29 June, 2012

A river of rocks

A few weeks back, I ventured on to a part of Red Gum Island which I hadn't been to before.
This island is of course, the small, roughly crescent-shaped section of land which lies between the Moorabool and Barwon Rivers at their confluence near Fyansford. The island is separated from the rest of the the land between the two rivers by a short anabranch which breaks away from the Barwon a couple of hundred metres below the paper mill.
Unlike most anabranches (defined as a section of the river which diverts away from the main channel and rejoins further downstream), this one is a little different in that it does not rejoin the Barwon but instead, runs into the curve of the Moorabool about 600m above its confluence with the Barwon.
A river of rocks
On this occasion, the anabranch was not so much flowing with water as running with rocks. Unless the Barwon is running at least a little high, then the anabranch is dry. This reveals a stream of basalt rocks which look to have flowed down the watercourse over the centuries since those volcanic erruptions of the later Pliocene era (approximately 2 million years ago).
The anabranch at Fyansford April, 2012
Having seen some of the more recent flood events, it is not hard to imagine how these relatively small rocks would be tumbled down with all that rushing water until they came to rest in the anabranch. It also makes me wonder - could we see beneath the waters of the main waterway - what the riverbed would look like along its length. With any luck, we will never see the river run dry enough to find out.
This week, I returned to have another look. This time things were somewhat different:
The same part of the anabranch at Fyansford June, 2012
Recent rain over the past few weeks, including the "almost flood" of earlier this month, meant that the anabranch was well and truly flowing. Instead of a river of rocks, there was now a bubbling stream of water punctuated by several mini-waterfalls.
The anabranch flowing, June, 2012

The anabranch flowing, June, 2012

27 June, 2012

Bird on a Wire...

...and a pole and a fence...Yesterday's jaunt saw us headed back to Breakwater to have - in my case - another look at the aqueduct. With all the recent rain it was as boggy as I have ever seen it. The cisticolas were up and about despite the rather chilly conditions, but there was little sign of most of the other birds usually around.
Golden-headed Cisticola

We squelched our way along to the end of Boundary Road and back then headed over to the aqueduct. We hadn't made it too far along the track before we were confronted by not one, but two raptors. It is not uncommon to see them circling over head or - on one occasion - perched on the aqueduct itself. These two however were on the wire fence only a short distance from us - although still a little too far for the limited zoom capacity of my camera. As we approached, they moved along the fence, keeping us at a distance, but not keen to take flight.
This of course allowed for some reasonable shots, which I duly took. Exhibit A was a Nankeen Kestrel
Nankeen Kestrel
which kept a close eye on us, but then found something of interest in the bushes growing along the fence and hopped down briefly from its post to investigate.
Nankeen Kestrel flapping about in the bushes
The second bird was a Black-shouldered Kite which seemed a little less concerned by our presence than the kestrel, but was none-the-less watchful, prefering in general to keep an eye on us from the safety of a convenient pole when we approached the fence too closely.
Black-shouldered Kite
Pole-sitting however, was not without its difficulties as the kite discovered. Its initial attempts to perch resulted in a certain amount of flapping around and resettling before it got its balance sorted.
Black-shouldered Kite attempting to balance on the top of a pole

23 June, 2012

A Right Royal River

In view of all the attention given to the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations marking the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, I thought it might be interesting to see what - if any - connection the British royal family might have had to the Barwon River since the advent of white settlement.
In keeping with the prevalent attitudes of the 19th century, several structures built along the river through Geelong at that time were named for members of the royal family.  My Building Bridges post looked at some of them, such as Princes Bridge (originally the Prince Albert Bridge) which was built in 1861 and named for the the consort of that other English monarch to reach her Diamond Jubilee - Queen Victoria.
The original Prince Albert Bridge built in 1861, reproduction rights held by
the State Library of Victoria

Second Prince Albert Bridge built 1889. This photo taken 1937, reproduction
rights owned by the State Library of Victoria

The current Princes Bridge built in 1965. The second bridge would have been
located in the foreground of the picture

