Weather drawing

We took a break from our regular walks to sit down and reflect on previous walks.  Some of the children were keen to draw their own ‘map’ of the places we had walked and so we set aside time to do some map drawing.

A number of the children drew winding pathways dotted with plants and animals – reminders of things they had seen along the way.

A few recalled the various bits of ‘treasure’ we had found – such as the bottle with a message in it – and this soon led to drawing maps with all kinds of hidden treasures.

As if prompted by the nautical theme of treasure maps and sunken ships, some recalled the wooden remains they had once spotted submerged in the lake – their own ‘Titanic’ discovery.  All at once the stories began, and the drawings became not so much pictures ‘of’ things, as parts of the story itself.  The force of an imaginary storm was conjured up on one child’s page, and the outline of the boat slowly disappeared from view under layers of dark, swirling wind and rain.  He explained as he drew:

This is the black storm

The red is the fire running about in the water.

The storm is putting out the fire.

See how dark it’s getting. 

The water is putting the fire out.

Several children took up this form of ‘storm drawing’, recounting stories of people going overboard, ships being broken to pieces and all matter reduced to nothing in the path of the dark storm.

As the imaginary storms abated, the drawings came to an end. These did not so much offer finished representations of the place, but instead a compelling reminder of the liveliness of weather, place, people and the ways these are so often flung together.  In these drawings, I was reminded of Doreen Massey’s work and her hope that we might liberate our idea of space as something that is far from ‘closed’ or ‘static’ or able to be represented on the ‘flat horizontality of the page’, but rather to come to understand it as something lively or ongoing. Place in this sense can be thought of as an ‘event’.  As Massey says:

What is special about place is not some romance of a pre-given collective identity or of the eternity of the hills. Rather, what is special about place is precisely that throwntogetherness, the unavoidable challenge of negotiating a here-and-now … and a negotiation which must take place within and between both human and non-human (Massey, 2005, 140).

The children’s drawings seemed to somehow bridge the divide between representation and event, opening an imaginary and lively space through a drawing in which they were at the same time drawn by the weather.

References

Massey, D. (2005) For Space, Sage publishing, London.

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 Difference Weather Makes

The rain that had been gently falling all morning was just starting to ease when we set off. We had a quick talk about what we might find after the rain and someone suggested that the ants might not be out and about today, because they prefer hot sunny days.

The children were keen to follow tell-tale signs of the recent rain. Some pointed out the glistening droplets they saw lying in the folds of leaves. A couple of children stopped to brush the rain off one of the sculpture labels, using the water to clean it and make it shiny.

Someone suddenly noticed a glimpse of sunshine had just broken through the clouds overhead. ‘Look, look behind you I can find blue sky. I can see blue sky!’. Something was shifting.

spider

Raindrops, mysteriously suspended in air, drew the children’s attention to a large spider web under the fir trees. They were captivated when they noticed a prominent golden orb-weaving spider in the centre of the web. It was at perfect eye-level for them and they spent a long time closely inspecting the spider’s long stripy legs, the intricate forms of the web, and the strange leaf-like object that was trapped in it. The children were not sure if the spider was eating this trapped object of not.

They also noticed that there were mushrooms popping up through the ground. They were definitely not here last time and the children surmised that it was the rain that was making the mushrooms grow. When they looked around, they could see that there were quite a few different kinds.

One mushroom looked like it had been eaten and the children pondered on what creature might have done this – ‘a rabbit’ or ‘a possum’ were two suggestions.

The wet weather had made the kangaroo bones at the Shrine ‘a bit sticky’. boneThe old, weatherworn bones have started to fall apart when the children handle them. They always love to rub the bones against the rusty metal frame to see the marks they make.

In the wet, the marks were more prominent than usual. On closer inspection, the children could see that what looked like white chalk was actually tiny fragments of soft bone stuck to the rust.

A fan-shaped nature-art installation in a clearing under a bush caught our eye. It was made of carefully arranged pinecones, bark and brightly covered leaves.

