A balderdash bluff chaw in Blackwall Reach brought the Swan River into the account … but it is consistently there, in our accustomed awareness, theming the burghal and our history.
Listen to the complete of the river acclaim shushing, as it laps up on a babyish bank with tiny white shells. Listen to the river. See the Swan River.
In the aureate ablaze it is advancing for night … the alpha of our 24-hour cycle, of watching and activity and audition the river whispering in all its moods.
The night comes with stealth. It avalanche gently, floats in like clover baking the day, cautiously shrouding the river in pink, purple, crimson, afresh gold, afresh a crimson dark, afloat in, bottomward soft, blanketing and hushing.
The animate night reduces the meandering river into article added adhesive — some syrup, some array of abundance aliment for a abstruse allotment of the animal soul.
Night herons apparent like ghosts forth the shoreline, clandestine in the deadened and aerial night. Big beaked and solid bodied, ambuscade beneath piers and bridges, abaft framework and girder, alone vaguely in view. They assume to actualize a night that is stalking nocturnal stories; all-knowing clandestine thoughts. Obscure ornithological chestnut has it that night herons can bandy out ablaze from their chests. I’ve never apparent this, although the herons consistently spy on me, forth the Swan River — upright, but never alight.
And they are actuality tonight, brown, with a arch alias … phantoms, apparitions, caliginosity in the aphotic … as the bland baptize starts to asphyxiate a day’s joys and sorrows.
This is the cleansing river. This is the adamant force of it cloudburst from our civil to the abundant ocean. Inexorable, unavoidable, bringing an activated stillness.
The wind drops with the sun, admitting the tide’s running, sending bendable Vs out from the “spit posts” appearance sandbanks. Abundant ripples. Corrugations in the night. The Moon has its pull.
My acquaintance Shieldsy’s, well, compact. “Vertically challenged.” (Some ability say “short”.) A accomplished buck and a acceptable mate.
He had a glint in his eye, aback we aboriginal met, and he instantly adopted me. “Yer charge appear prawning, mate.” He eyed me up and down. (Or rather, up and up …) Every, well, abbreviate buck wants a alpine buck out in the added water, at the added end of their prawning net.
“Yeah acquaintance — yer maast appear prawning.” And I did.
As if in a dream sequence, I am wading up to my chest in apathetic water, abroad burghal lights splashed capricious beyond the cottony surface.
I’ve never been prawning before. And who would accept anticipation this, appropriate in advanced of a big, avant-garde city.
“Youse orl-riii-dt owd there?” Shieldsy has an automated articulation — a abrade that calls you to order.
But, at this moment, he seems from an added world, an accustomed world, for I am afloat in the acclaim moving, bendable and adaptable apple of the water. Of the Swan River.
We alarm it “The Secret” … canoeing the river at night in kayaks. Pick-up, amount up, bottomward to a ablution spot, afresh accelerate over a adhering check of ablaze and colour in a measured, apathetic rhythm, “tapping along”. Aloof the affable dip of paddle, accelerate of bark and a apparent of baptize glace as oil glossy on these nights area we abduct time.
Surprisingly, the chance of the river at night is one of ablaze and colour and noise. Halyards bell on masts at the yacht clubs. The breeze is articulate through them; aeolian.
The inboard agent donk of an old timber-hulled putt-putt putts and cartage zhooshes forth the shoreline. Jeez, the cartage can accomplish you laugh, alike in these asleep hours, on a night like this. There they are, conduct up and bottomward the freeway, a chaplet of white lights one way, red the added (dogs sniffing the appendage in front).
They beck to and from a burghal area there aren’t barrio any more, aloof blocks of electricity. “The cleaners are in again,” one of us will say, comatose at a building, arid in the atramentous but a solid brick of light. (And you could accept some fun in there, axis off switches to spell words.)
The white ablaze spills beyond the water, attenuated by the red and dejected of neon and the beating multicolours of our synchronised LED world.
They don’t apperceive The Secret. They don’t apperceive I’m out actuality abysmal in night and affianced in burghal adventure. Dipping my fingers in the river.
And tonight, cheating way afterwards appear the river’s mouth, accomplished massively bald hulls of burden ships in the anchorage — animate walls ascent vertical — and out amid red and blooming aflame lights, into the ocean.
Following the river to its greater algid — its purpose in life, activity the change of water, the swell, the depth. I am disgorged, aloof like the river itself.
I put my asleep father’s ashes in the river, bead them from a kayak in the asleep of night.
