Carlie Welsh, Rachel Melisa, and Zoe Horn
ENTERING ‘BODY OF MOTHER’
Armed with a cup of hot coffee, a GPS, and a tingling sense of curiosity, I make my way fifteen kilometers north of Melbourne’s CBD to Galada Tamboore, located in the Marran Baba Parklands.
It is not the best of days: think gloomy and cold, with a hint of drizzly rain. Last week’s glimpse of spring has been replaced with a breeze that chills the bone. However, it is not quite wet enough to warrant abandoning plans of outdoor exploration.
The traditional landowners, the Wurundjeri, aptly named the land ‘Marran Baba’—‘Body of Mother’. The name evokes something in me. A mother is a lot of things—protector, provider, disciplinarian. She sacrifices and loves unconditionally. She provides safety and security.
The importance of the name is not lost on me, yet feels heavy, as if I do not fully grasp its true significance. I am determined to find out more.
Galada Tamboore, meaning ‘creek waterhole’, is a site of particular significance for the Wurundjeri. The land provided groups of the Kulin nation with plentiful hunting grounds, a water supply and shelter. Artefacts and sites of importance have been recorded within the area including scar trees and stone relics. The parklands also held the historical meeting of John Batman and Wurundjeri-willam clan elders in 1835—the only treaty to ever be made between Indigenous Australians and the European invaders.
Still, despite its historical significance, it took days of research to find the area and how to get there. A search on Google Maps comes back with ‘No results found for Galada Tamboore’ along with redirection to a bicycle path on the other side of the highway.
The elusiveness of the area only piques my curiosity further. The less information I can find, the more I itch to get in my car and explore the area for myself. I know it has significance to Australia’s history, and now it has significance to me.
The drive is interesting, to say the least; expecting trees and greeneries, I am instead greeted by industrial estates pumping grey smoke into the atmosphere and a suburbia of houses with manicured lawns.
At a loss and lamenting whether I am going in the right direction, I decide to stay faithful to my GPS. Soon enough, I drive to the end of a court, and heave a sigh of relief.
‘Welcome to Galada Tamboore’.
TRACES OF LIFE
The sun breaks through a cloud as I step out of my car, the only one parked on the cracked bitumen at the end of Hatty Court, and I inhale the crisp cold air. The entrance is gated, meaning no motor vehicles are allowed in but humans are welcome to walk through.
I certainly do not feel welcomed as I take my first steps entering Galada Tamboore. An aura of loneliness and an empty feeling weighs on my stomach. The breeze slaps my face and I shudder again at the cold.
The land feels unassuming. Serene and unwavering. Except for the invisible birds—the occasional chirping serves as proof of their presence—there is no sign of breathing, moving life.
Surely there is more.
The grass is surprisingly well-mown and the bike path paint glints in the wet sun. The Hume Highway stares back at me in the distance, its noise echoes throughout the vast grassland.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a trio of kangaroos watching me. I freeze, my gaze fixed on the outline of their heads: triangular ears perked up, their paws hanging relaxed, looking like they’re eternally leaning forward, waiting for something. I’m delighted to see a sign of life but also feel a tad apprehensive. Am I an intruder in their home?
DOWN THE RIVER
I decide to abandon the bike path and descend into the gorge. The morning rain has settled. Wet mist covers every inch of grass and leaves, leaving my boots soaked through.
The Marran Baba Parklands contain some of the best and largest remaining examples of the grasslands that once covered the plains to the north of Melbourne.
I run my hands through the damp Kangaroo Grass as the sounds of the highway disappear completely, replaced with that of the gushing stream. The sound is calming; I feel more and more comfortable in the land. Eventually the grass becomes shoulder height, and I am completely immersed in nature.
Reaching the base of the gorge, I run my hand across a large, smooth rock face. The Galada Tamboore gorge is regarded as one of the most distinctive topographical features within northern Melbourne. The exposed unconformity of basalt and Silurian bedrock existing together is geologically significant, not to mention striking to my untrained eye.
My brow wrinkles trying to come to terms with the roughness of one rock, and the smoothness of another, unalike but embedded for decades side by side. The unconformity of the landscape around me is also jarringly apparent. From where I stand, looking upwards of the creek, the trees hang over the stream, dipping their branches into the water. The rocks are smooth, flat and the moss covering them welcomes one to sit. Now completely immersed in the gorge, with the sounds of civilization dulled, it’s clear to me that Galada Tamboore refuses to be overrun by the ever-encroaching industrial estates, freeways and their pollutants.
Bright green tree guards dot the landscape, evidence of the dozens of conservationists, community groups and volunteers who fight tirelessly to preserve the Galada Tamboore Parklands. These small green dots, like band-aids, mark spots of care, while on the other side of the gorge discarded metals and waste lay abandoned, contradicting the hopefulness of Galada Tamboore’s future.
One group which has been dedicated to the conservation and protection of the area for almost 30 years is the Merri Creek Management Committee (MCMC). Throughout my research this name has repeatedly come up, covering all aspects of the area: conservation plans, community walks, school education programs and family days.
