29 September, 2011

Rain, rain come again!

...and boy did it rain! I had intended to go for a run all day and for a variety of reasons, wasn't able to get out there until late afternoon. The weather was overcast but still quite mild. There had been a little rain on and off during the day, but nothing too major.Of course, as soon as I changed into my running gear, the lightning started. But as there was little rain about and whilst overcast, it looked to be clearing from the south, I headed out anyway, following my usual route down to the Barwon. Clearing? Who was I kidding? By the time I got about 5km into my run, it was pouring. We haven't had rain like that in ages - big, heavy, wet drops and it didn't let up. It was however, probably the best time to be running. The temperature was still remarkably mild, there wasn't much wind and the rain was keeping me cool.
It felt later than it was - more like 6pm than 5pm - but I wasn't the only one making the most of the conditions. I passed the odd cyclist and a couple of intrepid walkers as well as several other runners - with one exception all male.
This got me thinking about two things. Firstly, I wondered as I often do, about the optimum conditions for running. Over the years, I think I've encountered most of them, such as they are in this part of the world, and my conclusion is that if it is too cold to start running, then I am more likely to have a good run. However, if it is not so cold that I don't want to start running, then I will very soon find it too hot to run comfortably. Great! Either I won't run because it's too cold, or I can't run because it's too hot. My current solution to this problem seems to be running during thunderstorms. Any breeze is cooling, but not freezing, the rain is refreshing and perhaps all those extra ozone molecules zinging about add some extra bounce to my step - assuming of course, I don't get hit by a stray lightning bolt.
Stormwater runoff
The other downside to running in the rain which became increasingly apparent on this occasion, was the issue of water runoff across the path. By the 7km mark, my ultra lightweight running shoes were anything but, by the 9km mark I could hear squelching noises with every step and then, at around the 11km mark I landed in a pothole which meant one foot was now completely saturated as high as my ankle. Regardless of this, I finished the run in reasonably good shape and hit the shower to dry off - let's face it, it was wetter outside at that point!
But what do the experts say about weather and running? From what I can see, the "optimum" temperature range for distance running is between about 5-10 degrees Celsius. Great! I'd rather be home in front of the heater! But I do have to admit that they are pretty much correct. Assuming I can drag myself out there, my best times tend to be in the cooler weather - anything below about 15 degrees will do, except in the case of rain for the reasons I outlined above. Some experts contest that running in cold weather can actually hamper the ability to run as performance is compromised by the need to generate heat to warm the body, however I suspect they have cooler temperatures in mind than those along the Barwon.
Yesterday a torrent, today a trickle
Heat of course, is a detriment to running. Too hot and you run the risk of hyperthermia (elevated core body temperature) leading to heatstroke and organ failure, dehydration and electrolyte loss through sweating, or sometimes even hyponatremia (decreased body sodium levels) due to over hydration. None are a good alternative and as I have trouble drinking and running at the same time - water is not useful when inhaled - I tend to avoid running in the heat. Either I go early, late or not at all unless I misjudge the temperature, in which case I suffer.
The other thing which was glaringly obvious as I made my way round the river was the water runoff. Not only for the fact that most of it seemed to be happening via my ASICS, but also because of the very apparent volume of water which was making its way into the river. As I neared Queen's Park, I passed a stormwater drain which was discharging water with the velocity of a small train. On my way back, I noticed a similar drain on the opposite side of the river had taken on the proportions of a waterfall and then, as I neared King Lloyd Reserve, there appeared to be a small geyser spouting from the lawn - perhaps a pipe had ruptured under the weight of the deluge.
Balyang Sanctuary
Along this section of the river, the water collected from surrounding catchment areas, just feeds back into the river itself and joins the larger flow, however on other parts of the river, stormwater plays an important role in maintaining local eco-systems. Balyang Sanctuary and Jerringot Wetlands are both excellent examples of habitat maintained by storm water runoff. Balyang takes its water from 70 hectares of surrounding residential land, whilst Jerringot is supplied from a large area extending up the Belmont Escarpment as far as Roslyn Road. The careful planting of native flora at Balyang Sanctuary - and presumably also Jerringot - contributes to a significant improvement in the quality of stormwater reaching the Barwon

22 September, 2011

Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go round it...

