26 March, 2011

Bell-Bird Balyang

Captain Foster Fyans
Fyans Park, Fyans Street, West Fyans Street, Little Fyans Street and of course Fyansford. The name is integral to Geelong and so in the town's earliest years, was the man himself - Captain Foster Fyans. So, who was he and what was his connection to the Barwon River?
The Australian Dictionary of Biography gives a more detailed and relatively flattering description of Fyans' life
http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010389b.htm for those who are interested, but in short, Captain Fyans was born in Dublin in 1790 to an Irish Protestant (the Church of Ireland) family. In 1811 he joined the army at Portsmouth, England and served in Cadiz and India before purchasing his captaincy in 1827. By 1833 he was serving at the Norfolk Island penal colony as captain of the guard. So successful was he, that he was transferred to Moreton Bay where he took on the role of commandant from 1835-1837. Here he gained a reputation for fairness, whilst at the same time maintaining respect and discipline amongst the convict population. However, some reports indicate a quick temper and his actions in putting down an attempted mutiny during his time on Norfolk Island were strict and certainly by today's standards - harsh. It was during this period that he acquired the sobriquet "Flogger Fyans".
Current Breakwater Bridge
In September 1837 when his regiment was ordered to return to India, Fyans sold his commission in the army and instead, sailed to the Port Phillip district where he was installed as the police magistrate at Geelong. Once here, he established a base on the Moorabool River at Fyansford and with a small group of officials including twelve convicts, set about establishing the township of Geelong.
One of his most important acts in ensuring the viability of the emerging settlement was to secure its water supply, which he did by directing the building of the breakwater across the Barwon River at what is now the suburb of Geelong which bears this name. After a meeting in Sydney with Governor Gipps at which the site for the new town was established, building began on the breakwater.
The site had been chosen by Fyans who was probably well aware that the indiginous people of the area used the place to cross the river, the water level being only about 18 inches deep and flowing over an outcropping of basalt. The project, which included two large rough stone walls with a clay filling in between, was completed by 1840.
The approximate site of Captain Foster Fyans' house
Bell-Bird Balyang
Its importance to Geelong at that time cannot be underestimated. Not only did the breakwater serve to maintain water levels near the newly established town, it also prevented the flow of brackish water back upstream from the tidal reaches of the river, thus ensuring clean drinking water. In addition, the breakwater provided an important crossing point for drays and stock travelling into Geelong from Colac and the more distant parts of the Western District. As discussed in an earlier blog, it also prevented noxious wastes from the rapidly developing scouring and tannery works from polluting the town's water supply. After a chequered history and a series of council battles over maintenance, Captain Fyans' breakwater was eventually replaced in the 1960s by the present bridge which will itself become obsolete in the near future when the Breakwater Road realignment project currently underway is completed and a new bridge, above flood levels is completed.
From 1840 onwards, Fyans' role changed to that of Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Portland Bay pastoral district and he took up grazing land in the region of Colac. This included substantial amounts of travel throughout the district.
Grave of Captain Foster Fyans at the Eastern Cemetery
In the course of his duties as magistrate and as commissioner, Fyans was required to arbitrate in disputes between the new settlers and the increasingly displaced indiginous community. In most, if not all cases, he found in favour of the settlers. Needless to say, indiginous accounts of the behaviour of whites towards blacks differ significantly and Fyans is not remembered as a friend to the indiginous population.
In 1843 he was married at Geelong and then in 1845 took up 145 acres of land with frontage to the Barwon River. He named the property Bell-Bird Balyang and on it, he built a stone residence which is believed to have stood close to what is now the Princes Bridge at Shannon Avenue in Newtown. A Sundial with a plaque now marks the approximate location of the Fyans' house.
For some time, Fyans also maintained a property on the north bank of the Barwon a little further downstream as it was announced in the Geelong Advertiser on 30th October, 1854 that he was selling his house and estate of Riversdale which was situated between the properties of JA Gregory (Barwon Banks) and William Roadknight (Barwon Crescent).
His wife Elizabeth lived only until 1858 and was survived by Foster, two daughters and a son. Foster himself remained in his home by the Barwon for the remainder of his life, dying at Bell-Bird Balyang in 1870. He was buried in the Eastern Cemetery with a number of family members and lies only a short distance from another notable Geelong citizen and the father of refrigeration - James Harrison.