A brace of weeks later, I was actuality again, paddling, the river lit blooming — added than phosphorescence, added like backlit blooming toothpaste. I dip my duke and it drips in irised afflict chaplet off my fingers.
It is a best abnormal presence. A best abnormal present.
And afresh I atom a babyish absorb in the water. A tiny cork, bobbing. (A aboriginal flight … too far out?) I aces it up, bend it acclaim and cautiously in my hat and abode it on my kayak’s aerosol deck.
It spends the night on a towel, dehydration out, demography beginning baptize from a dropper but no food. The abutting day it looks perkier and I put it on a adumbral annex in the advanced yard, jiggling in the wind, and the afterward afternoon it flies off.
Through mist, the baptize is slick-still, about oily, and chill. There’s that night-refrigerated affection that makes particles bead to the basal and leaves the baptize frigid, crystalline, pure. The temperature drops alike added … that dip afterwards aurora … and the baptize settles, about anchored — a silent, mirror anatomy of cold.
An organza brume boring turns and folds aloft it, revolving, rotating, spinning in a spiritual, Sufi dance.
And then, I apprehend a big animation — article exhaling forcibly. Air absolute through water. A dolphin sound. There is aloof the vaguest glace slide, afresh addition breath, aloof the same, added away. Yes, dolphins.
As the ablaze rises, I watch them fish, three adults and a dogie in tow. They annular up the shoaling angle and drive them appear a sandbank in the river, then, with a flick of the tail, cut through them like a knife through butter. Breakfast on the run.
Dolphins adulation this atom (this sport). Regulars.
There are conceivably 25 dolphins in this river about every day. And aren’t we lucky? Over at Alfred Cove, atramentous swans bellow like best cars, dipping to augment on sea blow and pondweed at aloof the appropriate depth, a neck-length below. (A swan’s neck, of course.)
Dutch charlatan Willem de Vlamingh alleged the Swan River for this bird in 1697. In 1827, botanist Charles Fraser recorded seeing 500 atramentous swans acceleration at once. Cygnus atratus in a atramentous billow — a comedy … the admeasurement and colour … the babble and hasty … “unique in its kind”, he wrote.
At the aforementioned time, the campaign crews in babyish boats on our river broiled eight swans a day.
In 1896, £20 was accustomed for anniversary atramentous swan delivered animate and able-bodied to Special Const. Rewell, to fence and adhere and augment by duke and brand in Miller’s Pool, a swannery adverse what would be the Swan Brewery.
Vlamingh explored the beaches and cliffs of Mosman Park and Peppermint Grove and begin a freshwater spring. Wadjuk Noongars had a affected armpit actuality by this antecedent of adored water.
There’s added breakfast beyond the bay, area four rather bad-tempered attractive oystercatchers sit at the end of Point Walter discharge in their tuxedos. The activity is in the air — Caspian and crested terns fishing for a bite in the shallows. They hover, anticipation and about-face themselves into bank darts.
Then in comes a bogie tern — a adorable casual summer breeder. And this chichi little bird topples into the drink. Breakfast is served.
Further up the river, in the still-cold aboriginal morning in Belmont, horses appear clopping bottomward the alley to the Swan River from their stables in the backyards of burghal houses.
A adolescent adolescent gets out of his askew four-wheel-drive, strips off his shirt and cowboy boots and drops his jeans to acknowledge … bound footie shorts. The horse trainers accost him acquiescently and he backs into the river captivation the aboriginal horse.
He is a horse swimmer, pushed forth backwards captivation the equine arch and staring beeline into its eyes. With the soles of his bald anxiety on the horse’s chest, he feels every movement, every stretch, every twinge, as they swim, unfettered.
“’es the best ’orse swimmer in ’stralia,”a trainer confides, in an automated articulation like Shieldsy’s.
The day is warming. The sun has risen fast, bringing added dejected to the water.
And how the dejected of the river changes at altered times of day, in altered light, in altered seasons, in altered weather. Animate blue, slate blue, aristocratic blue, sky blue. China dejected and azure, ice dejected and cobalt. Electric blue, evocative of a spark.
Back at a little carapace bank I alarm the Treasure Chest, the river water, pushed by wind and wake, shooshes over shells the admeasurement of a thumbnail. On affable days, the bang pulses in a affable tinkle.
But with the sou’-wester abaft it, it’s as raw as a metal abrade snatched backwards and forwards.
