IN late November and early December 1934, the Yarra River at Warrandyte rose to its highest recorded level, lifting to beyond a metre above the decking of the old wooden bridge. Homes, orchards and shops were inundated.
I was born in December 1934 at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne. The Yarra River did not touch my life until several decades later.
My first river was the Maribyrnong. Not the polluted, sluggish stream that then flowed through Footscray, but the near-pristine river that twisted its way across the Keilor plain, its passage marked by the River Redgums and Yellow Box trees that lined its banks, emerging into the edge of suburbia beyond the open paddocks, outback from North Sunshine.
Unbeknown to our parents we walked there. I was a small boy at the time, battling to keep up with the big kids. It seemed a very long way. Finally we reached our destination: a high, elevated railway bridge that crossed the river as it cut through its gorge, away down below.
Beneath the bridge hung a narrow pedestrian walkway, perilously close to the dual railway tracks above. This was our ultimate objective, to cross the walkway while a train thundered above. I was terrified. But no-one “squibbed”.
Goods trains were frequent, as the bridge was on a direct line to the north. Occasionally one of these interminably long trains was hauled by “Heavy Harry”, one of the world’s largest railway engines, built at the Newport Railway Workshops. Some were loaded with tanks, Bren gun carriers, field artillery, wingless fighter planes; all the hardware of conflict, for World War II was its height and Australia was under dire threat.
We crouched on the walkway as trains thundered overhead, deafened by the noise, scalded by steam, singed by flying cinders, longing for – and dreading – the moment when the engine would sound its whistle. And it always did.
My first introduction to the Murray River came via a railway train, the overnight sleeper to Mildura. I awoke at dawn, and from my upper bunk watched entranced as the sun arose, through the silhouette of a row of spindly gum trees, etched black against the early morning sky. We crossed the Murray later that morning and I marveled as the wide brown river rolled majestically through the Mallee towards South Australia on its way to the sea.
We travelled up and down the river on several occasions during that holiday, smelling the smoke and the oil-soaked steam, marveling at the great paddle-wheels churning the green water, admiring the deckhand as he leapt with the coil of rope from deck to wharf, envying the captain as he swung the big wheel in the wheelhouse, identifying with the oil-soaked engineer as he threw logs into the leaping flames in the firebox, pulling levers and twisting valves, following directions telegraphed from the wheelhouse above.
So impressed was I with life on the Murray, that when we reached home I spent the next weeks turning the woodpile beside our house into a full-blown paddle-steamer. An old bicycle wheel became the steering wheel and planks and logs became decks, a steep ladder stood in as a companionway and two more bike wheels were transformed into paddlewheels. I recruited a crew from the neighbourhood kids and we steamed the mighty river from the mountains to the sea, battling floods and fires and bushrangers.
My taste for Murray River water was far from sated, so when, decades later, the one-teacher primary school at Torrumbarry on the Murray, some 15 miles downstream from Echuca was declared vacant, I applied and gained the position.
My years on the Murray were among my happiest, and out of them grew a 40-minute children’s film, an educational documentary and my Riverboat Bill series of children’s books.
A new career now required a move closer to Melbourne. We crossed the bridge and headed off down Yarra Street for our exploratory look at Warrandyte: the Mechanics Institute, the picturesque shops, the tree-lined street, and above all, tantalising glimpses of the Yarra River. We were home.
The Diary checks out some chooks and their owners to see what has Warrandyte buzzing about free-range chickens … and a few ducks!
However, for many Warrandytians, it’s not about the eggs. There are so many delightful reasons for having chickens, with eggs being a bonus.
Adjoining neighbours Adata and John share several chickens between their homes with a mobile coop made from the frame of an old barbeque, a shipping box and pallets. The result is a cleverly designed home for Scarlet, Darling, Lucy, Beautiful Girl, Belina and Bob that for the past two years has been moved from home to home on a roster basis.
If one family is away on a holiday, the other family is able to care for them.
“When you rent, it’s hard to ask a landlord for permission to build a permanent structure,” says John. “This way we can have chickens and share them with our friends.”
Emil, Marcel, Nell and Natalia all help with caring for the chickens, including collecting the eggs, putting them away at night and topping up the water, especially on hot days.
“They all have different temperaments and personalities,” says Agata. “They are curious and adventurous and a little cheeky sometimes by trying to get into the veggie garden.”
Mother of two, Natalie, from North Warrandyte has converted an old cubby into a sweet little home safe from foxes for her Rhode Island Reds – Poeey, Twinkles, Sparkles and My Chicken. Laying well means they often have more eggs than they need and either swap the eggs for other produce with friends or give them away.
Natalie and husband Ben’s aim is to upgrade the coop by designing a way for them to eat more grass which improves their Omega 6 balance.
Lynda not only has chickens but a number of charismatic ducks, the boss of the roost being Barry. They all live together in the Taj Mahal of coops that has been added to and improved over the years to accommodate the chickens and ducks as well as keep out the foxes.
