Sites revisited: Memories and dilemmas

There were no surprises on this walk. Instead, the children retraced their steps, recalling events associated with sites they had visited previously, reminding us that place is a strong repository of memory.

As usual,  the children looked for interestingly-shaped bones at the Ngaraka Shrine and tried to identify them. We had our regular discussion about shrines being places for remembering, and the children noted, as before, that this shrine is the place to remember ‘the kangaroos that have died’ and ‘the Aboriginal people that were here first’. A couple of children set about constructing their own mini-shrine out of bones – a shrine within a shrine.

shrine within a shrine


up rabbit wall


As we headed off down the hill they searched for the possum tail they had found on the last walk at the ‘big teeth’ sculpture. It was nowhere to be seen, so they abandoned the search and quickly scrambled up the rock wall, pausing briefly, as they usually do, to inspect the rabbit burrows before heading off to the lakeside.


water  concentric circles

Unlike on previous walks, there were no waterbirds to be seen this time. In their absence, the children engrossed themselves playing with sticks and stones. They used the sticks to splash the water and prod the little pebbles at the water’s edge. They threw the pebbles into the water, trying to propel them out as far out as they could. The concentric rings that spread out from the impact of stones on water became the mark of a successful throw.  The water afforded familiar patterns of response to their stick and stone incursions.


Sifting through the multi-coloured pebbles, the children were keen to find some ‘precious stones’ and ‘jewels’. The potential ruby turned out to be a piece of red plastic, ‘maybe from a bike light?’, and on closer inspection, a look-alike ‘emerald’ was just a worn fragment of a broken green bottle.


IMG_0820A large shiny object, which looked a bit like a big smooth rock from a distance, turned out to be a plastic bag full of sand. These rogue pieces of waterside trash prompted the children to reflect upon the hazards that plastics pose to water-birds and fish – ‘they can die from eating the plastic’. The conversation was a repeat from previous visits to the lakeside and a reference to knowledge gained in the classroom. The children were clearly grappling with what they might do with this disturbing information. And once again, they faced the dilemma of wanting to protect the wildlife by removing the plastic from the beach, but at the same time remembering that they are not supposed to pick up trash.

Lake or sea?

[Walk – 22 June 2017]

The children were keen to head east of the Centre again, this time to explore the south end of the cove.

On the way, they began discussing the difference between this lake and the sea. Some thought there might be sharks in the lake; others disagreed because it wasn’t the sea.  The sea was made of salt water one suggested, but as another pointed out ‘there’s white dots in it [the lake] so it is salt water’.

rubbish1One of the first things the children noticed was the rubbish dotted along the edge of the lake. This was cause for concern. They were conscious that water creatures are harmed by eating human debris.

There’s lots of rubbish. A turtle might think the rubbish is jelly fish and eat it.

Look. There’s rubbish in the water. The fish will be sick if they eat it. There’s an old bottle.

While the children could easily made a connection between the rubbish and the well-being of various water creatures, they were less certain about what they should do about it. Some wanted to pick the rubbish up and take it back to the Centre. Others remembered they had been told not to pick up rubbish (in case it was unsafe to touch). They stood for some time pondering this dilemma, looking at each piece in turn – straws, bits of plastic and glass bottles.

In the end, they settled with lifting some bits out of the water with sticks and putting it out of reach of the gentle lapping waves at the water’s edge. At least it was out of harms way for the fish.

While the children knew this was a lake, there were things that felt a little out of place. We spotted a bird, and as one child exclaimed ‘It’s a seagull!’. The presence of seagulls this far inland was indeed a mystery.



fish in tree

The remains of a large carp hanging in a tree was another sighting that was difficult to explain: ‘Maybe a bird caught that fish and ate the fish and then hanged it there.’

rockWhile some children studied the fish, others were distracted by deep vertical marks in a limestone rock nearby.

Thoughts of wild animals immediately came to mind.

I wonder what sort of animal they came from. Maybe one with really strong claws made it.’ 