Ray Radford has been a member of the MCMC and Friends of Merri Creek for almost 30 years and recalls a time when Galada Tamboore was no more than a wasteland:
‘Locals used to ride their dirt bikes and trucks through the area and the creek bed was full of old burnt out cars,’ Ray said the changes he has witnessed over the last two decades have been remarkable.
‘Most people were actually afraid of the parklands, the whole area had a bad aura to it. Now, after years of hard work, it’s my favourite spot on the Merri Creek’.
Making my way through the twisted ancient River Red Gums, I still feel alone but not at all lonely. Despite my wet hair and numb fingertips, there is a particular feeling of warmth. Is it a connection to the land? It is hard to say. Can our generation even have a connection with the land?
Covering nearly one hundred hectares of land, Galada Tamboore, meaning ‘creek waterhole’, rests along the Merri Creek River. Merri Merri itself means ‘very rocky’ in the language of the Wurundjeri, a fact that I have to agree with. Large, flat boulders frame the banks of the river. I hop from one to another, coming to rest on a particularly comfortable, well-shaped rock.
THE DICHOTOMY OF PAST AND PRESENT
I close my eyes, taking in the whole ambience of my surroundings. I feel bizarrely at peace. After the uncertainty of the morning’s travel and the mix of emotions experienced since, I finally feel like I know where I am. The cold rock underneath my hands, the smell of the morning mist and the sounds of rushing water drive me into a state of embracing contentedness.
It is odd to think that I was among modern life around an hour ago; passing by people going about their day, getting coffee before rushing off to make meetings and deadlines. Now, completely engulfed in nature, I can imagine being in a different era and everything would still make sense.
The call of a frog, perhaps that of the threatened Growling Grass Frog I’ve read about, stirs me from my contemplation.
The trees, river and animals have been here since the beginnings of time, as silent witnesses of history. They were here when the Wurundjeri occupied this place, and are still here as conservation plans are being made to preserve the grasslands.
However, the ever-growing fragility of the land is undeniable. The Golden Sun Moth and Striped Legless Lizard that once flourished around the Merri Creek grasslands are now critically endangered. Angela Foley from MCMC told us about the instability of the Growling Grass Frog population. In the 1970s the chorusing of the frogs was deafening but today, due to water pollution and the declining stream health, you would be lucky to hear a single croak.
The ecological importance of the area has been noted from the 1929 Town Planning Commission to the 2013 Merri Creek Strategic Management Plan. Today Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria, City of Hume and City of Whittlesea are all joining forces to not only conserve the Marran Baba Parklands, but also to cement their presence and purpose within city life.
Gavan O’Neill from Melbourne Water asserts ‘Marran Baba is about connection: connecting history to today, connecting people with nature, connecting diverse communities and connecting to Country’.
He states that Melbourne Water holds great importance to the association of the Wurundjeri people within this landscape both today and historically, and that the Wurundjeri will always be recognised and respected as the traditional owners of the land.
‘Historically, it’s an incredibly significant area, and it’s something we want to safeguard for future generations to enjoy’.
I continue my exploration, retracing my steps back out of the ravine.
Plastic bags can be seen prancing across the barren grasslands, as factory smog blends into one with the grey sky overhead. From here the city skyline is clearer than ever. And so is the striking effect we have had on our land. I feel a sense of overbearing guilt. If the land is our Mother, why would we desecrate her so?
I’m reminded of Ray from MCMC who explained that it’s not a lack of love for the parklands, but a lack of public interest to help maintain the area.
‘The project is never-ending for us, but unfortunately we can’t do it alone and the interest of the public has an expiry date. We often struggle to find local residents who are interested to help with replanting, we tried pamphleting the whole area, but no one showed up to help’.
The path ahead is undefined. I manoeuvre down a slick clay ridgeline, descending quickly towards Merri Creek. A magnificent River Red Gum greets me; its branches stretch from bank to bank, welcoming me with open arms. The river here is different to the one I explored around the bend. It is slow, broad and purposeful, gliding by almost silently as though wishing not to disturb the peace.
How unfair it is: The Mother will always welcome us, her river as strong-willed as her heart. Yet our love for her can verge on indifferent, often branded with an expiry date. Without the determined environmental volunteers, would Galada Tamboore even be here today?
Mother Nature is certainly magnificent; the Wurundjeri understand it more than we do. It begins to dawn on me why people have been drawn here for thousands of years. Just like a mother nurturing their young, the land provided the Wurundjeri with everything they needed—be it food, shelter or water. The Wurundjeri’s relationship with the land, in turn, is one of respect and deep spiritual connection.
Entering a new era, an indifferent one, the dogma has shifted and the connection eroded from years of neglect. However, the spirit of the mother isn’t forgotten; her presence is felt and must be nurtured in every element from the basalt rock, to the Growling Grass Frog and within every blade of the grasslands. It is the combination of each part of geology, flora and fauna that bring together the essence of Galada Tamboore. She was once monumental to our survival, now the continuity of her existence is up to us.