Likewise, Queen's Park and the bridge across the river at that point were named for Queen Victoria. Perhaps not surprisingly, the naming of both bridges caused local controversy, as a new breed of colonials took on the royalists of the day. Again, this was the topic of a previous post: What's in a Name.
Okay, so Geelong's monarchists liked to honour the royals by naming public structures after them, but until 1867 none of them had actually set foot on Australian soil, let alone seen the Barwon River. This changed on 3rd December, 1867 when Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh  arrived in Winchelsea where he laid the final stone in the newly built bridge across the river.
Commemorative stone in the Barwon River Bridge at Winchelsea

Ironically, whilst other bridges along the river pay tribute to English royalty, this one bridge which had the distinction of being opened by a member of the royal family is known simply as the Barwon River Bridge.
Barwon River Bridge, Winchelsea
Barwon River Bridge, Winchelsea
As part of his visit to the district, the prince also visited Thomas Austin at Barwon Park where he participated in rabbit shoots on the banks of the Barwon. So successful were they that the hundreds of rabbits bagged were distributed amongst the local populace who referred to the bounty as "rabbit royale".
Two years later on a return trip in 1869, the prince once again visited the Austins. It was as a result of these royal visits that the present day Barwon Park mansion was built in 1871, as the Austins felt that the structure which existed previously was not suitably grand enough for such esteemed company as princes.
 A photograph of HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of
Edinburgh, c1868 held by the National Library
of Australia
Although there have been other royal visits to Geelong - the Duke and Duchess of York visited Geelong in 1927 and Queen Elizabeth II passed through during her 1954 tour of the country - I can see little indication that a member of the British royal family has graced the banks of the Barwon with their presence since that visit by the Duke of Edinburgh 145 years ago.
One possible exception however, was the visit of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (uncle of Queen Elizabeth II) who was pictured with a group standing in front of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen Mill at the bottom end of Pakington Street (current photos shown here) during a visit in 1934.
Another royal connection to the Barwon - albeit a tenuous one - occurred during the Queen's 1988 visit to Australia. On this occasion, Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia was escorted in Australian waters by the frigate HMAS Canberra. The Canberra was decommissioned in 2005 and then in October, 2009, watched by several hundred interested locals (myself included), she was towed to a point off Barwon Heads and - after several hour's delay - scuttled. She is now used as a dive wreck.
The HMAS Canberra being towed to waters off Barwon Heads prior to its
being scuttled
So much for English monarchs! On  a final note, as I researched this post, I discovered that the Barwon has its own royalty. Each year, the Ocean Grove Angling Club bestows upon its best angler the title of King or Queen of the Barwon. According to the club website, the current reigning monarch has achieved this elevated status on at least three other occasions.

    14 June, 2012

    The Jewels of the Barwon

    Tuesday morning this week was the coldest morning of the year so far. I can vouch for that as it was still barely above freezing by 9:30am when we hit the river for a morning ride. We very quickly found ourselves looking for the The Barwon Edge to grab a take away and warm frozen fingers.This objective having been achieved, we headed up towards Fyansford.
    After last week's "non-flood" during which river levels through Geelong peaked at 2.42m (2.5m constitutes a minor flood), various sections of the track were still quite sticky with an inch or two of mud covering the whole path in places. Being the intrepid adventurers that we are, we ploughed on through, trying not to end up coated from head to foot in what only days ago was probably quality topsoil in some farmer's paddock.
    The sealed bitumen track near Queen's Park
    As we neared Fyansford and with the sun finally managing to peek out from behind some clearing clouds, our perseverance was rewarded by an interesting spectacle. The grass between us and the river looked to have a fine covering of snow or frost. The same was also the case a little further round on Fyansford Common where the low-lying areas were still filled with water, forming small lakes in the dips.
    Fyansford Common
    It was a cold morning and we were in a relatively deep part of the river valley, so frost was not unlikely, however closer inspection revealed not ice or snow, but rather dewdrops, millions of them  suspended in fine, intricate webs on the top of the grass.
    An exploratory swipe or two  and both web and droplets vanished into nothingness. Intrigued, we snapped a few photos and agreed with an interested passerby that it did indeed look quite pretty. And such was the angle of the sun that at one point, the light refracting off the droplets created a rainbow which stretched out across the grass at ground level. (It occurred to me at this point that I have long wanted to take a photo of a rainbow along the banks of the river, but this was not quite what I'd had in mind.)
    A rainbow in the grass
    Somewhat limited for time, we concluded our examination and headed on our way. It was not until I got home and downloaded  my photos that I became more interested in the artistic possibilities of suspended dewdrops. And of course, as is nearly always the case, I didn't have exactly the photo I was looking for.
    Dewdrops suspended
    By now it was nearing 2pm and knowing that it was probably wishful thinking, I grabbed the camera, jumped in the car and headed back down to Fyansford in the hope that the fairytale landscape hadn't completely evaporated. Despite the sun, it was still a cool day and as luck would have it, the larger area of droplets on the common was still present, so I got snapping.
    Hanging by a thread

