Another grassy walk

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The kangaroo grass heads were almost level with the children’s along some sections of the track. Scattered amongst the native grasses, the delicate rattle grasses attracted our attention – and a couple of the children reached out to roll their weeping shell-like heads between their fingers, and to pick them like a bunch of flowers.

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Inevitably, some of the spikiest and stickiest grass seeds lodged themselves in the children’s shoes and socks. So the walk was punctuated by regular stops to pull them out.

One group of children were intent on picking grass-seed heads to make posies and decorate hats. They were quite preoccupied with this task, repeatedly declaring their love of the grasses and of the art of decoration. ‘Now that I’ve made this grass posy, I can get married’, one of them declared.

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Throughout the walk, the children expressed a heightened awareness of the grass, and its various functions and affordances. One child drew everyone’s attention to a flattened area of dead grass, ‘Look, a kangaroo grass bed’ she confidently proclaimed. ‘This is where a kangaroo lay down to sun itself’.

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Others noticed a pile of grass stems and heads scattered on the ground. On closer inspection, they could see that ants were swarming all over the grass stems. They discussed how they were probably picking up the seeds and carrying them down their holes ‘to feed the queen ant’.

Others still, decided that lying around in long green grass and enjoying the warm sun, like the kangaroos do, is particularly enjoyable. They kept commenting on how soft and comfortable the grass was – like a bed. They made grass pillows and covered themselves with grassy blankets, settling right in.

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Weed killer had been sprayed around a park bench that the children were playing on. We warned them not to touch any pink patches of grass, because the pink colour indicates poison. One child, in particular, became fixated on the implications of poisoning the environment. She wanted to know if we would get poisoned if we walked on the grass with our shoes on, or only with our shoes off. She wondered what would happen to the animals that touched the poison grass, and in particular, the rabbits that ate the grass. ‘I think they might have died because they ate the poison grass’ she said, remembering all the dead rabbits that we had seen on earlier walks. ‘I don’t know why people poison the grass and kill the rabbits’ she added, struggling to make sense of such acts.

A couple of children were so attached to the grass that they carried some back to put in their lockers.

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Holding onto the grass seemed to trigger reflections upon its significance to their family life. As we walked, one child told us that her whole family likes grass. Her aunt’s horse eats grass. Her dogs eat grass when they feel sick, and they like to sleep in grassy beds. In fact, her house is full of bits of grass that the dogs bring in from outside. Another explained how her mother uses dried grass to make hats. ‘She made the hat I’m wearing out of grass’ she declared proudly, and asked me to take a photo of it.

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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’. 

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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.

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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.

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.

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What remains

This week, the children carried magnifying glasses. The first things that drew their attention were the kangaroo bones at the Ngaraka Shrine.  Some crouched low, studying intently the intricacies of the bone textures and shapes.bones through glass

Others walked around holding their magnifying glasses up to the sky.  This led to an unexpected discovery as one child, holding a magnifying glass at arms length, found that it made things appear upside down.  Others soon caught on and the children delighted in this new way of looking at each other and more distant objects such as trees – ‘Everything is upside down’ and ‘You look upside down.

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Before long, the children remembered their favourite spot from the last few walks. ‘Let’s go to the fallen trees!’. They ran in eager anticipation towards the site that had become so familiar.

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But what disappointment! Where the tangled trees had once lain sprawling and invitingly across the ground was now a bald clearing. There was nothing remaining of their favourite fallen tree playground but some sawdust and a few scattered bare stumps. The area had  been ‘cleaned up’, as had the small shelter the children had built with the branches.

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Oh no‘ they kept repeating in shock. After recovering from their initial dismay and disbelief, the children started to reminisce  – ‘I remember I used to crawl along this’ and ‘Now I can’t climb on there anymore’. They noticed a pile of tell-tale sawdust and fresh cut marks, quickly connecting this with the recent work of chainsaws.They examined the sawdust trails with their magnifying glasses, thinking they might lead them to the culprits – the ‘bad’ people who had sawn up and taken away their fallen trees.

 

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With some encouragement, and their magnifying glasses still to the ground, they eventually set off towards the kangaroo grasslands, looking for new trails.