The sunlight offered new types of glimpses into the lake. Under the surface, we could see fallen trees and the glinting reflections of stones.  The children could just make out the shape of a tree: ‘It’s inside the water. tree under waterMaybe it was too old and then it fell all the way down. It fell into the water and the end is right over there. I see leaves. I can see trees. What’s that under the water? It looks like gold. 

sunlight on water

As we reached the furthermost point of our walk, the children stumbled on a find that once again reminded them of the sea. IMG_8337On spotting an old wooden boat ramp now submerged at the lake’s edge, they began speculating on whether it could be a ship wreck. ‘I think that’s an old ship. Because ships have windows.’ 

ramp1 Reaching out with their sticks to feel the wooden planks, some children told us: ‘it feels hard and a bit sticky in there. It’s also very splashy.’

They then called out:Come here everyone we found an old boat.’ One imaginative child added: ‘I think that people died inside. I think it is from the Titanic. The Titanic is very long. Maybe the rest of it is underneath.’ 
ramp3 w sticks

All the children gathered around. It was wet and slippery at the lake’s edge, and they had to work out how to get as close as possible without slipping in. They reassured each other not to worry about getting a little wet: ‘The sun can dry you.’ and ‘I can see the sun reflecting on the water.’

We set off back to the Centre with a few sodden shoes and socks, but much excited talk about the possible fate of the sunken ship.








Bones, teeth, claws and tails

[Walk – 8 June 2017]

The intrigue with the kangaroo bones at the Ngaraka Shrine continues. Today the children tried to imagine how the bones might fit together. One child found several bones of a similar shape, and comparing the bones to his own body, he observed: I think it’s a knee bone. Let’s take a look at this one.

Others looked more closely into the decaying bones, intrigued as to what might be inside: ‘There’s a big hole. There’s sand inside.’ bone with hole and sand

Long after some of the others had moved on, couple of children lingered under the Shrine, hesitant to leave.

sitting w bones





Eventually we did continue, the children stopping here and there at patches of soft orange and red earth only made visible by the avid digging of the rabbits.

red dirt2




On our previous walks, the children had gently touched the soft earth, feeling its texture. Today, they seemed more intent on using their hands as rabbit claws. They furiously scratched at the earth to simulate rabbit-claw digging marks.

red dirt1

Moving on from the familiar bones and rabbit-clawed diggings, our walk took a new turn.  the teethThe children gravitated to a large landscape sculpture they call ‘The Teeth’. They spent much time squeezing their bodies in and out between the vertical jaw-like structure.

All of this ‘teeth’ activity was suddenly interrupted by a puzzling and slightly gruesome find. Lying on the ground near the sculpture was a single possum tail.tail1






For some time, the children stood around the tail, keeping slightly back as if not sure what to expect; some thinking the tail might still be alive. One child pondered: I think the front of it died. And the back is still alive.

But the tail remained still.   Emboldened by its inertness, one child picked up a stick to prod it. Others cautioned: It’s a possum tail. Don’t touch that. It could be a poison tail. Eventually, the other children also decided that it might be safe to prod, and one by one they all set of searching for prodding sticks: ‘I’m going to find a stick. Me too.’ 

Using their implements, the children reached out and gently prodded the tail, checking for life and feeling its texture.

‘It’s not alive. It’s fluffy.’ … ‘It might be a baby possum. Maybe this is the mummy of the baby.’

‘Just lift it. Don’t be scared.’ … ‘Yuk. Yuk. Leave it there.’

‘There’s something spiky on it. It’s just the prickles.’

The mood was sombre as we tried to work out what might have befallen the possum. ‘Poor possum’, the children said.

One child recalled a lizard [skink] that he had once seen lose its tail, and explained: ‘When the tail came off it was moving and the lizard ran away.’ This immediately prompted a more hopeful thought: ‘Maybe the tail came off the possum and the possum ran away.’  On this note, we headed back to the Centre, leaving the tail lying next to ‘the teeth’ and at the whim of the elements and other creatures who live in this place.