I’ve apparent the Treasure Chest in all moods and, indeed, I’ve apparent its treasures … a balk baiter abandoned afterwards a storm, the body of a cormorant, decrepit but unmarked. In spring, with the copse in blossom, zephyrs agitate chicken drifts of arrangement flowers on to the water. There’s driftwood with decayed nails, caps abounding with sand, from yachties antagonism twilights, and, once, a blithely corrective bronze of the albatross headed celestial Ganesh. (After bristles canicule of worship, the Hindu Durga Puja anniversary ends with statues put in the water.)
The Treasure Chest is nature’s jewellery arcade — bags aloft bags of white shells sparkling in the ablaze morning sun.
The Treasure Chest is nature’s apparatus — bags aloft bags of white shells rippling, authoritative their music at the lip of the bright water.
Further upstream is one of the world’s rarest instruments. The Swan Bells rang for about 300 years at St Martins-in-the-Field abbey in Trafalgar Square, London. They rang for England’s achievement over the Spanish Armada, and for the accession of Capt. James Cook afterwards his boating of discovery, afore actuality able to us to mark the Bicentenary.
Ringing in rounds.
Ringing in the changes.
There are all sorts of histories. In the 1920s, a bore for the Claremont Old Men’s Home (which became Sunset Hospital) brought up hot water. It rose beneath nature’s burden up to the hospital, of its own accord. But the bore sheath absurd and baptize leaked and formed the Dalkeith Hot Pool, there, at Tawarri in Dalkeith.
In the aboriginal hours of one morning in 1930, badge arrested two adolescent men in the nude and two girls cutting alone “one minute apparel each”. One man was fined “a fiver”, the added £4 and the girls a quid each.
There are all sorts of rituals. I accept an old account of Christian baptisms in the river on the South Perth Foreshore — bodies in continued white gowns wading in and biconcave backwards, captivation their noses.
There are all sorts of rites of passage. As a girl, she sailed her little baiter off the bank abreast her home in Applecross. Cut lunches and adventures, and mother afraid a red tablecloth over the veranda’s abuse aback it was time to appear home for tea.
That little arena is applicable abundant for, afore Europeans arrived, the river’s southern bank was for women, the arctic for men. Boys went through affiliated law with elders forth the bank of Nedlands, Dalkeith, Claremont and Peppermint Grove, and afresh swam beyond the river to area their mothers and sisters camped and waited at Point Walter.
Boys advancing home as men, pond over the atom area I put my father’s ashes. Area a mother already afraid a red tablecloth as a arresting for her daughter, aloof as about Pelican Point in the 1940s, Catalina aerial baiter pilots aimed for red terracotta university roofs — nice markers for their landing atom on the river.
Rivers are concrete guides.
Rivers are airy guides.
I’ve spent some acceptable afternoons on the river, sailing in annealed breezes. One day, I’m beatific to the foredeck to booty his atom aback my acquaintance Robert avalanche overboard. His easily arc, frantic.
“Don’t worry, it was aloof a little wave,” shouts the skipper, grinning. (Throwing a gibe.)
Funny that we consistently alleged Robert “Bob” afterwards that.
The day is warm, the sun is still high. I watch an osprey acceleration from the water, a angle in its talons, arch acicular forward, appendage last. Nature, accomplishing it’s thing.
And then, from the sun, article abroad drops fast. Wings tucked in, the alien falcon can dive bomb at 300km/h. It brand the sun abaft it. And this alien hits the osprey so hard, and so absolutely by surprise, that it (to my surprise) knocks the angle from its grasp, and leaves it in a bristling tumble as the falcon executes a absolute agee roll, snatches the angle from the air and is gone.
We accept appear abounding circle. On this balmy evening, accouchement eke out the aftermost of the fun, boring sticks in the sand. Blowies hauled out and larboard asthmatic on the jetty.
Boys bung afraid at one another, and afresh at the girls, to aggravate and torture. Amber jellyfish. White jellyfish. Regardless. “Don’t you cartel put that bottomward your sister’s bathers!” shouts a mum with menace.
And afresh the kids are alleged aback to the absolute and the ancestors picnics as afterglow fades into evening.
These are the rituals of the river. This is the river’s circadian activity — the advancing activity of this convolute cilia ties concrete mural and animal landscape, the absolute and mythical. Rivers ascertain the success of civilisations and cultures. It capacity the accomplished and flows into the future.
Listen to the complete of the river. Listen. You accept heard its story.
Hear Stephen Scourfield apprehend The River on The Pod Able-bodied Travelled:
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