There, they found ample evidence that the rabbits were out and about again. There were new scratchings everywhere. As well as plentiful signs of rabbit life, a small group of children stumbled upon the remains of yet another dead rabbit. Its decomposing body held their attention for quite some time. Armed with their magnifying glasses, they intently studied the details of the rotting corpse – spotting a centipede crawling inside the stomach cavity, noting that the fur was coming off the skin and there were lots of exposed bones. ‘I can see where its eyes were’, ‘I can see its nose. Its nose is peeled’.  ‘Hey guys’ they called out to alert the other children, ‘dead bunny, another dead bunny, with a centipede on it!’ The subsequent discovery of tufts of rabbit fur in a nearby grass clearing seemed to trigger their imaginations of yet another crime scene, and as with the cleared fallen-tree site, they started speculating about what might have happened.

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As if mapping the action, one child offered this explanation: ‘Maybe a fox grabbed the bunny and pulled out its fur, and then picked it up and ran over here, and killed it. But it didn’t eat it all, and it ran away down there’.

This reminded another child about the day that a fox killed her pet chook. There was an air of sombre acceptance about the fate of small animals who become prey to others – a moment of fatalistic reflection on the harsh life and death realities of the food chain. ‘I’m sorry this happened to you bunny’ declared one of the children.

With the remains of the fallen trees and the bunny now witnessed, registered and remembered, it seemed the children were ready to move on. After all, it was a lovely sunny late-winter day, with the promise of spring to come, they wanted to be out in it. A bit like the rabbits, they returned to whole-heartedly immersing themselves in the warming world around them.

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This meant that the rest of the walk was spent by many ‘being rabbits’. Pealing off their winter coats, many children hopped enthusiastically through the grass. Eventually tiring themselves out, they found a small weeping acacia to be their new tree-cubby ‘rabbit home’.

rabbit home2Uncannily, this walk, with its unfolding theme of (tree and rabbit) loss, remains and remembrance, was intermittently marked by the sounds of the Long Tan Vietnam memorial event, being held at the nearby Australian War Memorial. It started early in the walk, with the arresting distant boom of repetitive cannon fire. By the time the children had become rabbits in the grass, their play was accompanied by the reverberating sonic roar of a large formation of vintage war planes circuiting the city. The planes did several laps and were quite deafening as they zoomed directly overhead.  For the children being rabbits under the weeping acacia, this reinforced the need to further retreat into their bushy hide-away:

We don’t like noise

Those are army planes’

We don’t like noise or army planes

We like hidingrabbit home3 sleeping

This is the perfect spot to hide

‘I’m going to be sleeping now’ [snoring sounds]

‘This rabbit is sleeping

Uh oh! Person!  Evacuate, evacuate!’

No, we just have to hide a bit more. No one can ever see us’.

When it was time to return to the centre, the rabbit children had to be enticed out of their new hiding place with the promise that we would soon return.

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One child carried a souvenir from the cleared fallen-trees – a remnant branch that she had held onto resolutely for most of the walk.

While in many ways this walk was marked by the memorialised sounds and visions of loss and destruction – there was nonetheless a strong sense that ‘what remained’ was far from a static, mournful and lifeless shell of past lives and events.  The children seemed very able to respectfully witness, grieve, remember and move on, and in the process, to creatively transform the remains of the past into an emergent and lively present.

 

 

Returning to the fallen trees

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The children were keen to return to the fallen trees, which have become a favourite playground over the last week. We had intended to look for animals in their branches, but there were still few to be seen out and about in this cold weather. Instead, quite a few of the children themselves became tree animals, resuming the play they had started on the previous walk.

 

 
possum in tree watching boy

One child became a possum, climbing on the branches and hissing at the children below. He was looking to see if they had any food for him to eat. The children are familiar with possums. There are plenty that visit the preschool playground at night, leaving their tell-tale possum poo on the paths and in the sand pit. In lean times, it’s not unusual for the children to see them during the day, staring down from their vantage points above. They come out when they smell the fruit and are waiting to eat the scraps.