23 March, 2011

The traveling circus comes to town

As seems to be becoming a habit on public holidays, we once again took the opportunity of taking to the river for a picnic and family bike ride on Monday 14th. The weather was pleasant and we made it to the river without being run over using the on-again-off-again bike lanes down Swanston Street. First we headed to Breakwater with Peter and Fionn setting the pace on what we now refer to as "the Goodies' bike".
Peter and Fionn and the "Trailgator"
This is not really an exact description as there are only two of them, not three, but with Fionn being towed along behind with the "Trailgator" attaching their bikes, they certainly attract attention.
As I resisted the urge to leap off my own bike and take photos of possible edible plant-life, we made our way to Barwon Valley Fun Park where we decided to stop for lunch. Us and as it turned out, half of Geelong and several dozen Little Corellas who were in full voice. Actually, this was a new one. I had not to that point seen Corellas of any shape or size, however there they were and upon more recent inspection, there they remain. Their numbers seem to be increasing. When I headed past on a subsequent ride, they were settling in the surrounding gums and paperbark trees to the point where they looked like white feathered fruit on every branch. Periodically several dozen of them would take off in great wheeling flocks and head to what appeared to be a point somewhere further upriver on the Highton side.
In any case, on this Monday, we ate and then the boys headed for the play equipment. I took off to try to discover whether a few of the scrubby-looking weeds and grasses by the roadside might in fact have been remnant native vegetation, or rather more likely, re-plantings of native flora.
Little Corella at Barwon Valley Fun Park
After snapping off a variety of shots of what on the whole turned out to be nothing more than weeds or imported plants, we headed towards Fyansford, only to stop short soon after to investigate the Yollinko Aboriginal Park (see posting from 17th March). We discovered that we weren't the only ones taking advantage of the public holiday and stopped to say hi to the Stevensons (no relation) who were out for a walk as well.
We parted ways, with Sarah and I now taking the lead and trundled along to Fyansford.
Having taken control of the pace, I could afford the occasional pause to snap photos. I suspect I am now intimately acquainted with every dandelion between Breakwater and Fyansford, but am no closer to discovering any naturally occurring Yam Daisies. As far as I can tell, Yam Daisies have yellow flowers that to my eye are indistinguishable from Dandelions, Platain and a myriad of other non-descript small yellow flowers. There are some differences in foliage, but the real difference seems to lie in what is under the soil, making identification all the more difficult. Short of taking a small shovel and vandalising the entire length of the river through Geelong, I may have to find another solution to my problem.
The next stage of our escapade, saw the traveling circus head back towards town, with the by now obligatory stop for coffee at the Barwon Edge. With their hot chocolates delivered to the table and no kids in sight, things were pleasantly peaceful. I suggested the waiter quietly deliver them to a table on the other side of the premises and more than happy to oblige, he informed me he'd "deliver them to table 18 (round the corner out of sight) and sell the restaurant." I love a waiter with a sense of humour!

The traveling circus
So, suitably refreshed, we headed back to Swanston Street to complete our lap. At this point, I decided that another lap was in order, but for some reason, I seemed to be alone in my decision. That being the case, the others headed for home and I headed off to do another loop with camera in hand and no-one to leave me behind if I wanted to stop for a photo opportunity and I did find several which I had missed the first time round.  So, unlike the previous day when I had ridden alone and at a rather quicker pace, I completed my trip without coming home looking like a drowned rat and with the evidence to identify several edible Australian native plants and a variety of weeds.

