Shifts and flows

Despite the overnight rain and a cold day that invited us to rug up in coats and beanies, the children seemed to sense a shift towards warmer weather.  As we ventured out, the children talked to each other about this invisible yet somehow discernible change in the air: ‘It’s like Spring but not Spring yet’.  Acacia

The presence of a flowering Acacia nearby confirmed this idea. Though with this too came reminders of the bodily discomforts that might lie ahead for some.  ‘That’s a Wattle’ one child explained. ‘My mum’s allergic to pollen’. The vibrant yellow flowers also prompted a reminder of bees and how they would soon be buzzing around to ‘bring the pollen home and make it into honey’.  rabbit scratching

 

Rabbits darted off through the grass, and the damp earth was spotted with the scratchy beginnings of many rabbit holes.

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All of these small awakenings seemed to be somewhat catching, and the children’s lively movements echoed the seasonal change in the air.  The children all had a definite spring in their step, walking and running at times with heightened energy and anticipation as to what they might find.

And they found many things. A bone that looked scissors, another bone that was like a ring and a pine cone that could be a hat.

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These interactions between the children and the various objects they found were full of playful possibilities. The children seemed to invite their home worlds into this place, and at the same time strengthened their connection to this place as somewhere they also felt  ‘at home’.

A chance meeting with a dog called Lucky also reminded us that the ‘wildlife’ here at times includes more domesticated companion animals.  The children were reluctant to say goodbye when it was time for the friendly dog to continue on its walk.
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The children also saw the lively traces of other creatures in various objects. One child picked up a rotting log and noted it was full of ‘holes’ and even some ‘poo’.  As the children pondered on these markings, they shared ideas: Somebody pecked in it. A bird. A woodpecker?  slipperyedges2

 

 

 

The edges of the lake were slippery from the recent rain, but this didn’t deter the children from their lakeside explorations.

As on previous walks, bits of rubbish were spotted again floating in the water and became the subject of some intrigue

A yellow bottle top caught one girls’ eye, and she called out ‘Golden money!’. Soon others gathered around: ‘Where’s the golden money. There! We need golden money. But how do we catch it?’.  A flurry of splashing sticks soon ensued as the children tried to entreat the bottle top to come within reach.

Despite all these efforts, the bottle top gradually moved further away, and children soon gave up on this mission.

More luck ensued with a bottle floating closer to the edge, this time within reach. However, a further surprise was in store, for on closer inspection we could see that the bottle had a message in it!  ‘Pirates for sure’, one child exclaimed.  messageinabottle1

The children retrieved the bottle and tried in vain to open it, each taking turns. ‘Too slippery. Too slippery as well. Too hard. Let me try’. The wet surface of the glass made it impossible to grip, and twisting off the lid was just too hard.

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Resigned, the children placed the bottle back at the water’s edge ‘Perhaps we weren’t supposed open it.’  One child remembered wooden planks of the ‘Titanic’ from a previous walk and thought ‘Perhaps it came from the Titanic’.
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Somewhat ominously another discarded container floating nearby was marked ‘Danger’ and we decided it was time to leave our explorations of the lakeside for the day.

On reflection, it was surprising how even within these small encounters, the children become aware of the complex intermingling flows of water and rubbish, evident for example in their musings on how a piece of rubbish might move from one part of the lake to another, or in their attempts to reach a piece of rubbish only to watch it swirl closer and then move away again.  The children seemed to test and also recognise their own limits in trying to extract rubbish from its watery path. In these interactions we all witnessed some of the human and non-human forces at play in the possible travels and trajectories of discarded human litter.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting a sense of the place

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Most of the children are new to our walks this year. As with last year’s group, their initial task is to get to know the plants and animals that live in the grassy woodlands heritage park adjacent to the Centre. Right from the moment we set out, there was a palpable sense of eagerness and anticipation to do this.

We had barely arrived in the parklands, when they children started running to find the wildlife, exclaiming ‘there’s a rabbit hole’ and ‘look at the ants’. The ease with which the children shifted their attention from running through a large space, to focussing upon the micro-worlds of other lives around them was a pertinent reminder of how often it is the children who draw us (adults) in to notice things that might otherwise escape our notice.