    A matrix of droplets
    This time it wasn't long before I discovered the secret of these tiny suspended jewels of water and light. Spiders! Hundreds of tiny spiders were everywhere, spinning the webs on which the droplets had formed. Back and forth, stretching from one blade to the next, their webs criss-crossed the grass creating a continuous carpet on which the droplets had formed.
    After a little Googling, I believe these guys are money spiders (also known as sheet weavers) which belong to the Linyphiidae family. Legend has it that if a money spider falls upon you it will bring you financial good luck (here's hoping!).
    An artist at work
    Upon closer examination, the spiders could be seen singly and in groups moving across the webs. I assumed initially that they weren't concerned by wet feet but now that I think about it, all of those hairy little legs didn't seem to be disturbing the tiny balls. In fact, in none of the photos I took can I be sure that any of the spiders are actually touching a dewdrop. Somehow they seem to be able to co-ordinate all eight legs in such a way that they always step between the drops.
    Tiptoeing between the drops
    The last thing I noticed was that above the array of webs and their suspended drops, the spiders were busy creating a new layer of webs, these ones had clearly been spun more recently as they were higher than the others and had no droplets attached. The spiders on these strands passed back and forth without any risk of an involuntary foot bath.
    King of the mountain - a tiny figure atop the mound of drops
    Of course, with any of the above photos - or those in any of my blog posts - clicking on the picture will enlarge it for a closer view.

    11 June, 2012

    A visit to the Big Lake

    Today's expedition took us not to the Barwon, but to the place where much of its water is stored - Wurdee Boluc Reservoir (sometimes also spelt Wurdiboluc). This is, I am informed, an Aboriginal (I assume Wathaurong) name meaning "Big Lake". Which is quite appropriate.
    Wurdee Boluc Reservoir
    For those who haven't been there, the reservoir is located a short distance to the South West of Winchelsea and can be accessed via Cape Otway Road. Water from the Barwon however, takes a somewhat different route in its approach to the reservoir.
    From the West Barwon River, Munday Creek and the surrounding catchment areas, water is collected in the West Barwon Dam (capacity 21,504ML) in the Otways as mentioned in previous posts. But where does the water go from there?
    Well, initially, it flows downstream a couple of hundred metres at which point water is taken via the West Barwon diversion pipe to the East Barwon diversion weir which also collects water from the East Barwon River. From the weir, water from both rivers is carried via the Wurdee Boluc Inlet Channel, collecting further flows from several creeks on the way. The channel then makes its way to the Wurdee Boluc Reservoir where up to 38,056ML of water can be stored at one time.
    Wurdee Boluc Inlet Channel
    The reservoir also receives water from the Barwon Downs and the Anglesea borefields. Once in the reservoir, water is then treated before transfer to Geelong and surrounds for use in the domestic water supply.
    A view across the reservoir
    According to the information board on site, the reservoir (known as an "off-stream storage" facility) was built in 1929. It was further enlarged to cope with increasing demand in 1955 and then again in 1991 to its current capacity. The embankment which surrounds the reservoir is 8.7km in length and the surface area of the whole is some 564 hectares. At its deepest points, it reaches 12m. In total, this system supplies around 70% of Geelong's water requirements.
    Wurdee Boluc Reservoir
    In addition to providing water to the populace, the reservoir is a popular fishing spot with the locals as well as being home to a healthy-looking population of water birds and a startlingly large number of kangaroos which we were able to see as we walked along the embankment after lunch.
    Kangaroos at Wurdee Boluc Reservoir