When questioned, one child thought ‘a squirrel’ might have made it. We talked about how squirrels don’t live in Australia. They made another couple of tentative suggestions ‘a possum?’, ‘a bunny rabbit?’. It was interesting that the children were keen to attribute the assemblage to a wild creature and no one mentioned it might be a human creation. Maybe it was their intent focus on exploring the wildlife in these bush surrounds, or perhaps a sign that the children’s thoughts are not yet filtered through the western nature-culture divide that attributes cultural artifacts to humans alone?

By the end of our walk, the sun was well and truly on its way out. So was the birdlife. Suddenly, our attention was directed upward as the air filled with birdsong and the becoming-blue sky was punctuated with the flash of brightly coloured parrots.

watching a king parrot.jpg

The children were transfixed watching a flock of crimson rosellas darting through the treetops, and a pair of king parrots eating in a nearby eucalyptus. A number of them recognised these parrots as the ones they had seen at home or in their local park.

magpie in bird tree

 

In continuity with the art-nature-culture assemblage that we had witnessed under the bush clearing, a pair of magpies perched high in the nearby bird-tree sculpture, started warbling their distinctive song.

On this walk, we were struck by just how much the weather influences the rhythms and movements of all life forms, including ours. And it illuminates our experiences. When it shifts, it makes such a difference, refocusing the children’s attention from one thing to another – from the micro-worlds of raindrops on leaves and spiders webs, to the expansive bird-filled skies.

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.

lively-kids

 

 

 

 

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.

After the storm

A massive storm had passed through town earlier in the week, and the children had many stories to tell.

One child told us of a tree that had fallen across their driveway.  Another recounted how she was in the car when the storm hit. There was a crack in the sky. It was too noisy.  We had to stay in the car and wait for the storm to finish.

We set off on our walk anticipating that there might be signs of the storm. We stopped at a look-out wall to survey the area and talked with the children about what types of things the storm might have left behind. Fallen down things or lots of water, a few thought.

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We could see that unseasonal snow capped the distant mountain-tops.  That was a sign. There is not usually snow in October.  And closer in we could see the ground was littered with tree branches and bark.

As we headed down the hill, the ground became more and more sodden.

sodden-groundin-the-puddles

There were puddles everywhere.  Eventually there were so many puddles that they had joined together in what the children called a ‘big lake’.

They spent much time wading through the water and seemed to enjoy testing out the transformation of their usual walkways into these elongated water-ways, exclaiming over and over: ‘So much water. It’s so deep’.

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Some children noticed that the ducks too had come ashore to enjoy the sodden landscape.

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It is unusual for the ducks to be sitting out in the open and not to move when the children approach. Nestled right down into the saturated grass, they seemed to be sun-baking and reluctant to give up their warm spots.

The best find of all came towards the end of the walk – an enormous eucalyptus tree sprawled across the ground!

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This was clear evidence of the storm.  ‘It came down in the storm. I think it was not very strong.’ But it was so big, it was hard to imagine what it would take to blow it over: ‘I think the wind must have been blowing at 350 to knock it down’

running-to-fallen-tree

In a chorus of excitement, the children rushed towards the fallen tree. It instantly reminded them of the fun they had had at their last fallen-tree playground, and of the disappointment they felt when it was chain-sawed up and taken away.  They exclaimed: ‘At last. I was hoping there would be another tree fallen down’. ‘Let’s go and play on it’.

A few children peered under the roots to notice the water pooled there, while others lost no time clambering straight onto the wide and inviting tree-trunk. Very quickly, there was a line of children crawling along the massive horizontal trunk, edging their way along towards the tangle of top branches. They behaved a bit like a procession of ants.

crawling-along-trunck

However, this time the children didn’t get far with their wild-weather tree play. A nearby park ranger was clearing up after the storm, and advised that the tree wasn’t safe to play on.

walking-on-branches

 

 

 

 

 

 

He had already chain-sawed some of the smaller broken branches, and he was concerned that this might make the tree unstable in places. As we moved away from the tree, we explained to the crest-fallen children that sometimes storms could leave debris that was not always safe to play on.  They reluctantly accepted this. They could see in this case that the sheer size and mess of the fallen tree were reasons to exercise caution.

