back on the Belmont golf course. Off the water and in the scrubby ground cover, Superb Fairy Wrens were everywhere as were White-plumed Honeyeaters. Out on the water I even discovered a pelican, but I also made three new finds for the day.
The most impressive was probably a pair of Swamp Harriers, swooping low over the reeds at the edge of the lake and the water beyond the shore, constantly on the hunt. Some distance out, a lone Black Swan (also the first I'd seen on the Barwon), paddled in and out amongst the reeds. Back on land, I spotted a rather larger honeyeater than I had seen to that point. It was, I later discovered, a Spiney-cheeked Honeyeater.
Lake Connewarre
Having skirted around the edges of the lake as far as was practical short of a pair of waders or a boat (an option I may yet have to investigate), I left to find another point of access - this time at the end of Ash Road in Leopold. Here, the council or some other management authority (perhaps even Parks Victoria) had kindly installed a viewing platform and several pannels of information informing visitors about the ecology and history of Lake Connewarre which I was now overlooking. Great for panoramic views and photos, however rather too distant to photograph at close quarters any of the dozens of Black Swans and their sygnets which were distributed across the lake.
Fortunately, there was a track of sorts - actually more of a wide strip of knee-high, reedy grass - which led down to the water's edge and so I was able to take a closer look from there. Unfortunately the swans were still a reasonable distance offshore, but I can't really blame them, as the smell from where I was left quite a bit to be desired. I snapped a few more shots of the swans and the panoramic surrounds and braved the long grass to return to road level. I didn't like to think about what other wildlife I might not have seen. What I did see however, were several locusts. It would seem that they are indeed on their way.
By now it was time for lunch which I ate a little further round the lake at a picnic spot at the end of Brinsmeads Lane. I have discovered that dotted at various points around the lakes are lone picnic tables accompanied by a rubbish bin. There are no other facilities just the table, the bin and a small area for parking - which I did.
Noisy Miner.
It was at this point that I discovered my fourth new bird of the day - several rather precocious Noisy Miners. They are apparently not uncommon, however I have not seen them at on any other part of the river. At first glance I mistook one for a Common Myna, which I gather is not an uncommon occurence, however where the Myna is mostly black and brown with yellow, this bird was black and grey with yellow beak and legs.
The view of the lake from this point was not dissimilar to that from Ash Road. The swans were here also, but the unpleasant smell of rotting vegetable matter was not. Whilst there were plenty of birds on Lake Connewarre, there did not seem to be the same numbers or diversity of species as I found on Reedy Lake.
One source of disappointment was my failure to see ducks. From what I had read previously, it is breeding season for the ducks and several varieties including the Pacific Black, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Blue-bill and Australasian Shoveler can all be found within the lake complex. I saw not a single one. On any given day in the section of river in town I would expect to see Australian Wood Ducks, Pacific Blacks and probably Chestnut Teal - occasionally even Grey Teal. I am yet to see a Blue-bill or Shoveler at any point on the river.
On my way home, I stopped at various places overlooking Reedy Lake and the river itself as I got closer to town, including Tanners Road where I was able to get my first real look at the ovoid sewage aqueduct which crosses the Barwon downstream from the Breakwater.
This structure is listed as being of historical significance, however it has been allowed to crumble into a dangerous state of disrepair, with the result that no-one is allowed to approach it and water traffic is unable to pass under it. The aqueduct was built between 1913 and 1916 to carry sewage to the outfall at Black Rock and was in use until 1993 when it was replaced by more modern technology. The structure was designed by Edward Giles Stone and his partner Ernest J. Siddeley, based on the rail bridge which spans the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Its 14 trusses are made entirely of reinforced concrete and cover a distance of more than 750 metres. In its day, it was the longest structure of its kind in the country and remains one of only a very few reinforced concrete truss structures in the world.
Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct, Breakwater.