According to the routines we established last year, we stopped first at the Indigenous sculpture: Ngaraka: Shrine for the Lost Koori. We talked with the children about how the shrine can help us to remember that others were here before us, and that we walk on Aboriginal land, the land of the Ngunnawal people.  The children repeated ‘Ngunnawal’ several times and seemed to enjoy the feel of the sound rolling off their tongues. It was as if repeating this word  marked the beginnings of the processes of remembering.

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The kangaroo bones scattered under the shrine immediately drew the children’s attention. Following the lead and routines of the two children from last year’s group, they picked up the bones and began gently rubbing them up and down the shrine’s upright rusty poles. The marks left by the crumbling white bones reminded the children of chalk. ‘It’s just like chalk’ they remarked several times. Something about handling the crumbling bones and the rhythm of the rubbing seemed to be also part of the embodied process of remembering.

 

We noticed straight away that the ants were very active and spoke about why this might be.  Several children noted that this was because it was sunny and we discussed how they like to come out of their holes in the dry, warm weather. One child wondered ‘what do ants eat?’, and for the rest of the walk we looked for clues that might provide an answer.

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Under the trees, we found an ant that was carrying something round in its pincers. One child suggested it might be a little pebble. Eventually the ant dropped it and we picked it up and looked at it closely.  It took a bit of handling and close scrutiny to work out that it was a seed of some sort. We also spotted  seed-carried-by-antants crawling up a nearby bench, clustering around something red and sticky. The children figured this was ‘jelly’ or ‘jam’, no doubt left by a previous human visitor.  From these observations, the children gleaned that ants like to eat seeds and sweet things.

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Before we left, we had asked the children to look out for the plants and animals that live in this place. But they were actually doing a lot more than just looking.  They were continually reaching out, touching and smelling the multitude of living things around them. They were getting a sense of the place in very hands-on, engaged and sensory ways.

One child called us over to look at a ‘cactus’ which on closer inspection turned out to be a prickly scotch thistle. ‘Can we touch it?’ several of them asked. They reached out gently, wanting to feel the spikiness of the plant while also taking care not to get hurt.

We stopped at a big sheltering peppercorn tree, which looked enticing and promised to be housing all kinds of living creatures. The branches were hanging low to the ground, at child’s-eye level. One child immediately picked a leaf frond, rubbed it between his fingers and then lifted it up to smell. There was lots of interest in what was making the strong smell, and soon all the children were touching the low-lying leaves and spotting bunches of green ‘berries‘ hanging amongst them. After picking them, rubbing them between their fingers, inhaling the distinctively peppery smell and offering them around to each other – ‘smell this one’ and ‘this one smells very strong too’  – they came to the conclusion that they were not berries but peppercorns.  One of the educators pointed out that these berries might have been ‘bush tucker‘ for the Ngunnawal people.

 

Venturing further under the tree, the children spotted dried insect shells stuck to the lower trunk. ‘Maybe they’re lobsters’ one child speculated, but another corrected him ‘no they’re cicada shells‘. One of the children who was very familiar with cicada shells told the others ‘you can stick them on your t-shirt’ but we decided that we’d leave them there.

When asked what sounds they thought cicadas might make, the children spontaneously joined together in a loud chorus of high pitched buzzing sounds.

The children were only just starting to get a sense of the life in these grassy woodlands  when it was time to go back. It was hard to leave, as there was so much to more see, touch, and smell.  We headed back to the Centre with the promise that were many walks ahead of us, when they would be able to explore the rocks and the lakes edge that they could see at such an enticingly short distance away.

 

Bunnies Alive

The children have had enough of dead bunnies. They told us so in no uncertain terms. ‘We don’t want to see any more dead bunnies. We only want to see ones that are alive!’

They’re still mulling over all the rabbit carnage they witnessed on display at the National Museum of Australia – coming to terms with the realisation that full-scale wars against rabbits are part of the settler Australian story. They told us that they’ve been thinking about how ‘the farmers snapped the rabbits’, about how ‘the rabbits were running around everywhere’ and ‘they were scared’, about how there were ‘so many dead rabbits’, ‘hundreds and thousands and millions of rabbits’. ‘It’s not fair what they did to those rabbits’. One child reflected that rabbits shouldn’t eat the poisoned carrots that the farmers put out for them, because ‘the carrots are just a trick to kill them’. It was clear where their sympathies still lie.