On the walk back, one of the children reminded us of the king parrots she had seen feeding on the berries. As on other walks, looking at birds always poses a particular dilemma – you need to get close to have a look, but the closer you get, the higher the chance the birds will fly away.  parrotsThe children are constantly navigating this human-bird territory – pausing, ‘shhing’ and tiptoing when they spot a bird – and then sighing with disappointment when the bird flies away, perhaps also grappling with a niggling sensation that our presence was in some way responsible for the bird moving on from its feeding ground.   parrots2.jpg

Finding our way – maps and signs

[Walk – 11 May 2017]

At the start of our walk, one child produced a hand drawn map.  This will show us ‘where to go’ she declared.  the map3

We set off via the back gate – the opposite way to usual. The children soon realised that the Shrine, which we usually visit first,  was nowhere to be seen.  The search for the Shrine became an important mission – but how to get our bearings?

On the way we found other human-made maps and signposts that the children studied for clues; but there was nothing to help find the place we were looking for.

Luckily, there were signs in the landscape too.

setting off2

One child looked for some time at the surrounding low hills, valleys and treed areas – then pointed out ‘I think its that way because we always come that way from the Shrine’. He was spot on. We decided that if we kept walking up the hill, the Shrine would eventually come into view.

setting off3 up the hill





The children rushed off up the hill in anticipation of seeing the Shrine. They didn’t get far before one stopped:  ‘I found something’! ‘It is a teepee made of sticks.’






Soon the children were exploring the surrounds, finding rabbit burrows and testing out the soft loose earth.

I saw a bunny. Here is a bunny hole. There is another hole on this side!

This dirt.  It’s orange.  It’s the colour of an ant’s nest. It’s soft and cold and wet. There’s some poo. 

In the midst of all this activity, a reminder from one child: ‘We need to keep going.  We are already here (pointing to the map). Let’s go the Shrine. It’s up the hill.’

Finally we arrived.


The children began eagerly tapping, scraping and turning over the now-familiar kangaroo bones in their hands.

bone shark

While some seem fascinated by the sound and feel of the bones, others looked to the shape of the bones.  Sometimes, other animals would appear: ‘This one looks like a sword fish. See it has a fin and a jaw.’

After some time, the child with the map said ‘Now – let’s go to the next map. The next map has the rock wall.’  As we passed over the rock wall the children wondered who might live in all the holes and crevices: ‘Maybe a snake or a mouse. There’s lots of holes here.


rocky bank hole

Our final stop was a large sunken dip in the landscape where the ground was covered in eucalypt bark.  crunchy leavesThe children were intent on the ‘crunch, crunch’ sound underfoot as they walked along.  This focus on the fallen tree debris soon revealed a number of large sticks – just the kind the children sometimes collect to take back to the Centre for their stick fence.  It didn’t take long for each child to find a stick that they thought would be perfect.

Navigating the way home bearing a collection of large sticks turned out to be quite a complex endeavour of child-stick manoeuvring.







The one-legged swan

[Walk – 27 April 2017]

We decided to walk to a different place today – to the lakeside cove due east of the Centre. We’d noticed before that lots of water birds often hang out in this cove.

As soon as we arrived, the children spotted a pair of swans standing on a grassed area by the lake’s edge. As we got closer, they noticed that there was something curiously different about one of the swans. It only had one leg.  This prompted much discussion: Swans don’t have one leg. Swans have two legs. They never, ever have one leg. Never, ever.


Despite having only one leg, the swan was perfectly balanced, occasionally pecking at the grass and at other times looking up at the inquisitive children.  Taking all this in, the children started to wonder how the swan could have lost its other leg.

They started talking to the swans: ‘Hello Hello’ they chorused, slightly mimicking the swans’ honking tones.

standing one leg1



A couple of the children began to mimic the one-legged swan: I’ve got one leg.  I can balance on one leg. This quickly caught on, and soon all of the children were trying to balance like the one-legged swan.

