This week, the children carried magnifying glasses. The first things that drew their attention were the kangaroo bones at the Ngaraka Shrine. Some crouched low, studying intently the intricacies of the bone textures and shapes.
Others walked around holding their magnifying glasses up to the sky. This led to an unexpected discovery as one child, holding a magnifying glass at arms length, found that it made things appear upside down. Others soon caught on and the children delighted in this new way of looking at each other and more distant objects such as trees – ‘Everything is upside down’ and ‘You look upside down.’
Before long, the children remembered their favourite spot from the last few walks. ‘Let’s go to the fallen trees!’. They ran in eager anticipation towards the site that had become so familiar.
But what disappointment! Where the tangled trees had once lain sprawling and invitingly across the ground was now a bald clearing. There was nothing remaining of their favourite fallen tree playground but some sawdust and a few scattered bare stumps. The area had been ‘cleaned up’, as had the small shelter the children had built with the branches.
‘Oh no‘ they kept repeating in shock. After recovering from their initial dismay and disbelief, the children started to reminisce – ‘I remember I used to crawl along this’ and ‘Now I can’t climb on there anymore’. They noticed a pile of tell-tale sawdust and fresh cut marks, quickly connecting this with the recent work of chainsaws.They examined the sawdust trails with their magnifying glasses, thinking they might lead them to the culprits – the ‘bad’ people who had sawn up and taken away their fallen trees.
With some encouragement, and their magnifying glasses still to the ground, they eventually set off towards the kangaroo grasslands, looking for new trails.
There, they found ample evidence that the rabbits were out and about again. There were new scratchings everywhere. As well as plentiful signs of rabbit life, a small group of children stumbled upon the remains of yet another dead rabbit. Its decomposing body held their attention for quite some time. Armed with their magnifying glasses, they intently studied the details of the rotting corpse – spotting a centipede crawling inside the stomach cavity, noting that the fur was coming off the skin and there were lots of exposed bones. ‘I can see where its eyes were’, ‘I can see its nose. Its nose is peeled’. ‘Hey guys’ they called out to alert the other children, ‘dead bunny, another dead bunny, with a centipede on it!’ The subsequent discovery of tufts of rabbit fur in a nearby grass clearing seemed to trigger their imaginations of yet another crime scene, and as with the cleared fallen-tree site, they started speculating about what might have happened.
As if mapping the action, one child offered this explanation: ‘Maybe a fox grabbed the bunny and pulled out its fur, and then picked it up and ran over here, and killed it. But it didn’t eat it all, and it ran away down there’.
This reminded another child about the day that a fox killed her pet chook. There was an air of sombre acceptance about the fate of small animals who become prey to others – a moment of fatalistic reflection on the harsh life and death realities of the food chain. ‘I’m sorry this happened to you bunny’ declared one of the children.
With the remains of the fallen trees and the bunny now witnessed, registered and remembered, it seemed the children were ready to move on. After all, it was a lovely sunny late-winter day, with the promise of spring to come, they wanted to be out in it. A bit like the rabbits, they returned to whole-heartedly immersing themselves in the warming world around them.
This meant that the rest of the walk was spent by many ‘being rabbits’. Pealing off their winter coats, many children hopped enthusiastically through the grass. Eventually tiring themselves out, they found a small weeping acacia to be their new tree-cubby ‘rabbit home’.
Uncannily, this walk, with its unfolding theme of (tree and rabbit) loss, remains and remembrance, was intermittently marked by the sounds of the Long Tan Vietnam memorial event, being held at the nearby Australian War Memorial. It started early in the walk, with the arresting distant boom of repetitive cannon fire. By the time the children had become rabbits in the grass, their play was accompanied by the reverberating sonic roar of a large formation of vintage war planes circuiting the city. The planes did several laps and were quite deafening as they zoomed directly overhead. For the children being rabbits under the weeping acacia, this reinforced the need to further retreat into their bushy hide-away:
‘We don’t like noise’
‘Those are army planes’
‘We don’t like noise or army planes’
‘We like hiding’
‘This is the perfect spot to hide’
‘I’m going to be sleeping now’ [snoring sounds]
‘This rabbit is sleeping’
‘Uh oh! Person! Evacuate, evacuate!’
‘No, we just have to hide a bit more. No one can ever see us’.
When it was time to return to the centre, the rabbit children had to be enticed out of their new hiding place with the promise that we would soon return.
One child carried a souvenir from the cleared fallen-trees – a remnant branch that she had held onto resolutely for most of the walk.
While in many ways this walk was marked by the memorialised sounds and visions of loss and destruction – there was nonetheless a strong sense that ‘what remained’ was far from a static, mournful and lifeless shell of past lives and events. The children seemed very able to respectfully witness, grieve, remember and move on, and in the process, to creatively transform the remains of the past into an emergent and lively present.