Rat Island

This intriguingly named Island had first captured my attention whilst browsing The Coorong National park from above with Google earth. The desire to explore it gnawed at me for some time till finally on a fresh afternoon myself, Tresh and Stuart pushed our kayaks through the tall reeds off Dunn’s Lagoon, Clayton Bay into the flow of the Finnis River and began an easy paddle towards our destination. Rat Island was clearly visible, but as we neared it we felt drawn to explore the river bank of Hindmarsh Island to our right.

We had been watching the weather closely for days and knew we were at the tail end of a heatwave. Being on the water made conditions much cooler but as we paddled further we felt the tangible shift as the harsh heat dispersed and the hot northerly winds petered out. A fresher change from the SW was forecast but it was yet to arrive. In the absence of either we found ourselves in a calm.   

The lake waters relaxed their jostle and became a pond, Its glassiness mirroring the sky so it created what felt like an enclosing sphere of otherworldliness. The three of us shared the sense that we were visitors in a world that was not our own, one, at least above the water, that belonged to the birds of the river whose chatter, in the hushed winds called out whatever business they were present to. 

Accepting the tag of foreigners, we poked about the reedy world along the bank, looking for passages between the sparser stems. When too thick for paddles we grabbed the reeds and hauled ourselves forward. Here and there were pauses in the choke of vegetation, open areas seemingly isolated from the main body of the channel. At times they led nowhere, on another a concealed jetty appeared, then a sheltered berth, home to a river boat, her lines and glossy hull graceful and self-assured.

In the still fading light was the only indicator that time was passing. The encroaching dark prompted us to seek camp so we turned our bows to the Rat. Rocks and reeds denied us a convenient landfall so we edged on in the dark until finally alighting at a small private jetty with pockets of mowed grass for sleeping and eating. We busied ourselves individually organising gear but were soon reunited settled around a modest fire chatting.

First we chatted. Then we talked.                                                                                                     For me our conversation was akin to our earlier exploring, only this time the watery world beneath was also accessible. Thoughts and feelings that live a submerged, hidden life came to the surface, were aired, held in hand, passed onto others and theirs to mine. The concealing of intimate thoughts seems to create a surface tension which, when broken allows the psychological landscape to shift, reforming into contours that allow the water of feelings to flow easier. Freer. Here in this hideaway spot in the balmy mid-night air in the company of trusted friends personal evolution was happening.

Sometime during the night the SW change came with gusto and without warning. I leapt up and tied down, stowed and stuffed anything that was loose then cocooned myself in my bivy away from the powerful wind and slept soundly till light.                                                             I’d have slept longer but my companions were keen for me to join them on an explore of the island.

First task on our reconnaissance was to gather intel on the buildings on the northern shore.  I laughingly use those military words but as we crept stealthily towards the quiet buildings peering around outhouses communicating in hand signals and whispers there was a shared sense of the game of war. Then a fly on a lone tent set aside from the main buildings flapped outwards and we pinned ourselves against a whitewashed shed wall and shot excited glances to one another. Further investigation revealed that the wind was the only occupant of the tent and the three of us the only humans on the island.

Our exploring continued along tracks mowed through the thick tufty grass that covered most of the island. They led us along its length to the north west corner where a colony of wild mint had smothered itself over the rocky shore. Either side, kikuyu grass left to its own devices had grown to a knee high tangle and a likely den for snakes. Here and there a tree or two overlooked this mostly flat landscape. So to did a weathered timber cross it’s faded name discerned with fingers rather than eyes. But no rats. No piper bewitched hoards, scattering teems, of beady eye scavengers. Perhaps this was for the best. had it been so we might have found them scurrying over and around us as we slept, stealing our food, scuttling our vessels.

Reconnaissance done we headed back to camp and found a sunny, sheltered spot to make breakfast before preparing ourselves for a wet paddle into the wind, at least until we could reach the relative shelter of the reeds on the lee side of Hindmarsh Island. I only felt I was making decent headway once I found a rhythm to my paddling which gave my efforts focus.   In the calmer water the going was once again easy and before too long we were turning our bows to Dunns Lagoon slipping through the reeds and hauling the heavy gear laden kayaks onto the grass.

On our way home we lunched and drank cleansing ales on the wharf at Goolwa, watching the sail boats tack back and forth. The Oscar W paddle boat tooted its arrival and departure the steam train too as time in this small part of the world passed comfortably by.                     (Ewan)


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