17 March, 2011

Barra Warre N Yallok

The Barwon River has been of vital importance to the district of Geelong and surrounds from its earliest days when Captain Foster Fyans built the breakwater to ensure a clean water supply for the growing township. Today, the majority of Geelong's water still comes from the river, being held in the West Barwon Dam in the Otways.
But what was the significance of the river to the region before the arrival of white settlers in 1836, specifically to the Aboriginal inhabitants who had lived in the region for more than 40,000 years before European settlement? The Barwon River was just as important to these original inhabitants as it was to the whites. In fact, the word "Barwon" comes from the local Wathaurong phrase "Barra Warre N Yallok" which, somewhat grandly, means "the great river which flows from the uplands (aka the Otways) to the sea".
Known collectively as the Wada Warrung or Wathaurong, meaning "People of the Water", twenty five separate clans occupied land which extended across the Bellarine Peninsula and as far east as the Werribee River to areas north of Ballarat. In the west, their territories included the Otways and the headwaters of the Barwon. The Wathaurong people were one of five tribes which formed what was known as the Kulin Federation. It is probable that those who lived closest to what is now Geelong were the Wada Warrung balug Clan which was located near the Barrabool Hills. It was estimated that they numbered around 300 people in 1837, but with the arrival of white settlers in the district and with them sheep and cattle, food supplies were significantly reduced as their hard hooves killed off many native plants. This, along with an influenza outbreak in 1839 decimated the indigenous population around Geelong, leaving only 17 clan members by 1853. The last tribal member of the clan - known as King Billy or Waurn Bunyip (Baa Nip) - died in 1885.
William Buckley meets John Batman's party, 1835
It was the balug clan which is thought to have adopted the escaped convict William Buckley (after whom Buckley's Falls are named) in 1803 following his escape from the convict settlement of Sullivan's Bay (later Sorrento) where he had been sent on the Calcutta under the command of Captain Collins. The Wathaurong who believed that whites were the re-incarnation of their dead warriors, accepted him as the returned tribal leader "Murrangurk". Buckley learnt their customs and language and is thought to have lived in a hut near Bream Creek and also near Buckley's Falls, travelling widely within tribal lands until 1835 when he gave himself up to a visiting party of whites at Indented Head. He was pardoned by the government and acted as an interpreter between the two peoples for a few years before becoming disillusioned and moving to Tasmania where he lived out the remainder of his life, dying in 1856. 
The various clans of the Wathaurong controlled the region through a series of marriages, trade agreements and cultural interests. Resources were controlled in a sustainable manner that saw the use of food supplies such as fish, regulated by the local responsible clan. 
Prior to this, the Barwon Valley provided many important food sources for the local indiginous population who moved along the river following seasonal routes. Almost all parts of the river were utilised.
Water Ribbon near Breakwater

Bulrushes on Belmont Common
During winter, meat was obtained from possums, koala, wombats and grubs. Kangaroos and possums were also hunted along the banks of the river for their skins. At this time of year the people sought protection from the weather on higher ground, then as the weather began to warm in spring, they moved down again, hunting a range of fowl such as ducks, and collecting birds' eggs. A variety of vegetables such as Yam Daises (Murnong/Myrniong), Water Ribbons, Small-leafed Clematis,  Blushing Bindweed and the pretty flowering "Milk Maids" were eaten as root vegetables, along with a range of orchids and lilies. The tubers could in some cases either be eaten raw or cooked. They came into season during spring and into summer and formed a large part of the local diet as was noted by William Buckley in his writings. Other local plants such as Spiny-headed Mat Rush (Karawun), Warrigal Cabbage and the new shoots of the bulrush (Balliang)  were eaten as salads. Bulrush roots were also cooked and the insides chewed. The fibrous remnants of the roots were then used to make string and fishing line.
Kangaroo Apple fruit near
Bindweed at Fyansford
 A range of fruits, nuts and seeds was available in season, including the Native Raspberry, Kangaroo Apples and the fruit from Pigface. Care had to be taken when harvesting Kangaroo Apples as the fruit could be poisonous if not ripe enough to be falling from the bush.
The river estuary was a particularly important supply of fish, eels and shellfish as well as waterbirds which also occur in abundance throughout the lake complex a little further upriver. During the summer months when ephemeral water supplies dried up, particular reliance was placed on fish. Eels would move downriver and could be caught during the autumn months, probably at places like the Bunyip Pool at Buckley's Falls which would provide a convenient place to trap them. The local name for the falls was Yarram Mordong (Yarram meaning waterfall or rapid and Mordong meaning eels). There are accounts of William Buckley and his clan exchanging their tubers for eels with another group in the marshy lands surrounding the headwaters of the Barwon River.
 Plants were also used for medicinal purposes, to treat a range of ailments. Old Man Weed was used to treat hair loss and skin irritations whilst the leaves of the Hop Goodenia plant were given to infants to suck to pacify them, especially during travel.
Wathaurong man in bark canoe on the Barwon at Geelong
In addition to food and medicine, many plants were used to make tools - reeds and tea-trees for the shafts of spears, with shells sharpened to make blades and knives. Wattles and Red Gums were used to make boomerangs (wanguim), bark, large burls cut from trees and animal skins to make water-holding vessels - even canoes, shelters or string. Fibrous plants were used to make string too, or to weave baskets. The string was then used to make nets, fishing line, eel traps and had a variety of other uses. Tree sap was chewed or heated to make glue.
 The remains of a tree (now dead) which had part of the bark removed to make a canoe can be seen at Queen's Park.
Remains of a heritage-listed
Canoe Tree at Queen's Park
Golf Course
Another important aspect of indigenous culture is the corroborree and there were various places along the Barwon and in what is now Geelong, where these took place. The present site of the old Junior Technical College at the corner of Maud and Moorabool Streets was used to host corroborrees as was the then vacant land between what is now Fyans and Balliang Streets, the latter being only a hundred metres from the river.
The river also played a significant role in Wathaurong mythology. It seems logical that something so integral to the daily life of the people as the Barwon would naturally feature prominently in their story-telling.
A report in the Advertiser from 1845 mentions a bone from a large animal which it was claimed was a bunyip bone. The bunyip (or yowie) was described in a wide variety of ways, sometimes as being like a giraffe, an elephant, as having scales, flippers or feathers, as part-human or as having the face of a dog and in the case of the above claim, the creature was sketched as looking somewhat like an erect crocodile with sharp claws and a head similar to an emu.
There were several other reported bunyip-sightings along the Barwon over the years, with one man claiming a bunyip had taken his mother at the "Barwon Lakes" (presumably Lake Connewarre and surrounds) and in another case, the death of a woman at a barge-crossing point in South Geelong was blamed on a bunyip attack as were several deep scratches inflicted upon another man. Even William Buckley claimed to have seen bunyips, both at Modewarre and several times on the Barwon. He described a feathered back, greyish in colour, but never got a clear look
at the creature.
Indeed, King Billy (Waurn Baa Nip) is said to have been named for a bunyip which his father had sighted on the banks of the Waurn Ponds Creek (a tributary of the Barwon) on the day he was born.

