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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Making Things

 

During our routine visit to the Ngaraka Shrine, we noticed that the children are now handling the kangaroo bones with the kind of confidence that comes from familiarity.  One child picked up a large pile of bones and held them close to her body.  Seeing this random assemblage, another decided it would be a good to ‘make’ a kangaroo by reconstructing a skeleton.  They spent some time picking up various bones and trying to ‘fit them together’.

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It is now late spring. The wild flowers that carpeted the grasses a fortnight ago have either succumbed to the campus maintenance mowers or to their own seed cycles. The children commented on the ‘swishy’ and sometimes also ‘scratchy’ feel of the grass around their ankles and a number had to stop to pull prickles out of their socks.

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Others gathered up soft clumps of dried cut grass and pondered which animals, apart from horses, might like to eat it. They thought that ‘maybe the rabbits’ might also enjoy a meal of ‘hay’.  But there were other grassy re-purposings in store.

 

 

Down by the lakeside, we stumbled across a scattering of partially assembled objects made out of grass, reeds, twigs and bark. ‘Someone else has been here and made these things’ the children observed. They eagerly picked up the objects to examine their structures and test out their various uses.  A couple of boys adapted a braided ring, made out of bulrush stalks, as an addition to their usual stick ‘fishing rods’. Pouncing on a large mat, woven out of reeds and bark, they dragged it to the waters edge: ‘This is a raft – look, look it’s a raft – put it on the lake and we can make it float. … Yes, our raft is floating. … Oh no, its sinking. Pull it out of the water.’

Other children were closely inspecting the materials and techniques involved in making these objects, and wanted to have a go.  So we sat down awhile under the cool shade of the casuarinas and worked on some of our own creations.  We selected the longest and strongest reeds and plaited them together to make our own ropes, belts and braided rings.Combined with feathers and flowers, they made great decorative accessories.

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One child settled himself comfortably at the base of a casurina tree, and made small structures by standing several small sticks together. ‘I’m making lots of sculptures’, he explained, and then described each in turn. ‘This one’s a little shrine, but it doesn’t have bones, it has grass’. And pointing to another, ‘you can actually climb up this one, so it’s kind of like an obstacle course’. 

stick-sculpture2

After a time, various bugs (such as spiders and slaters) came crawling around the sticks. The child declared this was a shelter for the animals: These sculptures are so bugs and beetles and all sorts of animals can take shelter. See look [a spider] is near my sculpture.  They might be going to my shelter to have a look. … I’ll make some little furniture. Well the grass in there is for being comfortable and here’s some moss to go in this one. 

 

At some point in the midst of all this creative activity, we spotted a number of slightly submerged stakes in the lake – only just protruding.

stakes-in-water

It was then that we recalled the plans of the art student we had met a fortnight ago. He had been making stakes from the fallen tree to hammer into the lake floor. He had planned to place things on top of these stakes to give the appearance of something sitting on the water. We realised that this must have been the site where he continued to work on his art installation. The grass and stick assemblages that he had left behind had inadvertently inspired the children in their own creative ‘making’ endeavours.

 

 

Re-emergence

The children were bursting with energy on this walk. Full of excitement and attentiveness, they seemed as enlivened as their fecund surrounds. They were quick to notice that the rabbits were looking very fat after feasting on the lush green grass, and that the grasslands spreading down to the lake had turned into a carpet of wildflowers, harbouring the occasional poppy. Spring has finally sprung!

shrine-bone-rubbingWe stayed a little longer than usual at the Ngaraka Shrine to the Lost Koori. As well as remembering those who came before us, the children were fast to resume their ritual tapping and rubbing of the kangaroo bones on the steel frame, re-evoking pasts in the present. The tolling sounds seemed particularly alive too. They were richer and more resonant than the slightly duller tones of saturated bones on metal made on previous wet weather walks.

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As we approached the still-swollen lake, someone asked if it was a river. Perhaps they had recently seen the nearby Murrumbidgee River in flood and recognised something similar about the spreading water? This led to a conversation about the difference between lakes and rivers.

The children quickly noticed an unusually large scattering of rubbish and debris along the lake’s edge. They could see that it had been swept in from the lake: ‘The rain made the lake come up and the rubbish floated to the shore and got left behind.

We talked about how some of this rubbish might have started off on the streets of the town, and been washed down drains and into the lake – it took some pondering to think about the journey that a piece of rubbish from so far away might have taken only to emerge from the water where we now stood.

