Like an incoming tide, the desire to go walking has been rising within me. As summer draws to a close the weather begins its gradual turn to autumn. The hot days are being tempered by cooler mornings and a sense of completion hangs in the air as the fruits of summer ripen ready to harvest. I feel like something has freed up and the opportunity to wollemi has arrived.
The day before this walk I drove past the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park and felt a pull towards it, the next day I am back and eager to explore this small area of estuary tucked between the river’s salty mouth and the fresh water up the river’s twisting neck.
The primary wetland of the park begins at an out-going tributary of the river, it over-spills into a shallow dish of land and soaks into the earth. I head towards this basin, off-track away from dog walkers and cyclists. Mindful of snakes my eyes drop to the ground and I wander through the pinky-green, salty plants which thrive close to the wetter ground.
A mob of roos scatter in front of me but a fleeting blaze of orange catches my eye. Quick and low to the ground was a fox. To my delight, it emerges from the saltbush a little more than 20 meters away and sits looking back the way it had come. I stand absolutely still and watch. Its ears turn sharply this way and that, an audible scan responding to distant sounds; similar to the way the tips of the surrounding bushes respond to the wind. Occasionally its head moves, but to my surprise, it doesn’t look in my direction. Seconds pass before it disappears only to reappear from behind a scrubby saltbush. Our eyes meet for a sliver of time before it turns sharply and flees.
(Photo from free-library, author unknown)
It’s the most intimate encounter with a fox that I can recall. Despite the reputation they have earned as slaughterers and pests I am intrigued and in awe of their wiliness and the way they are a creature of family yet also of solitude. I am also drawn to the fineness of their features, and the fire in their coats.
I walk along the water’s edge where the ground is just firm enough and follow it inland as it narrows. Here and there little channels pierce the muddy bank escaping the river only to come to rest in rounded pools meters away. I circle a few of them observing how the liveliness of the water changes the further from the river it gets. It starts as free-flowing and turns to a scum coated stagnation at its end.
I crossed a path leaving the wetter ground and climb briefly atop a man-made hill of earth; most likely excavated to make way for the suburban infrastructure that fringes this park. I look back over the wetlands and notice how the colours change. Though not far from the water this place looks and feels entirely different, drier, more solid but also more exposed to human activity. The water and mud of the wetland deter people from entering thus creating a sanctuary.
As the human world tightens its grip on the river, the value of this sanctuary increases. Locals know the value of this natural space, as along the roadside are hand-painted banners passionately shouting for development to cease.
At the fringe of the Recreation Park are old stone farm buildings long since abandoned. Now ringed with high fences it appears like an exhibit displaying remnants of the lifestyle and industry that once was common along this coast.
This park, the shoreline, and a handful of other reserves are the few remaining areas that have been set aside for the purpose of recreation and the preservation of natural habitat in which animals can live mostly undisturbed.
Although I enjoy making my way between the scrubby trees and the tall grasses I am aware that I am also a disturbance to those who live here. Birds, roos, and rabbits bolt out from their cover away from my approach. I feel apologetic but none the less privileged to be a witness to wildlife. Had I planned, I could have stayed the night, and so been able to dwell in one place and perhaps even put those that might watch me at ease, possibly sensing that I bore no ill intent.
In the distance, sirens wail and I can see the ant-trail of cars hurry along the fringing roads. A train crosses the bridge and the clutched dots of houses sit sedentary across the low hills. Its time to head home and I bring my mind back to the birds that are calling back and forth. I picture a few hours from now when the night’s darkening blanket will pull over this scene. The world of humans will receed becoming a scattering of lights in the darkness. I imagine a stillness hanging in the air and under it, the creatures of this place emerge and go about their affairs free from the disruption of people.