12 March, 2011

On the trail

The trail which runs along either side of the Barwon from Fyansford to Breakwater is a great community facility and many local residents make use of the path on a regular basis. I love it. In fact, I've been there on two separate occasions today alone. This morning I ran a rather uncomfortable 11.5km and this evening I walked a couple of km up towards Breakwater and back with the family. Fair to say, not all of them were as enchanted by the idea as I was, but none-the-less we did it. The other day I rode it - the whole distance. I am also reliably informed that the standard of this path is world class.
This causes me to wonder why then, the path is not extended either up or down river, if not both. Some time ago, I looked into the likelihood of this ever occurring and discovered that there have certainly been discussions along these lines, but frustratingly, not much seems to be happening.
The first information I found was on the Parks Victoria website http://www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/3barwon.cfm

Map of Barwon River from Geelong Ring Road to
Barwon Heads taken from the Parks Victoria website
 They claim to have a "vision" for what they refer to as the Barwon River Parklands which extend roughly from the Ring Road to Barwon Heads. Imagine, they say, being able to travel by bike or on foot, this entire distance - well imagine it I have, on more than one occasion as I have pounded once again over the same sections of the existing path.
Further investigation of the above website reveals that studies have indeed been done into the feasibility of a continuous trail and where it should go. This is by no means a simple or cheap undertaking. Financially such a trail would require a significant fiscal outlay. Environmentally, it is something approaching a mine field. Down stream from Geelong there is of course the environmentally sensitive wetland which includes Reedy Lake, Hospital Swamp and Lake Connewarre. This area is listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international significance and as such makes the choice of route for a trail tricky to say the least. The area includes important breeding grounds for various species of wildlife and is home to several endangered species of birds including the orange bellied parrot, which I have not yet managed to spot.
A download from the above web page will show that there have been four different trails proposed; each with its own problems. Two travel on the eastern side of the river at various distances from the river itself, a third follows the opposite bank and a fourth dispenses with sides and instead is on the river itself. Straight off, this latter option seems to be somewhat at odds with the stated aim of a continuous route along which to travel by bike or foot - but perhaps I'm missing something here...
Each of the options runs in part through privately-owned property which would require the good graces of the land owners, each in some fashion needs to address the environmental concerns of the region and each involves some varying degree of cost. Continued reading also informs me of a variety of significant safety concerns for the four routes. The considered options variously pass through flood plains, game reserves and remote regions subject to fire danger. They may also involve sharing roads with vehicles or include road-crossings.
So, as I see it, depending on which option is chosen and upon the season, I may be either shot, drowned, hit by a motor vehicle or burned alive. That is of course assuming, I'm not bitten by one of the no doubt environmentally protected reptiles and don't become irretrievably lost on the more remote areas of the chosen trail.
So much for the down-river section! What about upstream of Fyansford? Well, some little consideration has been given to this too, however it appears that is as far as things go and whilst I believe Parks Victoria intends to extend the existing unpaved trail from Baum's Weir up the short section to the Ring Road, there is a greater plan in action. This so-called "Barwon and Moorabool River Reserves Master Plan and Management Plan" was published in 2006 and deals with the future development of the section of river from Queen's Park up to the "proposed Western Bypass".