10 December, 2010

All Stirred Up

Superb Fairy Wren
For various reasons I had not spent much time at the river over the past few weeks. This week has been somewhat different. On Tuesday, the weather was warm and I wanted to get out of the house, so I took my usual paraphenalia - camera, keys, phone and an apple - and headed down to the river.
From the start, the feel was quite different from any other occasion I have been there. It was windy and rather muggy, which was not altogether unusual, but due to recent rain, the river level was somewhat raised and the turbidity level was higher than I had ever seen it before. In short, it was quite muddy and the water was flowing at speed. This was evidenced by three Pacific Black Ducks which were in midstream and paddling hard against the current. I could see their back ends working hard. On most days they could make leisurely progress from one bank to the other. Today however, they were hard put to maintain their position let alone make headway upriver as was their intention.
Fairly immediately, my senses were assailed by the smell of nearby industry - not particularly pleasant and pushed in my direction by the prevailing breeze. A little further down river and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something - a fish of some description I assume - clear the water by about a foot and then land with a splash. Once again, a first or me. Perhaps the denizens of the deep were on the move.
On shore, things were no less restless. Being windy, I fairly soon gave up on the idea of getting too many decent bird photographs (although I did manage one or two). Birds - particularly small ones - are difficult to photograph at the best of times. When they are flitting between one waving branch and the next,  it becomes virtually impossible. Furthermore, the wind usually sends them scurrying for their nests, or wherever it is that birds go when they aren't perched in a tree keeping a branch between themselves and my camera whenever possible. But not on Tuesday. Despite the wind, or perhaps because of the warm weather, the birds were out in abundance. Their calls were everywhere, making the lack of photo opportunities all the more obvious. I snapped a few photos and continued walking.
Aware that birds might not be the only fauna active on such a warm day, I stuck mostly to the path and made fairly certain that what I thought were sticks lying at the edge of the path were in fact just sticks. This hasn't always been the case in the past.
At one point, in a grassy clearing, I came upon a scene more reminiscent of a snowfield than an afternoon in early summer. Despite a noticable absence of cabbage, broccoli or any other member of the brassicaceae family, cabbage moths were swirling around near ground level in little clusters, giving the appearance of rather large snowflakes about to settle on the grass. This also contributed to the general sense of agitation as did the heavy machinery which was busily clearing debris for the early stages of the Breakwater Road realignment project.
As I crossed the Breakwater and came around to the Belmont side of the river, I was rather impressed to see a European gentleman proudly dangling the largest eel I have seen in many years off the end of a line, having just hauled it from the river. From nose to tail, it would have measured at least a metre and was probably as thick as my forearm along much of its length. Foolishly, I didn't think to get him to pose for a photo with his catch.
I continued on my way and by now, the weather was beginning to look ominous. I began to wonder if I might be in for a drenching, but it was much of a muchness were I to turn back or keep going, so I continued. As did the wind. As I reached the sheoaks which line the path some distance prior to the boatramp in town, I discovered that shorts and a singlet top provide very little protection against their wind-propelled needles, which are not actually needles at all but more properly, segmented branchlets (thanks Wikipedia). Regardless, when hurtling down onto bare skin in showers from above - they sting!
As it turns out, all those grey clouds couldn't manage more than a few drops of rain, so I was spared a soaking, but rather than push the issue, I crossed back to the other side of the river at the first opportunity (Moorabool Street) and headed for my starting point, finishing what has been one of my most unusual encounters to date with the Barwon River and its inhabitants.
It had however, inspired me to look for other different experiences of the river and it occurred to me that Thursday I had little planned and I had not yet spent much time investigating the lake complex further downstream out of town...

About the Barwon

The Barwon River below Baum's Weir
For more than four decades, the Barwon River has been, to a greater or lesser extent part of my life. In recent years, I have spent many hours walking, running, even riding along its banks. Every time I am there, something is different: the weather, the water level, the people, the birds, the plants even the smell.
The Barwon River is integral to the city of Geelong and the surrounding regions, but how well do we really know it? Most of us drive over it, some of us ride, walk or run along it, others row, paddle or motor upon it and a few of us swim in it. But where does it come from before it reaches Geelong, where does it go, what is its history and what is happening along its length right now?
The Barwon River is about 160km in length and draws water from a catchment area of some 8,590km2.The headwaters of the Barwon River rise as a series of small creeks in the Otway Ranges near the township of Forrest and flow north down through Lake Elizabeth (East Barwon River) and the West Barwon Dam (West Barwon River) to their confluence near Yeodene, before swinging north east and running down to the town of Winchelsea. From there the flow reaches Inverleigh where it merges with the Leigh River and then on towards Geelong, joining the Moorabool River at Fyansford.
The section of the river from Fyansford on one side of Geelong to Breakwater on the other, is one of its busiest stretches, being used for a wide variety of recreational pursuits. Historically, this section and the waters below Geelong have also served a number of industrial purposes and many of the buildings constructed to support this industry remain. Other man-made structures span the river at various points, including bridges of differing historical significance, an aqueduct and weirs which act to keep the water levels within this urban section of the river at an even level and prevent salt water flowing back up the river through Geelong. In the early days of the township, the Breakwater also provided the community with drinking water.
 Passing through the outskirts of town, the river reaches an environmentally sensitive wetland area of international significance known as the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site. This lower section of the river is a tidal wetland which includes Reedy Lake, Hospital Swamp, Salt Swamp, Lake Connewarre, the Murtnaghurt Lagoon and the estuary of the river at Barwon Heads. It incorporates the Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve and is home to a variety of plants and animals.
Having completed its journey from the Otways, the Barwon empties into the sea at Barwon Heads, around which the coastal towns of Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove have developed, providing another popular tourist destination along the course of the river - one which I have had cause to visit myself on many occasions along with any number of others who likewise enjoy what the Barwon River has to offer.