About a week ago I headed off to explore a section of the Barwon I had previously only seen at a distance - the aqueduct. As I described in a previous post, the ovoid sewer aqueduct over the Barwon is a concrete truss construction built between 1913 and 1916 to carry waste from Geelong to Black Rock where it emptied into the sea.
Ovoid sewer aqueduct over the Barwon River
The aqueduct was in use until 1993 when it was replaced by a new sewer main running under the river which operates via a pump-boosted gravity system, providing a cost-effective and technologically innovative solution to Geelong's sewage needs. A more detailed description of the new system can be found on the following page: A Boost For Geelong.
The aqueduct still stands as an historic monument, mostly hidden from public view, but still accessible if you know how. As the title of this blog suggests however, viewing is all that is currently possible. Whilst there is a walkway across the top of the pipe, the concrete of the structure is in such poor condition that it is unsafe to approach it. This has occurred due to the loss of calcium from the concrete of the structure which has rendered it brittle and crumbling. This means not only can it not be crossed, but it is not possible to pass under the structure either.
The aqueduct is heritage listed and is a spectacular example of early 20th century engineering in Australia, however its very poor state of repair means that no-one is currently prepared to foot the no doubt substantial bill for its restoration. It can only be hoped that with the proximity of the new Armstrong Creek development on the south side of the river, the aqueduct will be seen as a useful feature to be incorporated into the new development - perhaps in the form of a pedestrian crossing point in an extended Barwon River trail, leading down from Breakwater. For now however, this would seem to be nothing more than a...pipe dream!
In addition to visiting the aqueduct, we went for a wander down the track which is the end of Boundary Road. I hadn't been here before either. It is heavily rutted with rubbish dumped here and there to either side. At this time of year and with no recent rain, it was quite walkable, with only the very last approach to the river somewhat squishy, however this was mitigated by some conveniently laid planks.
"Greenbanks", Marshall
From here, there is a distant view of the aqueduct, but most notable is the historic homestead "Greenbanks" where I believe I stayed once or twice in my teens. Sited on the Marshall side of the river, this privately-owned property was originally the owner's home associated with the Braealy Brothers Australian Tannery complex, the ruins of which can be seen nearby.
Otherwise, there isn't a great deal to see on this part of the river. This is, after all, a flood plain, meaning that it is flat, wide and marshy. What I did notice however, is that the variety of bird life is somewhat different to other areas and I was able to spot a number of birds I hadn't seen  - see my bird page for updates. The new additions were Yellow-rumped Thornbills which I'd seen elsewhere but not along the river, White-faced Chats, a single Horsefield's Bronze Cuckoo, Black-shouldered Kites and more notable for their calls than their visibility - Little Grassbirds and Golden-headed Cisticolas. Hopefully I can continue to add to the tally.