“I’d recommend digging well down into the ground with your wire, at least 500mm to keep them out and I’ve also concreted part of the coop floor to keep out the rats,” says Lynda.
“Wasps aren’t too much of a problem if I avoid putting out too many food scraps.”
With both the chickens and ducks as good layers, Lynda used to sell her freerange eggs at work as they were in such demand – as Julie Quinton quickly discovered at our local IGA supermarket after banning caged hen eggs and stocking only freerange.
Currently, Daphne is broody and has been sitting on the duck eggs for a while, which will probably hatch in the next few days.
In the meantime, 5kg Barry is quite the stud with his harem of stunning white companions Daphne, Lulu and Lizzie.
On the side of a hill, facing north and overlooking the Yarra, lives an eclectic family of chickens.
Annette Lion has owned chickens and ducks for 14 years.
“Each duck has their own personality,” says Annette, as a collection of Bantams, Light Sussex and Pom Pom Heads saunter free around the garden.
With names like Carlotta, Bluebell and Nessie it’s easy to see why Annette’s daughters Luna and Mikaia enjoy having their chickens around.
They are so tame, they’ll even sit on their heads.
We couldn’t find Speckles but she turned up later in the day, having been gone for 10 days. Annette found her sitting on 12 eggs!
It’s obvious that the bonuses of owning chickens is not just the eggs but showing children where food comes from, how to care for them, how they can produce great fertiliser for the garden and the sheer entertainment of watching their antics.
If you’d like to share your own chicken stories, please tell us at the Diary by emailing info@warrandyte diary.com.au
VIDEO: See our chooks story on Diary TV at warrandytediary.com.au
VICTORIA’S Environment Protection Authority (EPA) followed up a request from local CFA officers to investigate the cause of spontaneous fire eruptions in Park Orchards recently.
CFA crews were called to Stintons Reserve twice in six weeks to attend to fire incidents that appear to have been ignited by “self-combusting material”.
“We asked the EPA to inspect the site to determine the cause of the eruptions, as our fire investigation team were satisfied they were not deliberately lit,” South Warrandyte CFA captain Greg Kennedy told the Diary.
The fires ignited at the reserve’s fenced-off greyhound slipping track. The reserve is above the original site of the Park Orchards tip, which closed in the early 1990s.
The track has been free of fire incidents since its inception about 12 years ago.
Mr Kennedy stressed it was purely a precautionary measure.
“I felt a bit uneasy given the history of the reserve and the fact that it happened twice in a matter of six weeks,” he said.
An EPA spokesperson said they had attended the site along with Manningham council officers and determined the cause of the outbreaks to be naturally occurring decomposition. He advised that they eliminated “the possibility of a sub-surface fire”.
“The fire was caused by a mixture of decomposing organic matter (sawdust in this case), generating enough heat to ignite the sawdust,” he said.
The fires caused concern about methane leaks among Park Orchards residents, as reported on 3AW’s Rumour File program.
That was understandable given what happened at a Cranbourne landfill several years ago.
A methane issue resulted in a class action against the City of Casey and the EPA that saw residents awarded $23.5 million in compensation.
Many such domestic waste dumps (including Stintons Reserve) were closed over before the introduction of more stringent regulations in 2004, requiring all landfills to be lined to provide leak protection.
The EPA subsequently reviewed metropolitan landfills, putting councils on notice to clean up sites where pollution of land or groundwater posed a potential risk to human health.
In 2013, the environmental watch- dog issued a pollution abatement notice to Manningham council.
The EPA issued the warning after con- ducting a compliance inspection at Stintons Reserve to assess management of contaminants leaking from the closed landfill.
The notice, which was later amend- ed to allow additional time for the works to be completed, stated: “Water sampling results and an assessment of the pipe integrity shows leachate from the landfill is contaminating the surface water piped beneath the landfill and the surrounding ground.”
It also stipulated: “… that this non-compliance, or likely non-compliance, must be remedied.”
Manningham council’s director of assets and engineering Leigh Harrison said the landfill had been rehabilitated in accordance with applicable standards at that time.
He confirmed that council had been “progressively upgrading” management of the site over the past 12 months “to accord with current standards”.
Mr Harrison said: “The present situation offers no threat to the health of those persons using the oval, BMX facility or the slipping track. The works will simply result in a renewed, and improved, leachate management system.”
With regard to recent fire activity at the site, Mr Harrison was adamant there was “no evidence of any issue with methane generation from the landfill contributing to these issues”.
The EPA pollution abatement notice stipulates that all relevant works must be completed by May 31 2015.
The arrival of warmer weather has also triggered community fears of recurring spontaneous fire activity at the slipping track.
Manningham council advised: “Council has spoken to the club and suggested that the track surface, which becomes compacted, be ‘turned over’ on a semi regular basis throughout the year and especially the summer months.”