    Kangaroos at the reservoir

    First however, we ate our picnic at the Vines Reserve which has a public parking area and picnic tables just off Cape Otway Road and provides public access to the weir.
    The reserve - as the board informed - is named for Dr G.J. Geoffrey Vines who joined the Geelong Waterworks and Sewage Trust in 1965 as Senior Design Engineer. Throughout his career and until his eventual retirement as CEO of Barwon Water on 17th June, 1994 - a position he held from 1984. Dr Vines oversaw the development of many major improvements in Geelong's water and sewerage supplies. These included the sewer outfall at Black Rock, the planning and instalment of sewage to several of Geelong's suburbs, the development of the Barwon Downs borefield and the upgrade of the Wurdee Boluc Reservoir and development of its water treatment plant.
    A clear winter's afternoon at Wurdee Boluc Reservoir

    So, with our knowledge of Geelong's water supply further increased and the sun beginning to drop towards the horizon, we completed our stroll, left the fishermen to their rods and headed for home.

    06 June, 2012

    What a difference a day makes

    As of 4pm Wednesday the Barwon has not yet peaked in Geelong. The estimated time has now been pushed out to sometime tonight or early tomorrow but the water level is definitely rising. (Updated Thursday 7th June roughly as waterlevels peaked just below the minor flood level of 2.5m, see photo below.)
    Old Breakwater Bridge, Tuesday 5th June, 2:45pm

    Old Breakwater Bridge, Wednesday 6th June, 1:45pm
    Old Breakwater Bridge 7th June, 11:50am at peak water level

    The 2 top photos were taken about a day apart, the latter just as VicRoads was preparing to close the bridge to traffic.
    VLine train crossing the flooded Barwon River
    I also took the opportunity to take some photos which I doubt have been seen before as the new Breakwater Bridge endures its first flooding event.
    Rail bridge and Old Breakwater Bridge in flood 6th June
    as seen from the new bridge
    At other points along the river through Geelong, things were also progressing as they usually do. Below is the view from Queen's Park this afternoon:
    Queen's Park in flood from above
    Elsewhere, the path opposite the rowing sheds was under water by this morning, the mill race at the paper mill was overflowing:
    The paper mill at Buckley Falls
    and a little upstream, the Bunyip Pool was well on the way to becoming a turbulent mass of water:
    Water levels rising at the Bunyip Pool, 6th June, 2012
    I also noticed that the resident bird life has been quick to take advantage of what I assume is an increase in available food sources as insects and perhaps even fish are driven from their normal homes.
    One of a pair of pelicans catching breakfast in the shallows of the
    flood waters this morning near the Moorabool Street Bridge

    Mudlark with an insect driven out by the rising waters
    As of Friday morning, water levels are receding. As predicted, the river peaked in Geelong around midday Thursday  at 2.42m just below the minor flood level (2.5m). Earlier predictions of about 2.8m were not realized.
    Whilst this is by no means a record-breaking flood event, there are still some interesting statistics which have arisen from the recent weather. The Geelong Advertiser carried an article today which pointed out that the rain which fell between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday (about 61mm) was the largest in a 3 day period in June since 1952, which it will be remembered, was the year of Geelong's "great flood". The rainfall on Monday also approached the record for the single wettest June day on record which occurred on 1st June, 1939.
    However, with no further significant rain forecast for the present, river height records of the past are safe for now.

    05 June, 2012

    ...and up she rises!