The possum boy in the fallen tree was enjoying the view from above. He stared intently to see what was going on below, and then crawled along the trunk, hissing loudly to attract the attention of a group of children at the ‘top’ end of the tree. They were being koalas in the leafy canopy. They were too preoccupied with the business of hiding in the leaves to notice him. ‘I’m a camouflaged koala’, they repeatedly told each other, and ‘I’m eating leaves’.

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Another child, who had been quietly watching the possum, decided to follow suite. He started off as a baby possum, crawling along the same tree trunk, but suddenly changed his mind and declared himself to be a ‘transformer green tree frog’. ‘Look I’m a hopping green tree frog’ he said.

 

 

 

Apart from the children, there were few live animals to be seen in the fallen tree. However, some long-gone small creatures had left behind their tell-tale marks.

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One of the bare tree trunks was imprinted with the long, windy tracks of previous wood eating occupants, and another spotted by insects holes and pimpled with the small raised bumps of insect larvae.

The children were fascinated with the patterns and textures of these bug habitats. They ran their fingers over the lines and bumps.

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Paper tracing worm marksworm mark rubbings

Inspired by the insects ‘drawings’ on the wood, they made their own imitations with paper and pencils – tracing the lines and making rubbings of the textured surfaces.

By now keenly attuned to the different kinds of markings on the trees, some of the children took another look at the wrinkles in the bend of the tree trunk. They had been running their fingers over these wrinkles on the previous walk. They noticed that they were not like the lines carved by the bugs, but couldn’t quite work out how they had come to be there.

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They were not so perplexed by the ‘cut’ in the trunk, however, which they immediately identified as a ‘bleeding sore’, and as evidence that the tree had been injured when it fell.

The children’s close and pensive inspections of all these scars suggested that they had a sense of the fallen trees as more than just their playground. Although mysterious and not always easy to ‘read’, the inscriptions they were tracing on the surface of the tree trunks, seemed to bear witness to the fact that these trees have had their own lives and stories to tell.

 

Following our noses

We started this walk by following our noses – like dogs do – and immediately stumbled across some sweet smelling signs of spring-to-come!  A flowering daphne bush and a lone bunch of jonquils.

We experimented with rubbing leaves between our fingers, and sniffed the oily scent that they left on our hands.

sniffing jonquils       in tree cubby

 

The ‘dogs’ ran into the variegated tree cubby to have a quick sniff around, but after noting the damp smell of bark, and a whiff of wet rabbit poo – everyone seemed to burst into faster-paced animal play. There was more yapping, leaping, bouncing, flapping, screeching and growling than smelling going on.

Standing on the lookout wall, just behind the donuts, the children took in the panoramic view – down the grassy slope to the kangaroo grass, the large eucalyptus trees, the lake, and beyond to the distant mountains. ‘It’s beautiful’ one boy observed as he gazed out. In the distance, we caught sight of the first live rabbits we’d seen out and about for ages. They were just little dots, cautiously hopping around the edges of the long grass. Without the binoculars we couldn’t really see them properly. Below the rise, some of the children spotted some leafy branches sticking out on an odd angle.

As they ran down the hill, the full story revealed itself. It was a whole clump of toppled eucalyptus trees. ‘The storm must have blown them over’ someone observed. ‘Maybe it was on the day that it snowed?’ It was clearly the work of a massive force, for the trees had been lifted out by their roots and smashed to the ground. Their broken limbs were lying about, all entangled. The scene of stormy destruction was hard to imagine on this still and tranquil day, when it just seemed alluringly like an adventure playground.

climbing fallen tree 1

The children swarmed over the fallen trees. There was so much to see and everything was at eye level. They inspected the mangled branches, the exposed roots, the crumbling bark and soil, the wrinkled elbows on the trunks, the marks and bugs on the leaves. It didn’t take long before the children were wrapping their own limbs around those of the entwined trees.

 

They spent a long time climbing along the horizontal branches, straddling them, wriggling along on their bums, lying on their tummies and gripping with their arms. A group of the tree climbers turned into growling ‘tree bears’ and one boy became a whistling bird. His whistles seemed to prompt a nearby magpie to break into song.

climbing fallen tree 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children could have played in these fallen trees for hours, but lunchtime was fast approaching and we had to make our way back up the hill. We’re all hoping that they will still be there the next time we walk.