Barwon River looking upriver towards the Geelong Ring Road.
 Naturally, this is no longer a proposal and the bridges have been built...but so far, the trail has not. It is the intention of the management plan to eventually incorporate a further extension to the trail along the river on the Wandana Heights side including the area known (but not by me until now) as the Brandon Peninsula. This it seems, would be set back at some distance from the river and also include existing informal trails of which I am so far unaware.
So, plans have been proposed, ideas put forward - but what has actually been done at either end of this part of the river? Well in terms of a usable trail, not much. Admittedly, there have been significant upgrades to the facilities at both Tait's Point and the viewing area at the end of Ash Road in Leopold throughout 2010, but disappointingly, I still need to drive to see them. As far as I can tell, there has been no action at all at the Wandana Heights end and at various points along the existing trail, damage caused by the flooding in January has yet to be fixed.
In the meantime, I continue to pound the same 18.5kms hoping for a change of scenery...

04 March, 2011

Secret symbols

Anyone who regularly uses the track which runs alongside the Barwon will eventually become aware of a confusing array of what I like to think of as secret symbols. In reality they are not at all secret, on the contrary, they are for use, if not by the public in general then by particular groups of the public. They come in a variety of colours and an array of different styles and are positioned at very specific points all the way along the track from Breakwater to Fyansford and back.
So, what are they? Well, to be honest, in most cases I don't know, but I would be interested to find out.
Some are obvious, such as those indicating that cyclists and pedestrians are to share the track. They are somewhat stylised as I don't think anyone outside a circus could ride a bike which actually had wheels shaped like that and were a pedestrian to try to run or walk any distance in that position, he or she would very soon find themselves flat on their face. Other signage is also quite clear: the phrase "beware snakes may be active along this path" is a standout.
One set - probably the most prominent - are known to me, in fact you could say they rule my running life. They are the kilometre marks for the half marathon which is run each year along the banks of the Barwon on the first Sunday after Easter. So far, I've participated twice.
Somewhat confusingly, the first number which appears is at the 3km mark. This is because a single lap of the track equates only to about 18.5km whereas the full distance of a half marathon is 21,097m. The result is that a few extra bits have to be added here and there to make up the missing 2.6km - give or take.
Consequently, the event starts under the James Harrison Bridge on the south side of the river and from there proceeds under the Moorabool Street Bridge and off the track where it takes in a scenic lap of the ovals next to Belmont Common before returning to the river and continuing on towards Breakwater. Perhaps not surprisingly, I can describe to within metres, the location of every one of the remaining markers on the track - but I won't. Suffice it to say that markers 3 and 4 are before the Breakwater, marker 5 does not exist as it is located on an unsealed section, 6 is where it should be and 7 is hiding behind the Barwon Rowing Club clubhouse. The 14km mark likewise does not exist as the second additional section used to extend the distance is a contrived loop around the Fyansford Hotel.
Unfortunately this is less than three quarters of the way through the course, the remainder of which lies on the opposite side of the river, finishing at last 97m past the 21km mark which seems to disappear each year only to be re-marked before the race somewhere in the vicinity of the James Harrison Bridge.
Whether I am running full half marathon distance or not, I always use the markers for the half to estimate the distance of whatever run I intend to do and to keep me going as I run. Calculating what proportion of my run I've completed or - less encouragingly - have left to go, can be a useful distraction from the state of my lungs and legs. At the very least it makes a change from counting birds.
For the record, if I run from home, do a complete lap from Landy Field to Breakwater, up to Fyansford and back then run all the way home, the distance is a touch over 21.1km - a neat half marathon distance.
So much for the half. What are the other markers? There are small, stencilled yellow numbers marked every 500m which appear somewhere near the McIntyre Bridge but seem to have their zero point in the vicinity of the rowing sheds and continue upriver for some kilometres. There are thick yellow numbers which also mark kilometers but which come with curved arrows pointing back the way they've come from and presumably indicating various turnaround points at differing distances from an unknown start location and there are a series of freehand spray-painted white numbers with the initials SILC. I think from memory these were originally sprayed in red and overpainted with the white. I have no idea what SILC stands for but would hazard a guess that the C stands for club.
More recently, I noticed a couple of warnings spray painted on the path near some pipe works. The only problem is, that at running pace, they are too small to read - tricky! The sign to the left is apparently telling me that there is a detour ahead...if I slow down long enough to read it that is...