They also admitted that they felt scared watching the rabbits being killed on the film. They wanted reassurance this kind of rabbit killing only happened ‘in the olden days’. They still seemed a little unsure about why so many rabbits needed to be killed, but the idea that ‘they eat too much grass’, ‘there’s none left for the people to look at’, was offered as one possible explanation. This led to a discussion about how some other animals might starve to death if there are too many rabbits and they eat all the grass. They remembered how in the film there was no grass left, ‘there was just dirt everywhere’. They pondered on how everything has to eat something else to stay alive: ‘bunnies eat grass’, ‘foxes eat bunnies’ … ‘but no one eats us’ added one child quickly.

The need for reassurance extended to a desire to see some live bunnies ‘not just dead ones’ on this walk. So we decided that we would go on a ‘live bunny’ hunt – not to harm them, but just to look at them. We agreed that we would need to be quiet so as not to scare them.

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Fortunately we spotted quite a few, some babies amongst them, grazing on the hill. With much ‘shhh-ing’, the children set off in pursuit. One child declared that she was being a rabbit, and that this would help her to get close. They were surprising good at staying quiet, but they weren’t so good at sneaking up.

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As the children barged towards them, the rabbits fled down the hill and straight into a patch of lomandra grasses. The children wearing gumboots followed them inside, but the rabbits were long gone down their burrows. img_6533-1They found plenty of fresh rabbit holes however, as well as other ‘clues’ like rabbit fur and rabbit scratchings.

img_8461Their second attempt at live rabbit hunting was a more measured one. The children slowly and stealthily snuck up the hill this time, heading towards a couple of rabbits they could make out behind some bushes. This time, they managed to get quite a bit closer before the rabbits turned and bobbed away.

 

Just seeing some healthy live bunnies hopping away was reassuring.

Lively routes and grounds underfoot

 

pinecones drawing

 

We took paper and pencils with us on this walk, and the children experimented with drawing and rubbing various textured objects such as bones and pine cones picked up along the way.  The pine cones created spiky patterns across the paper.

 

 

 

 

 

One child decided to draw a map, explaining: ‘This is the shrine. This goes to the donuts. And this goes to the bird nest. And this goes to the forest. And this goes to the museum.’

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The lines represented the routes the children often take when walking between key sites. It seems these routes are significant to the children’s growing appreciation of this area as an interconnected landscape, as well as their own sense of connection to it.

 

 

 

 

 

While we are walking from one site to the next, the children often stumble across unexpected small finds. They must be watching their feet, and being so close the ground, there are lots of small things scattered along the route that catch their attention. Having spotted them, they are often compelled to stop and pick them up in order to inspect them more closely. In this instance, it was the attraction of a piece of discarded bark that caused one child to stop, pick it up and inspect it and for others to gather around. Breaking open the bark, she saw it was imprinted on the inside with tracing marks – evidence that some grub must have lived there. On closer inspection she could see that a wood borer was still burrowed inside a crevice in the bark.

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She spent some time trying to entice the grub onto her finger: ‘Come here little caterpillar … Don’t be shy’. It finally emerged from the crevice, though still resisted crawling on to the child’s finger.  The child observed how tightly it was holding on to the wood: ‘he’s really sticky’. She found that turning the wood over and shaking still failed to dislodge the creature: ‘It can’t even fall off!’.

 

 

Some other children stumbled across another puzzling find.  They spotted a large brown skin casing  lying on the ground near a small hole. This drew speculative comments such as: ‘It looks like a millipede’ and ‘Maybe it just got out of the hole’.

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Others soon called out: ‘more over here’ and ‘I found a little hole here’.

Casing

 

We discussed how this was not a creature that was dead or ‘squashed’ (as some children had thought at first), but rather a discarded skin or casing that was soft to touch and empty inside. Whatever creature had been living in the ground had now emerged and taken on a new life form. We wondered what it was.

 

A dead beetle was also spotted with its head some distance from the body: ‘Someone broke its head off’ one child observed.

Beetle              Beetlehome2

Another child stayed with the beetle for a while, covering it with leaves and saying: ‘I’m going to make it a house so it can sleep in it’ and musing ‘maybe it’s just sleeping’.

While walking along, it’s not just the ‘where we’re going’ that the children are focused upon. They are very much in the moment, closely attuned to the minutia of their surrounds, and curious enough to want to pursue any small and unexpected encounters in the lively grounds underfoot. These, in turn, provoke questions about when and whether found small creatures are dead or alive, how we might respond to such finds and what remnants might reveal about what a creature once was or may now be.