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As a final stop on the way back, the children were drawn to their familiar ‘rabbit’ hideout,  under the weeping wattle tree – only to notice they could barely crawl under the heavy drooping branches. Clearly this home had also taken a battering in the storm.

Dead bunnies

Our plan for this week was to follow up on the children’s different kinds of rabbit interactions and engagements with a visit to the Rabbits in Australia exhibit at the National Museum of Australia (NMA). It’s an easy walk from the Centre – or so we thought. As we set off, we were buffeted by cold, wet, westerly winds. There was fresh snow on the mountains overnight, and we could feel it in the wind gusts. So much for the spring weather we’ve been enjoying recently. If felt like winter had returned with vengeance.

dead-bunny-head

Heads down and braced against the wind, we’d only made it as far as the first road crossing when we stumbled across a sodden rabbit head. Even though the children have become quite accustomed to finding dead rabbits, it was a bizarre find, and seemed like an eerie sign. We continued on, but the discovery of the severed rabbit head prompted the children to break out into a nervous rhythmic chant: ‘dead bunny head, dead bunny head’.

 

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It was a relief to get to the museum, out of the elements and into the warmth of the foyer. We made our way down to the ‘People and Environment’ gallery, which houses the ‘Rabbits in Australia’ exhibit.

In line with the theme of this particular gallery, it explores the diversity of relationships that different Australians have had with European wild rabbits, since they were introduced by setters in the mid 19th century. These include some Indigenous people’s incorporation of wild rabbits within their narratives and cultural artefacts, rural settlers’ reliance on rabbits as a free source of food during the depression years, and the sale of rabbit pelts for a livelihood.

rabbit-artefact   piles-of-dead-rabbits

Predominantly though, the exhibit features the wide range of tactics used by farmers and government authorities to try and halt the spread of rabbits and to reduce their numbers. This information is conveyed through film footage of fumigating and ripping burrows, accounts of the release of the rabbit calisivirus, and displayed artefacts like sections of the Western Australian rabbit-proof fence, old rusty traps, and a .22 rifle.

ceramic-rabbits   img_6490

The children were clearly taken aback by all this emphasis on killing rabbits, but their reactions were also mixed. They were openly curious about the technologies of rabbit hunting. Many kept asking how the rabbit traps worked, and didn’t seem that impressed with the explanation. They struggled to understand why so many rabbits needed to be killed, and how they were harming the environment.

rabbit-map

When they watched the large neon map of Australia up on the wall light up in red to show the rapid spread of rabbits across the continent, it did seem to help them apprehend the scale of the rabbit problem, with comments like: ‘There’s a lot of rabbits in Australia, yeah’ and ‘Woah. Rabbits all along Australia’.

 

 

However, most of all they expressed a great sympathy for the rabbits. As they clustered around a small screen to watch a documentary ominously entitled ‘Menace of the Rabbit’, they were aghast at the sight of so many rabbits being slaughtered and skinned. ‘Poor bunnies’ they kept repeating, and ‘that’s so horrible’; ‘that’s not fair for the rabbits’.

Back in the big open space of the main foyer they seemed to have recovered from the shock of these images. Setting aside the heaviness of the newly dawning realisation about the significance of invasive rabbit populations and the cruelty of human retaliation, they quickly fell back into the comfort of their customary rabbit play.

down-the-rabbit-hole

 

Laughing and scrambling across a long lounge with holes in the back at each end, they called out gleefully: ‘we’re rabbits and we’re going down into the rabbit hole’.

 

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.

making-fish-bed

 

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.