Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Joy on the River

It was a walking dogs' day. People stopped to chat. What birds have you seen today? What do you know about the history of the river? Do you think there are still sharks in the river? Is it safe to swim in? Meeting people along the trail and sharing stories about the river adds to the joy of river connecting.

'My dad told me that the river used to be so clear,' says the women in red with the small fox terrier. While the dog mooched around wanting to run in the undergrowth, the women told me how her father had loved the river. 'He used to go swimming not far from here and there was a real sandy beach. And people would flock there. But all that's gone now. The river is all silted up.'

Then one of the other river-lovers told me about what Sandy Creek used to be like. I've written about Sandy Creek before, as a beautiful deep chocolate brown creek bordered by mud and mangroves. But I learnt that it was not always like this. In fact, Sandy Creek used to be just that, a creek with a sandy bottom and sandy bank - and few or no mangroves. It was once a great place for fishing.

But the creek has changed. The sand has been replaced by oozy mud and the banks are now lined with mangroves. This marks a change from fresh to more salty tidal water. Why?

It's a question of less water coming down the river, the daming of the river upstream, less rain flushing out the creek bed, and also, as far as Sandy Creek is concerned, while it is an open flowing creek near the river, not far away the creek is squeezed into a drain, the wildness contained, controlled, channelled, covered over. The creek does not flow free. The sand has all but disappeared.

There is a marvellous photo held by Picture Australia in the archives of a family, in 1930s, sitting on the beach, enjoying a picnic. But this was then. The days of river beaches and family frolicks have passed but the river is still a playspace, a place to shake off the constraints of the concreted-ashphalted urban-ness and feel the freedom, the sight of the sparkling bush and the flourishing tidal flow. This is sacred.