Our walk started with quite a deal of eager anticipation and bids to return to familiar places:
to the bark tree to play with the long strips of bark;
to the lake to see the swans;
and to the Ngaraka Shrine to see the bones.
We noticed a couple of emerging trends on this walk.
Firstly, it was clear from questions like: ‘I wonder who lives in that tree?’ that more children were taking the initiative to find out who lives in particular habitats and to lead the group to their finds.
While at the bark tree, one child observed that the bark was a home for a nest of spiders and gently lifted a piece of bark to show others.
Looking closer, the children could make out a mix of eggs and newly hatched young emerging from the furled bark. Although white, minute and barely visible, the children were still able to see the eight legs of the small creatures.
Secondly, we noticed how the wildlife was beginning to draw the children to follow new trails.
It was by following their new swan ‘friends’ (as one child called them) that the children came across an enticing new trail. After about five minutes of close communing with the children at the water’s edge, the swans eventually turned and swam to feed on a stand of reed beds further along the shoreline. Heading off along the bank in pursuit of the swans, the children came across a track leading under the casuarinas.
They ventured through the tunnels formed by low hanging casuarina branches and into a secluded opening, framed by lapping water, bulrushes, bushes, moss and brambles and scattered with the odd piece of discarded rubbish. There was no oblivious rushing through this new place. Rather, the things that made up this micro-world – such as submerged driftwood, glass bottles, thistles and soft fronds – drew and held the children’ attention, prompted exclamation and slowed them down. It seemed that every new thing they noticed generated their curiosity and excitement and enhanced the momentum of their engagement.
They played there for ages – pulling branches out of the water and trying to tug a waterlogged polystyrene cup in to shore. Periodically, they spotted the swans through the reeds, feeding quite close to them.
A bit further along the same trail, some of the children stumbled across something very special – a large round mound made out of casuarina needles, with a central depression.
In puzzling over the find, one child observed ‘I can’t see any eggs’, while another replied ‘but I can see some feathers. That’s clue that it might be a bird’s nest.’
The children were quite tired after following all these lakeside trails,. They stopped to rest on a platform seat before heading back up the hill, and then realised that there was an expanse of ants’ nests spreading out below them. Scurrying ants captured their attention for some time. They observed that when ants ‘work as a team’ they get a lot done. They are learning that if they are still, and just watch, the ants will ignore them.
The Ngaraka Shrine was our last stop. As before, the children immediately ran to the ground beneath the structure to find the kangaroo bones – picking them up without hesitation, handling them, feeling them and inspecting them closely. Even though this site has quickly become a favourite attraction, it is the disconcerting affect of these bones that remains as at least part of its allure.
The children couldn’t resist striking the bones against the metal to make tolling sounds again – although without quite as much force as last time. Some experimented with a new sonic method – rubbing the bones up and down the rusty poles.
After rubbing a bone for some time, one child noticed it had become a dark pink colour. She commented ‘I can see some skin’, inviting others to join her: ‘rub so you can see some skin’. Given that some other children had just declared that the kangaroos were ‘killed’ and the bones were ‘dead’, this was a somewhat startling connection. And yet at the same time, this child’s rhythmic rubbing to find the hidden flesh of the bones seemed to revitalise the presence of kangaroos at this site.
The week’s trails led us to all sorts of stimulating, provocative and mysterious encounters. It was an action-packed and adventurous walk.