25 February, 2013

Over it, under it, round it, through it!

Phew! Rocks, fallen trees, ants, spiders, nettles, birds of prey, a fox, blue green algae and a snake...today, was one of those days.
I knew early on that sacrifices would have to be made: there were about four things I wanted to do and they just weren't all going to fit!
In the end, I decided to forgo the opportunity to stroll across the final section of the Geelong Ring Road (and, as it turned out, possibly get my mug on TV with the Prime Minister) and regretfully turned down the offer of an afternoon of champagne and foot massage. What was I thinking?!
Well, what I was thinking was that it was great weather for a paddle, there were still bits of the Barwon I hadn't seen and that it was reasonably early which should allow me to sneak in the fourth option once I'd satisfied my curiosity about the stretch of river between the Pollocksford and Merrawarp Road Bridges.

Mid-stream above the Pollocksford Bridge
Well, that was the plan...
The reality as it turned out, was somewhat different. That stretch of the river is about 10.5km long (approximately 6.5km if you take the direct route) - a distance I have covered comfortably before. I had considered that the river was narrower and that there might be rocks this far upstream from the weirs. I had thought that there might be some fallen trees obstructing the river and that our recent lack of rain and lower water levels might not help. I had considered that there may be some portage required to overcome these obstacles and that it may take longer than anticipated to reach our destination as a result.
Rocks, trees, reeds...
As it happens, I was correct on all counts and within a few minutes of hitting the water we got our first taste of what the next six hours would hold. Around the first bend we hit a patch of shallow (pointy) rocks. Out we got, dragged them through and on we went.
Then there were trees. Not just branches, but whole trees which had to be either circumnavigated, climbed over, floated across or limboed under - all of which we did at various times.
Well we certainly weren't going over that!
At one point, we even came across a little weir which meant yet another exit from the "yaks".
A small weir across the Barwon
And so it continued. We would pass one obstruction, paddle a few metres downstream and then decide how to deal with the next obstacle. Despite growing frustration from some quarters, I wasn't too fazed and had time to take my shots as I waited for the straggler. The river valley along this length is deeper than in the lower reaches and reminded me in places more of the Leigh and Moorabool Rivers where the banks are cut away and the channel is narrow.
Sandy soil and steep banks
As we progressed further downstream the basalt gave way to sand which was considerably easier on the feet and ankles as we hauled the kayaks over whatever obstacle presented itself.

Negotiating the ghosts of trees past

...and more rocks...and more branches...
Aside from the landscape, the bird life was generally similar to other parts of the river with the exception of quite a number of raptors circling overhead. I'm not an expert so identification was difficult as they were rather shy, mostly being very quick to take to the air the moment they saw us coming. One Whistling Kite however, was not so concerned and was as keen to examine us as I was to watch him.

A rather warm Whistling Kite
 I have seen Whistling Kites over Lake Connewarre before, but not this far upstream. I also spotted a Brown Goshawk and whilst I couldn't identify various others, they may have been Brown Falcons or perhaps more kites.
At one point as we paused mid-stream - fortunately - to negotiate yet more branches, I spotted another denizen of river environment - a thirsty tiger snake.
I didn't realise until I looked at the photos that we were being
rather closely observed too...
 This particular specimen was quite sizable. I couldn't see either end to judge its length, however based on circumference it was big. It was also quite pale in comparison to other specimens I've seen closer to Geelong. I took my shots and we carefully paddled past. As we did so, I could see it watching me. At this point it decided perhaps that a drink - or even a swim - could wait until later, turned around and disappeared back up the bank into the tangled lignum.
By comparison, the rest of the trip was pleasantly uneventful. A few kilometres upstream from Merrawarp Road, the river deepened and widened out, the fallen trees became more navigable and we made easier progress towards our destination. Eventually, some six and a quarter hours later, we made it to the bridge where the support crew were waiting (some more patiently than others) to take us home.
By this time, it was nearing 5pm and that other activity I had hoped to get to was long finished. Unfortunately a blog post on the Shelford Duck Race will just have to wait until next year.

10 February, 2013

Tilting at Windmills

Windmills have been an integral part of the landscape of rural Australia since the 19th century. The typical windmill as we know it today was the revolutionary design of an American, Daniel Halladay, in 1854. His machine, constructed wood, was "self-governing" meaning it could change its direction to face the prevailing wind and control its own speed. By 1867, the Rev. Leonard H. Wheeler had adapted the design to include a wheel with fixed sails and a vane which turned the wheel to face the wind. Further modifications resulted in geared windmills which needed only very light winds to begin moving and did not turn too fast in high winds.
By 1858, windmills were being produced in Australia and by the 1890s the original timber constructions were being replaced by geared, metal windmills more like those we would recognise today. Windmills were used to pump water either from dams or rivers or from underground bores and naturally the developing farming communities along the banks of the Barwon River were keen to tap water supplies for their stock and crops.

