Friday, July 11, 2008

Walyunga in Winter

3.00 pm, July 9.

Here we are at Walyunga Pool, one of my favourite places in the world. It's the middle of the first week of the school holidays so there are quite a few people about weather not withstanding. It's grey, cold and wintry but fine after a rainy morning – and the sprinklers have just come on. Now I don't feel so guilty for not having noticed that I was supposed to put the money in an envelope before I put it in the box. Oops.

There's a bus load of school kids out in inflatable rafts shooting the rapids. The water level is pretty good and if we have some more rain before the Avon Descent (which is only three weeks off) we should have a spectacular race. The Avon Descent is a 134 kilometre two day event that starts at Northam about sixty kilometres from Perth and follows the Avon as it races down over the Darling Scarp to join the Swan River. It attracts a large number of entrants to tackle the fast flowing river and its rapids in motorised dinghies, kayaks, canoes and double and single surf boards. It's not without its dangers.

Given Walyunga’s popularity as a place to watch the would-be competitors practising, I have to wonder why you would a) put sprinklers on in the picnic area during the day when you know there are going to be a fair number of visitors and b) put on sprinklers at all in the wettest time of the year? Yeah, beats me too.

All that aside, I love this place. It's in a valley deep in the foothills. The river rushes past frothed with white after splashing and roaring over the rapids where it emerges from the depths of Boongarup Pool about twenty minutes walk upstream. Where I'm sitting is calmer. A peninsular of rocks, dumped in some distant flood perhaps, juts out into the stream forming a quiet pool where the rafters paddle in to beach their craft on a rocky beach. Swimming in the summer is now frowned on due to the hidden snags and tricky currents but this time of the year the water is flowing so fast that the occasional overturned rafter is only at risk from hypothermia.

The birds and animals are incredibly tame. They come and sit on the table in search of handouts, leftovers or anything that happens to get dropped. While I have been sitting typing this a magpie, very handsome with his neat white jacket and black shirt front, has been sitting on the opposite side of the table, head cocked to one side, as he talks to me in soft chirps and warbles.

In the last five minutes this is what I have seen:

A flock of Western Ring Neck parrots (known as twenty eights here because of their call) drifting out the trees like a sudden fall of leaves.

A pink and grey galah dancing in the tree above me until a flock of its fellows swept across the river and it followed them.

A pair of sulphur crested cockatoos screeching downstream only a few feet above the river, feathers brilliant white in a sudden ray of sunlight.

Two plump grey teals waddling up, shovelling crumbs between quacks.

The rafters have all packed up now. The only sounds are the rushing water, the murmur as the afternoon wind starts to pick up, the rustle of the leaves and, in the distance, the beep beep of the bus backing out.

The types of birds have changed.

Two Australian ravens are scavenging around the picnic tables. They manage to look dignified as they stalk along, a hint of iridescence on their glossy black feathers.

In a lazy circle a pied cormorant surveys the banks for a place to spread its wings to dry.

A pair of Australian wood ducks wandered up from the water to graze on the grass. He's a handsome fellow too with his soft brownish grey body, dark head and matching dark stripes the length of his back. His mate is more drab - like a faded image of the male.

The afternoon is closing in now and there's a chill striking up from the ground. The kangaroos are starting to wake up. A mob of Western greys have just bounded down the slope to feed on the soft winter grasses patchworking the hillside. They say Ireland has forty shades of green but I’m pretty sure I’d find at least that many here.

The Australian bush I think is unfairly characterised as drab. Western Australia in particular has stunning wildflowers in breath-taking colours even in midwinter. In the wildflower season, which starts in a few weeks, it’s truly spectacular. Even today I’ve seen scarlet bottlebrush blossoms, puff balls of golden wattle, soft pink myrtle and on the opposite bank touches of unidentifiable white, blue and yellow flowers. It's not Europe or North America but it has so much to offer for those who bother to look.


Satima Flavell said...

I've lived in Perth on and off since 1985 and I've never been there. I'd love to see photos some time!

Imagine me said...

Not from this visit I'm afraid. Halfway there I realised I'd left my camera at home.