12 September, 2011

Whether the weather

Every time I run round the river when it is windy, I could swear that I seem to be running into a head wind, no matter what direction I am running. This perception probably isn't helped by the fact that I often start my run in a westerly direction and the prevailing wind around here is yes, westerly.
Rain storm moving across Geelong, viewed from Tait's Point
Yesterday was no different. I hit the river at Landy Field and headed upriver, beating into a solid westerly. By the time I was on my way back, I could swear I was still running into the same head wind and not for the first time, it occurred to me to wonder what impact the weather has on the river and - conversely - what effect the river and its surrounding geographical features might have on the weather.
In previous blog posts I've mentioned the impact of day to day wind patterns on the wildlife which lives along it banks - fish and birds seem quite sensitive to wind levels. In geological terms, wind caused the build up of sand dunes at the mouth of the Barwon, helping to shape the estuary as we see it today.
However, the most obvious element of the weather to affect any river is rain - its lack or abundance determining water levels along the length of the watercourse. The Barwon River is no different in this respect, with the river and its associated ecosystem relying on regular flood cycles to maintain a healthy balance along its length.
Barwon at Geelong in flood, 16th January, 2011
Not surprisingly, rainfall levels vary from the headwaters in the Otways to the river mouth at Barwon Heads. Through Geelong, the average annual rainfall is 552.7mm, however the main ridge of the Otway Ranges averages almost four times this amount at 2000mm per annum. This occurs as a result of what is called a rain shadow which is caused by the Otways themselves. In short, warm, moist air flowing in from the west hits the mountains and is forced upwards, cooling and condensing as it rises. Any remaining cool, dry air flows over the mountains and descends to the plains below which are sheltered from the rain on the other side of the range. The rain shadow cast by the Otways extends as far as Geelong and Werribee, making this the driest area in the state, with an average rainfall only about 55mm higher than - for example - Barcaldine in outback Queensland and 16mm lower than Roma.
Little wonder then that, most of Geelong's water supply comes from catchments in the Otways, namely the West Barwon Dam which also plays a significant role in mitigating the effects of flooding on the lower reaches of the Barwon. It does not however, prevent it entirely as we saw earlier this year when moderate flooding was recorded.
Baum's Weir in flood, 16th January, 2011
Flooding occurs through Geelong after about 150mm of rain on a dry catchment or 75mm on a wet catchment over a 1-3 day period. Typical weather patterns which produce this kind of rainfall are either a slow moving low pressure system over Victoria and southern New south Wales, a low pressure trough moving down from the northern states - such as in the case of a cyclone as occurred in January - or persistent winter rainfall.
The three highest flood levels recorded through Geelong were in 1880 (4.59m), 1952 (5.47) and 1995 (5.23m). By comparison, the flood this January (reaching around 4m through Geelong) was not outstanding. Despite this, there was still quite a mess to be cleaned up and it is easy to see the impact the the force of a flooded river can have on the landscape.
Another factor which has a significant impact on river health is temperature, which along with rainfall can affect water levels through increased water storage use and through evaporation. This, along with issues of pollution can lead to increased salinity in the river system which in turn puts stress on the plants and animals which rely on the river. Likewise, a change in the water temperature of the river in combination with low water levels and high nutrient content can - and in summer often does - lead to an outbreak of blue-green algae. This is toxic to humans and animals, causing skin irritation, nausea and asthma/allergy symptoms.
Of course,wind is also an important aspect of weather conditions, however, I must say that despite a significant on-line search, I can find little information about wind patterns and the Barwon, unless it is to discuss short-term forecasts. I would imagine that at the very least, the shadow of the Otways would provide protection from wind for some surrounding areas or that at some points, the natural geography of the river would influence local wind movements. But I can find no on-line mention of such effects.
Queen's Park from Windmill Reserve
One final weather phenomenon which I have experienced around the river but so far had not until now photographed - although others have - is fog. The fog which forms in river valleys is generally of the type called radiation fog. It forms at night in clear weather with little wind. After the sun sets, radiant heat is lost from the Earth's surface and forms a layer of moist air close to ground level. Humidity rises and fog is formed. This fog can be quite dense and can hang around for quite some time. I live on higher ground above the river, so I can sometimes leave home on a bright, sunny morning, descend into the river valley and find myself in another world filled with damp, cool air. This was the case during a trip to Fyansford earlier in the year when it took a good several hours for the fog to clear to reveal the sun which I knew was just overhead.
I imagine that the natural depth of the river valley, the moist environment and the slightly cooler temperature closer to the water all play a part in preventing the dissipation of fog which occurs on higher ground - another example of the river influencing local weather patterns.