A small moth flying past distracted the children from the rubbish, and they were soon off following the fluttering trails of several moths and butterflies, eagerly looking for another as soon as one disappeared from view.  ants-looking-againThese meanderings led the children an ants’ nest that they had not visited for a while and that had seen little ant activity over the colder months.

There was much talk about the return of the ants and wondering at the comings and goings of the ant colony. As they watched the ants drag food down the hole, the children mused on where it could be going: ‘maybe they are taking it to the queen ant’, ‘the queen looks after the eggs’ and ‘she would need lots of food to lay all those ants’!

There was also puzzlement about how the ants navigated their way through the complex nest. One child asked: ‘how do they know which hole to go down?’ while another asked ‘do ants dig?’ The children’s attention turned to the ways the ants went about making their nests, watching as they carried up small stones from underground: ‘one ant is carrying a rock’.

 new-shoots-on-treeNearby was the first of the fallen trees that the children had enjoyed playing on. We asked them if they noticed anything different about the tree. They immediately remembered that it was ‘the big storm that knocked it down’. On closer inspection, however, they could see that one of the main trunks was now sprouting new shoots. It was regenerating despite that fact that it had almost been fully uprooted. The children soon realized the significance of this: ‘I think it’s going to make a new one’ and then ‘we can climb on it again’.

They were eager then to see if the second fallen tree that had crashed to the ground in the recent storm was still there, or if the ranger had already sawn it up and taken it away. This was the tree that the ranger had declared unsafe and they weren’t allowed to play on.

It was still there – cordoned off with plastic warning tape. A sculpture student from the nearby ANU School of Art was doing something with the smaller broken branches and the children gathered around him to watch. He was sharpening the ends with a small axe, making stakes out of the branches.

He was more than happy to talk to the children about his project. He told them that he wanted to re-purpose some of the tree’s damaged timber for an art installation that he plans to locate in the lake. The stakes will support his sculpture. The tree will then become a part of a new structure, rather than simply being sawn up and turned into mulch. He explained that this was his way of expressing something about the connections between people and the environment. We were invited to come along next week to see him working on the next stage of the project.

As we climbed the last hill to the centre, a couple of the children carried with them their own sticks they had retrieved from near the fallen tree. ‘I’m going to make a sculpture out of this’ one declared.

Warming Up

Nearly everyone eventually took off their jackets on this walk. It’s starting to warm up – enough for a number of children to swap their beanies for shade hats – and for underground life to be stirring and slowly emerging on the surface. We spotted our first baby rabbit venturing out of its burrow, and lots of purple spring flowers. Snake season looms, and we’ve told the children that it’s no longer safe to run into the long tussock grass to play rabbits.

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The lake is full to the brim after so much winter rain. There is one particular lakeside spot under the casurina trees to which the children return time and again. On this occasion, they really settled in – presumably because the warmer weather makes it more conducive to hang around at the water’s edge.

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A group of children started laying casurina branches in the water as ‘homes for the fish’. This gradually shifting into ‘We’re making beds for the fish, so that they’ll come and we can catch them’. After some uncertain conversation about how they would pick the fish up, once lured into these homes or beds, a few children wandered off to find trusty stick ‘fishing rods’. Some also went looking for ‘bait’.

 

 

The fishing activity was engrossing. There was a lot of serious ‘shh-ing‘ going on, lest the fish be scared away. It seemed like the hope of a ‘catch’ was enough motivation to maintain their focus and attention for quite a while.

fishing

cormorants

 

Once abandoned, the children were quick to refocus their attention upon the next group game. The adults were trying to get them to watch 3 cormorants that were diving for fish out on the lake, but the children were more intent on heading up to the rock wall where the rabbits live.

under-wattle

 

 

 

 

As soon as they reached the top of the wall, they dived straight under the weeping acacia tree that has been their favourite ‘rabbit’ hideout on the last few walks. As if injected by a new surge of energy on this relatively warm day, the gang of ‘rabbits’ took on a whole new aggressive persona. No longer huddling under the tree to shelter from the cold winds and avoid being spotted, they loudly declared themselves to be ‘carnivore rabbits’ that ‘like eating people’.img_6469 The leafy rabbit hide turned into a mustering point where squadrons of ‘killer rabbits’ plotted and launched their repeated raids – attacking the adults standing around outside.

Once again, the high-spirited ‘rabbits’ had to be coaxed to leave their tree-hide when it was time to return home.