    Following on from significant rainfall on the 25th of last month that saw drains through Geelong gushing water into the river and the average monthly rainfall figure almost doubled, the rain has come again. This time however, with winds blowing in from the south east, it has also affected large parts of the state leading to the worst flooding in decades in the east. And things are also on the rise in the Barwon catchment area too.
    Rising waters: about 3pm, 5th June at Moorabool Street
    In the hours from Sunday afternoon up to 9am this morning, a total of almost 54mm of rain fell on the lower reaches of the Barwon. This is according to the Bureau's rain gauge at the Geelong Show Grounds. My own gauge in the backyard less than 2km away recorded 69mm. Considering that the long term monthly average for the Geelong region - based on data from the old airport gauge at Grovedale - is a little over 42mm for June, this equates to a lot of water in a very short period of time.
    Locally there was the usual havoc associated with such weather, but upstream where the headwaters of the Barwon rise in the Otways was where most of the deluge occurred. Although the Bureau doesn't appear to have an official gauge here, local measurements indicate that over this same period, 175mm of rain fell in this part of the Otways.
    West bank of the Barwon from the old Breakwater Bridge about 3pm Tuesday
    5th June. Water levels are definitely on the rise.
    Not surprisingly, the river height at Ricketts Marsh soon reported flooding which peaked just above the major flood level at about 10pm last night. Whilst water levels there are now reported as falling, those of us downstream are waiting for the flow on effect. Although neither the Leigh or Moorabool Rivers have reported stream rises above flood levels - which would combine to have a much larger impact on the river height through Geelong - there is still expected to be some flooding of the lower Barwon. At this stage it is a matter of wait and see as to whether it will be minor or moderate and according to the Bureau a peak is expected some time either late today or early tomorrow morning.
    ...and by tomorrow it will be under water. The old Breakwater Bridge.
    With this Barwon flood event, there is of course one thing which will be different and it is a timely change. In the past when river levels began to rise, traffic was traditionally thrown into chaos as the Breakwater Bridge invariably went under. And no doubt, the bridge will go under again this time too, however now that the new bridge is open this should no longer be an issue for the hundreds of vehicles which make the crossing on a daily basis.
    As of about 9:30pm, water levels continue to rise and and are expected to peak through Geelong some time tomorrow. With a little timing and good luck I will be in the right place to take a few more watery shots for my next post.

    01 June, 2012

    View from a bridge

    Following on from my previous post, I thought I would put up a few more bridge pics. On Monday I drove over it. On Tuesday I rode over it and this morning I ran over it.  This afternoon I went back with the camera. I didn't have time to walk across, but I did have time to walk under and look at a couple of different angles.
    Over and under: VLine passenger train heading to Marshall under the new
    bridge as traffic passes overhead
    One consequence of the bridge opening which I had not forseen is a significant increase in the amount of traffic noise along this part of the river. Elevating the traffic above ground level has had the effect of allowing the noise to disperse far more widely than previously. In addition, the number of trucks and busses using the route has, I assume, increased with the removal of the height restriction which caused regular problems for the old bridge.
    Not too long ago, I watched a sizable semi-trailer make a creditable three point turn in the limited space immediately before the old bridge, rather than try to shoe-horn his trailer under the structure (perhaps he didn't notice the large sign detailing the height clearance of 3.7m before he turned off the highway).
    Sign on rail bridge crossing the old Breakwater Bridge
    This would have been a definite relief for VLine who are required to suspend rail traffic and send out a team of engineers to check the structural integrity of the bridge each time there is an impact. I am reliably informed that this was something which occurred more frequently than we might have imagined. To that end, they provide the above helpful - but somewhat disconcerting - sign with the number of the 1800 hotline. This I should think is now a thing of the past.
    Under the new bridge looking west towards the Barwon

    View towards the Barwon across the railway line to Marshall

    As can be seen from the above photos, I wandered up the access track which runs beside the railway line towards Barwon Terrace and looked at the bridge from underneath. It is a little more functional here - lacking the paintwork of the sections spanning the river - and the graffiti artists have already made their mark.
    Despite being open to traffic, the whole area under the bridge on both sides is still very much a construction zone. The clean up is now underway, redirecting of the approach to Barwon Heads Road continues and landscaping presumably needs to be completed.
    Adding the finishing touches to the paintwork
    Looking across the old motorcross course

    On the west bank

    From the east side of the river
    Roadworks continue
    And from above, it is also clear that much still needs to be done, although I am not sure how much of the surrounding land is public space and how much is privately owned. This is an industrial area, so beautification may not be a high priority.
    Looking across the chimneys of South Geelong to Simmonds Stadium -
    home of the Cats
    View to the north west
    It is also worth noting that there is no direct path leading to the river from the eastern approach to the bridge, nor am I aware of plans for one to be put in place at this time.