Meanwhile, deep in the mangroves
6 January 2011
They say Sydney puts on the best fireworks in the world, they say this time round they were the best ever … but New Year’s Eve left me bored.
Call me a grumpy, clapped-out, tatty-furred, chewed-eared old marsupial if you like, but it’s all bread and circuses. It struck me as a fitting symbol of the coming fall of the House of Carr – a wildly-expensive night of excess and ohhh-aaah distraction and then, in the morning, it was just a memory, a mountain of rubbish, a sour whiff of cordite hanging in the air and we returned to relentless headlines about scandal, cover-up and corruption.
This old grey gumshoe has lived a long time and seen it all before, so he went to bed early.
On New Year’s Day, Joadja and I got up early, for a bit of real soul food. We loaded our kayaks on the battered station wagon and headed down the Princes Highway to Turrella, where we splashed into Wolli Creek at the Henderson Street weir.
The National Parks folk, the Fisheries people, the council and the local conservationists are quietly transforming the much-abused creek. For decades the weir stopped fish from travelling upstream to the fresh water to feed and breed. Then, a couple of years ago, they installed a fish-ladder there. Since then, watching fish go up the ladder at high tide has become something of a local attraction – a bit like the salmon run in Alaska, but in miniature and without the grizzlies.
About a hundred metres downstream we paddled past what they’re now calling Turrella Creek. Half a century back, this little tributary of the Wolli was the subject of a brainless council “improvement” program. The surrounding land was filled in with concrete demolition rubble and the stream was straightened and turned into an ugly stormwater drain fed by a big stormwater pipe. At least they didn’t concrete line it. In the succeeding decades, the whole thing became choked with lantana, weeds and plastic bottles swept down the pipe.
Last year a huge underground gross pollutant trap was installed on the stormwater pipe and the open drain was meandered, widened, and re-formed into a natural creekline with gently-sloping banks. Reeds are already poking up through the water and pretty soon they’re going to be planting thousands of native plants along the bank. In a few short years, if you weren’t an expert, you’d be hard-pressed to know that this little stream hadn’t been just like this since Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay.
Immediately downstream of Turrella Creek decades of fill had been lovingly scraped back by a backhoe artiste to re-create a broad wetland depression into which the high tide was lapping.
“It’ll only take a few months for the saltmarsh plants to regrow in there, and it’ll be great habitat for Japanese snipe, when they migrate from the northern hemisphere for the summer”, said Joadja.
“And speaking of unusual avians, there’s a dollar bird. Don’t often see one of those in inner Sydney!” I said.
We paddled on. Sunlight sparked on the water as we slipped between gently-waving stands of phragmites reed and grey-green casuarinas. On the higher ground the twisting limbs of the angophoras were resplendent in salmon-pink and a big old Christmas bush had put on a blazing red display. The water was churned up by schools of big mullet panicked by our approach.
Soon we were into the stretch where mangroves stretches well back from the creek on either bank. We paddled into the cool dark depths of the forest. Ibis were poking about in the shallow water, hunting for mud crabs. Shoals of tiny fish fed greedily on the muddy bottom.
And then onwards towards Cooks River, passing under the South-West Ocean Outfall Sewer viaduct, a noble piece of late 19th Century civil engineering with handsome stonework and cream brick arches. The creek widened and we skirted the right bank beside a wide stretch of mangrove stretching back towards Wolli Creek Station.
“Oooh, look, there’s a mangrove heron!”, said Joadja, grabbing her camera. I reached for my binoculars. It was a beautiful thing, in its own quiet way: buff chest, black cap, grey-green back and wings with a metallic sheen. It glared at us, crouched down into its stalking posture and skulked away into the mangroves.
Wonderful. Here’s a secretive bird that most Sydneysiders will never see and a couple of hundred metres from a busy station it has its own secluded sanctuary where no human ventures from one year’s end to the next.
• Take the trip: visit possm1’s YouTube channel for three Wolli Creek vids – Wolli: creek to crest, Scaling the Wolli fishladder and Flying foxes drinking.