In the midst of all the action and excitement, the swan quietly put down its concealed second leg. Oh! Look! It’s got two legs! It was hiding!  It was as if the swan had tricked them. The children laughed and laughed. swan two legs

As the swans started to walk towards the water, a couple of children noticed that one was scratching itself. This familiar action prompted them to further identify with the swans’ embodiment: ‘I scratch when I get itchy’ and  ‘I do too, like when I get a mosquito bite’.

For the rest of our walk the swans paddled in the shallow water, following us along the edge of the lake. Some of the children had noticed the swans pecking at grass earlier, and decided that grass must be what swans like to eat.

They kept feeding grass to the swans at regular points along our walk, explaining  ‘Looks like they want more dinner. They want more grass. The wind is blowing it away. They really like it. …. They are still following us.’

The gentle autumn sun made us all feel like staying outside a little longer. Some children lingered by the path, and after spending time finding an ideal ‘writing’ stick, started scratching images and words across the path. Some wrote their names while others drew pictures. I’m drawing a machine, one explained.

drawing with sticks4drawing with sticks3

drawing with sticks2

Initially, some expressed concern that the drawings would get rubbed out, perhaps because ants, people, tractors might go over it. However, this was only a fleeting concern. Quickly absorbed in the new activity, the children seemed content to work with the dirt path as a temporary surface.

As we headed back, the wind picked up blowing the dust around, already lightening the trace of the children’s markings on the ground.



Lakeside at last

[Walk – 13 April 2017]

We had promised a walk to the lakeside.  Despite the children’s determination to get to the lake, they still moved slowly, distracted by various sightings on the way. Many were keen to point out changes they noticed since our last walk.

orb spider remains

One child rushed over to tell us that the Golden Orb spider was gone, and when we looked closely we could see that there was nothing more than a few strands of web remains.

Others ran to the exact spot where tiny, delicate mushrooms had been spotted previously, only to be disappointed to find they had gone.  Fungi nonetheless still featured on this walk, and it wasn’t long before there were exclamations of ‘look, look mushrooms … lots of mushrooms!’. These mushrooms were mostly old and decaying, but nonetheless intriguing.

following ducks

The sighting of a small group of ducks near the water’s edge drew the children’s attention and hastened their arrival at the lakeside.  Knowing how easily the ducks are frightened, they restrained their desire to rush and tiptoed towards them. Once we arrived under the soft, drooping branches of the foreshore Casuarinas, the children settled in to the environs of the waters’ edge.  This was the first time this group of children had been to this part of the lakeside before. They were soon collecting feathers, navigating the slippery moss at the water’s edge and ‘fishing’ with sticks – repeating the previous group’s favourite patterns of activities.


Once again, the combination of sticks and water seemed to offer a compelling invitation for the children to pause and connect with underwater life.


Unexpectedly, a swan glided up through the reeds and startled the children by coming within a few metres. This provoked much discussion: Look a swan! I think its looking for its baby.

After the walk, when the children recalled this chance meeting, they responded with many excited ‘swan’ noises.

On our walks we have at times stumbled across a variety of ephemeral, almost whimsical, human-made installations.  This walk was no exception. As the children ran off calling to each other ‘Come on, let’s go to the next forest’, they soon slowed as they entered the next stand of trees.  Several curious artefacts came to light.  One woven reed structure had been constructed the same height as the children’s heads, so they could walk under it and imagine what it might be.  The children’s speculative musings stretched from spiders to washing lines:  Someone made this.  It looks like a spider web. … Maybe it is used for washing. It could be for washing.

As we headed back to the Centre, the children noticed an interesting tree.  At first, it wasn’t quite clear why it was so striking, and only on closer inspection did we discover it was ‘half dead and half alive’. tree half dead alive1

Even more intriguing, in between the two trunks – one of which seemed clearly dead and the other alive – was a third with some newly sprouting leaves. tree2

The children seemed to sense a certain ambiguity as to whether the tree was living or dying as they reached out to gently touch the textures on the trunks.   IMG_7763


As a couple of the children climbed through the lower branches, another heeded ‘Be careful. You might take all the skin off it’.  This reference to the shedding bark captured a sense of vulnerability that seemed to surround this otherwise imposing and tall eucalypt.