07 September, 2011

A Scot on the rocks

James Harrison
There is one notable Geelong citizen who had strong ties to the Barwon River whom I have not yet mentioned in detail in any of my previous posts.
That person was James Harrison, founder of the Geelong Advertiser and the first person in the world to devise a method of making ice and he did this at Rocky Point, overlooking the river in Newtown.
Harrison was born in Scotland in 1816 and trained as a printer's apprentice in Glasgow, followed by a stint working in London before emigrating to Sydney in 1837. By 1839 he was in Melbourne and working with John Pascoe Fawkner, from whom he bought an old printing press. On 21st November, 1840, the first edition of the Geelong Advertiser was published and by 1842, Harrison along with John Scamble had bought out Fawkner. It was not long however, before Harrison became the sole proprietor, making the Advertiser successful on more than just a local level. It was his paper which was first to break the news of the discovery of gold at Clunes in 1850 and he also used it as a vehicle to agitate for the rights of squatters.
Nor was this his only project and it can be seen that his name was also associated with several of the earliest maps of Geelong, magazines and other publications, both locally and in NSW.  He was also active in local politics, serving as a councilor and in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, espousing progressive policies and maintaining a strongly humanitarian approach throughout his life.
Plaque at Rocky Point
However, it was his work in the printing industry which led to his eventually discovering a means of commercial refrigeration. Whilst using ether to clean the movable characters used to set type, he noticed that the metal became cold as the ether evaporated. It was this observation which led him in 1851 to develop the ether-vapour compression refrigeration system. His first mechanical ice-maker was built at Rocky Point in 1851 and then a machine capable of producing commercial quantities of ice (3,000kg per day) in 1854.
Over the next two decades, he twice attempted experiments aimed at shipping cold or frozen meat to London. Neither was successful and each ended in financial ruin, forcing him to turn back to journalism as editor and then columnist at the Melbourne Age to re-establish his finances.
James Harrison Bridge from the north bank
In 1892, after nearly two decades living in England and promoting his refrigeration techniques,  he returned to Geelong where he lived at Point Henry with his third wife and a number of children. He died there the following year and was buried at the Eastern Cemetery. Interestingly, his grave sits only a few metres away from that of his contemporary and fellow pioneer - Foster Fyans.
Whilst Harrison did not benefit financially in any great way from his pioneering work on ice-making, his contribution laid the foundations for the development of modern refrigeration. Recognition of this achievement came in 1990 when the newly completed bridge over the Barwon was named the James Harrison Bridge in his honour.
Plaque on the grave of James Harrison at the
Eastern Cemetery
The bridge - actually a pair of two-lane bridges -  is a concrete cantilever construction with box-girder sections on the south side of the river. It was built between 1988 and 1990, extending La Trobe Terrace and taking traffic from the Princes Highway off busy Moorabool Street and easing congestion through Belmont.
However, continued housing development south of the Barwon lead to significant congestion on this section of the highway and it was not until the opening of the long-awaited Geelong Ring Road in December 2008 that the problem was - at least in part - solved.
Grave of James Harrison at the Eastern Cemetery
Some sources report that a further tribute to James Harrison is planned in the form of a museum at Rocky Point where he conducted those first ice-making experiments on land leased from Ebenezer Davies, a local tannery worker. However, there does not seem to have been much progress of late and one recent report suggests that the project may not go ahead.

06 September, 2011

Anything but run of the mill

In my last post I looked at several of the wool scours which operated along the Barwon River in Newtown and also mentioned a number of the major woollen mills which operated in the same area. The whole wool industry from growing through to the end product - tweeds, blankets, flannels, rugs, carpets and fine-quality worsted fabrics used to make suits - was at one time or another represented along the banks of the Barwon.
Whilst the mills themselves no longer operate, in some cases the buildings they occupied have at least in part been preserved. Below are photos of some of the remaining buildings and EH Robinson Wool Scouring Works which I did not include in the previous blog:
The Geelong Returned Sailors and Soldiers Co-operative Mill (aka the Diggers' Mill)
Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen and Worsted Mill,
cnr Pakington and Rutland Sts
Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen and Worsted Mill,6
cnr Pakington and Rutland Sts
Foundation stone of Returned Sailors and Soldiers
Woollen and Worsted Mill, cnr Pakington and
Rutland Sts
 Collins Brothers Woollen Manufacturers
Remaining offices of Collins Brothers Mill, La Trobe Tce
The Albion and Union Mills were two of Geelong's top producers over the decades from 1870 to 1900, being the largest producers of tweed by 1900:
Remaining section of the Albion Woollen and Worsted Mill,
La Trobe Tce

Western view of remaining section of the Albion Woollen
and Worsted Mill, La Trobe Tce. The Union Mill stood
on the adjacent vacant block
EH Robinson Scour has operated since 1920:
EH Robinson Wool Scouring Works, Riversdale Road