Windmill on the Barwon off Wilsons Road, St Albans Park
It is no real surprise therefore that you do not have to follow the river too far beyond the outskirts of suburban Geelong before windmills start popping up at regular intervals along its banks.  I had noticed the occasional windmill here or there at points outside town where I had been able to access the river but had assumed they were mostly a thing of the past.
Once  on the river itself however, and able to see previously inaccessible farmland, I discovered just how widespread windmills still are even in today's fuel-driven society. This was particularly evident on the section of river between the upper and lower breakwaters. I have not made a formal attempt to count them, but can think of at least half a dozen between the aqueduct and the end of Coppards Road and generally appearing to be in good working order.

Disused windmill on farmland above the Ring Road
Of course there was the odd, sad specimen, consisting mostly of a rusted tower and gearbox, with sails and vane long gone. I saw one such example on the river above Baum's Weir and interestingly, noticed throughout the course of our paddle to Merrawarp Road and back that fuel-operated pumps (which we could often hear running) were much more common along this stretch of the river.

Pump house beneath the Barrabool Hills
Something else I noticed as I was studying the various windmills I was beginning to see was that they were almost exclusively made by the same company: Bryan of Colac. Naturally, I had to know who Bryan - or Bryan Brothers as some of the windmills stated - was.
Once again Google came promptly to my rescue with the website of The Windmill Journal, an Australian site which aims to collect information and photos relating to Australian and New Zealand windmills and their history. Bryan Brothers of Colac I soon discovered was established in 1888 by Australian born brothers Archie Mark Bryan and one of either George or Thomas Pierce Bryan. The company was a foundry which in addition to windmills also made stoves, tanks, tank stands and other items. Like others before them, the Bryan brothers made their own contribution to advancing windmill technology, introducing several changes to the structure of the wheel (as described in the above website).
 The Bryan Brothers company still trades in Colac to the present day. From its establishment, it continued under the ownership of the Bryan family until 1944 when it was sold to R.A. Borch and from 1960 traded as Bryan Bros and Borch, adapting their production methods over the years in response to changes in the market and in environmental standards. In 1987 the Colac Water Supply Specialists purchased the company which became what today is Bryan Windmills Colac. The company still manufactures windmills along with tanks, troughs and tank stands as well as distributing solar pumps and irrigators.
The only exception I have noted so far to the Bryan Bros monopoly, was a rather tall, Southern Cross windmill, peeking above the treetops next to a small lagoon off Wilsons Road. The history of this company is almost as Australian as  Bryan Bros. The Toowoomba Foundry was originally established in 1871 as an ironmonger's shop in that town by English immigrant George Washington Griffiths and his brother-in-law W. Atherton. The Southern Cross line of products including some of Australia's earliest windmills built in 1876, were developed by the foundry which had replaced the shop some two years earlier. These early wooden products were based on the Californian models mentioned above.
Southern Cross Windmill behind trees
The Toowoomba Foundry is still in existence today and still producing windmills, although they no longer constitute a major product line for the company.

08 February, 2013

The wreck of the Costa Del Fuego

In March last year, during a family ride along the Barwon through Geelong, we came across a vessel with the impressive name of the Costa Del Fuego. Contrary to what you might imagine, this was not an impressive motor launch or even a relic of the Barwon's 19th century past. It was in fact, a traditional Aussie raft, constructed from wooden pallets lashed to 44-gallon drums.

The Costa Del Fuego, March, 2012
Of course, I blogged about the Costa Del Fuego at the time, but over the intervening months continued to keep an eye on it. I soon discovered that it was moored on the east bank of the river, just below the Queen's Park Bridge, where it remained - with it's canopy lowered - for some weeks.
Moored at Queen's Park, May, 2012
I noticed eventually however, that the raft was no longer at its mooring. Nor did I ever see it in use again. Following minor flooding events first in May and then in August, I was out walking with the kids in early October, when I once again spotted the Costa Del, wedged amongst the willows just below the breakwater.

Under the willows at Breakwater
It was a little the worse for wear and certainly did not appear to have seen recent use. I could not tell whether it had wound up here, swept down by the earlier flood waters or whether it had been moved to this location (although I suspect the water may not have been deep enough to carry it over the break). Regardless, there it was and for some time, there it stayed.
Once again, I did not notice exactly when it disappeared, but when we took to the water at Breakwater for our first excursion downriver in the kayaks, it was not long before we came across some familiar remains.
The skeleton of the Costa Del Fuego and a White-faced Heron
Sadly, it bore only a passing resemblance to the proud vessel it had once been, with the three remaining drums held together by a few bent spars and pieces of the pallets strewn on the bank. The whole was overseen by a White-faced Heron which was standing guard atop one of the drums.
As of late January and my most recent foray down from the break, the skeletal remains were still languishing on the bank.
Fortunately for the cause of youthful initiative, the Costa Del Fuego is not the only example of its kind which I have seen in recent times. On 19th January as we paddled up from Baum's Weir to Merrawarp Road and back, I came across another raft. It also was a timber structure kept afloat by 44-gallon drums. Unfortunately for me, distance and a reasonable breeze made focusing difficult so, the shot is not the best, however I was able to capture a couple of images of the unknown craft.
Raft downstream of Merrawarp Road
Finally, in the interests of furthering the cause of the humble 44-gallon drum as it relates to Australian culture and technology, I offer the following example, seen on farmland above the lower breakwater:
The versatility of the 44-gallon drum