04 September, 2011


Sunnyside Wool Scour sheds (left) and the chimney of
Dan Fowler's scouring works
Nothing typifies 19th century industry more than chimneys.  They were - and still are - built to disperse the byproducts of combustion, lifting them above ground level so as to spread them across a wider area, thereby reducing the effective concentration of pollutants in the atmosphere. Chimneys also assist the combustion process with the lower pressure of the hot gasses at the bottom of the chimney, drawing air into the chamber and forcing the exhaust gasses up and out of the chimney by a process known as "natural draught". This process was crucial to the industrial revolution of the 18th century and was no less important to the 19th century industries established along the Barwon River.Several of these chimneys still rise above the landscape of the river making their presence felt in a solid visual display. They may no longer spew their smoke across the landscape, but they still stand as reminders of a bygone era, in some cases, alone, removed from the buildings whose industry they supported but heritage listed in recognition of their important contribution to Geelong's development.
Chimney at Valley Worsted Mills,
Swanston Street
Some of them I have described in previous posts – the heritage-listed chimney of Dan Fowler’s scouring works which stands alone at Breakwater in the back yard of a local factory complex and a little upstream, the chimney belonging to Sunnyside Wool Scour, owned originally by the Haworth family and bearing the initials of its maker: J H – John Haworth. Both are square, brick structures, Fowler’s somewhat shorter than Haworth's and unadorned.
Back upstream and set at a distance of a few hundred metres from the river is the chimney of the Valley Worsted Mill, built in the mid-1920s to meet the demand for Australian woollen products and also the subject of a previous blog. This chimney is larger and somewhat more elaborate than those downstream, featuring the "brick strapping" typical of chimneys in this era.
Another set of chimneys which dominated the skyline of the Barwon during the latter part of the 20th century were the triple smoke stacks of the cement works at Fyansford. Much more utilitarian in their appearance, they none-the-less captured the eye for a considerable distance around. As a kid, driving into town along the Geringhap-Fyansford Road, I would watch for a particular point where only two of the chimneys were visible and the conveyor belt which ran up the hillside was positioned in such a way as to make it look as if the third chimney had fallen and was lying up the side of the hill. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to play this particular game as, on 6th June, 2004 amidst much local fanfare, the tallest chimneys in the state were demolished.
Paper mill at Buckley Falls with small chimney and
Fyansford cement work silos without chimneys, 2011
A little further upriver at Buckley Falls, even the paper mill boasts its own brick chimney, although it is somewhat dwarfed by the mill buildings themselves and the housing for the waterwheel which powered the plant.
I have looked at each of the companies associated with these chimneys in past blogs, however there are two chimneys which I see regularly but know nothing about, so perhaps it is time to take a look.
Remains of the Phoenix Wool Scour Works
The first is situated beside the river just near Balyang Sanctuary in the part of Newtown originally known a Marnock Vale. This chimney and an associated building stand near the corner of Riversdale and Marnock Roads. As far as I can tell, they originally formed part of a wool scour - the Phoenix Wool Scour Works. Phoenix was one of several scours and woollen mills to operate in the area, others being located slightly back from the river in Bridge and Gregory Streets. Together they formed part of an industry which dated from the 1850s. The company was associated with the decorated Australian soldier Brigadier General Robert Smith, a veteran of Gallipoli and the son of a tanner and wool merchant from Melbourne. Smith established Phoenix in 1919 and also took over the nearby Austral Wool Scouring Works. He offered employment to returned soldiers and was an avid supporter of the Geelong Football Club, serving for a time as president.
The other noticeable chimney on the banks of the Barwon is not far away, between Riversdale Road and the River, near the end of Gregory Street in Newtown. It stands in the grounds of what is now an excavating company near a timber shed and not too far distant from a large brick building. I eventually discovered that this complex was originally the Austral Paper Mill, set up by William Daniel Hughes, a Lancashire man and previous manager of the Barwon Paper Mill. He also purchased Barwon Bank with the intention of living there, but the paper mill was never to see production. Hughes could not get the venture off the ground so the equipment and buildings were sold. The former to a Sydney company, the latter to Australian Paper Mills Co. Pty. Ltd. who on-sold the buildings in 1905 on condition they not be used as a paper mill.
Austral Wool Scouring Works
In the event, the premises was converted for use as a wool scour and became known as the Austral Wool Scouring Works which were acquired by Brigadier General Smith who established the Phoenix Wool Scouring Works.
These few chimneys and a variety of mostly red brick buildings are all that remains of the once thriving 19th and 20th century woollen industry in the area. Other notable companies included E H Robinson Scour located slightly back from the river in Bridge Street - established in 1920 and still in operation, Redpath's Woollen Mill (adjoining Astral Wool Scour), the Albion Woollen and Worsted Mill (established c1869, located either side of La Trobe Tce), the Collins Union Woollen Mill (established 1874 at 510 La Trobe Tce), the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen Mill (cnr Pakington and Rutland Streets) and the Union Mills (adjacent to the Albion Mill and now demolished). In addition to these notable companies, there were the associated industries of tanning, carbonising and soap and candle making - the latter taking place at a site near the Phoenix Wool Scour under the name of the Victoria Soap and Candle Co. The company - established in 1886 by John McLeod - was known for its "magic soap" brand.