My Special Place Bruce McCorkill August 2015
The track gently unfolds. It winds around green fields, trees, sports grounds, bushland, paddocks and the river. The track is flat and wide, with the bends not too sharp. This track is a small part of the whole trail – the Main Yarra Trail.
The Yarra walking and cycling trail starts at Diamond Creek and follows the Yarra River as it slowly flows through the outer suburbs of Eltham, Templestowe and Banyule, the mid suburbs of Heidelberg and Banyule, the inner areas of Fairfield and Collingwood, then the city area of Southbank, where the river continues to its death at Port Phillip Bay. The trail generally meanders through pretty surroundings. There are few parts where it actually goes via built up areas. There is always some greenery to pass through, whether bushland or sprawling sports fields.
I have been cycling along this trail since I moved to Eltham, some forty odd years ago. If I kept count, the number of times the wheels of my various bikes have revolved over the surface would be in the thousands. It is a fine and fun experience to cycle on the Yarra Trail. There are a range of surfaces ranging from bumpy bitumen, to pebbly gravel to smooth concrete. Each day, there are a range of riders and bikes to watch, solitary racers hunched over the drops, fiercely concentrating on the track, to friendly groups of older casual cafe riders, concentrating on how long to the next coffee or toilet stop. Of course there are an ever increasing number of families on the track, ranging from parents with babies on the back gingerly negotiating bends, to exasperated dads yelling at overly confident kids to keep left and both hands on the handlebars. It is a moving tabloid of people having getting out and having fun.
While I enjoy riding the whole length of the Yarra Trail, there is a certain section which is my special place. This is only a short section, maybe two kilometres long, but it is the part I always enjoy travelling along the most. It goes through the Warringal Wetlands in Banyule, and is my short time of tranquillity and peace on that ride. Generally, the gravel sections of the Yarra Trail are constructed of hard rough black gravel, fairly fast to ride on, but the bike bumps over the bigger pebbles, and it’s not a soft ride. Other sections are made of round pebble gravel and it’s like riding on ball bearings.. But this particular section is made of soft yellow gravel. It’s a fine gravel, no large shards to bump the wheels. Instead of a coarse crunching sound, my turning tyres only make a soft hiss as they gently sink into the fines. This part winds through a flat section of open parkland, interspersed with old gum trees. In one open section the council has planted strands of young gum trees and over the years I have seen them grow from tube stock into young sprouting trees. In another field there is a copy of a painting by one of the Heidelberg school, and when I stop there and look towards the city, I understand why these artists made the trip from the city to paint in this beautiful spot.
The track here is safe. The bends are fairly loose, with only one where there is a danger of veering onto the wrong side if taken too fast. There is a short length where the roots of an ancient pine tree have rudely intruded into the surface, but this just causes a gentle bump of the handlebars. Even when wet, the tyres still securely grip the gravel. Unlike the short cut over the fields just before this part, where if it has been raining I am lucky to survive without skidding in the slippery mud. When I enter my place, I relax my grip on the bars and lower my head. I concentrate on enjoying this short time and space and gently lean into the bends this way and that, staring at the gravel under my tyres. I almost go into a trance. It’s meditation on the move. I generally don’t talk to my fellow riders on this section, it’s my alone time in the group. All too soon, Banksia Street appears and it’s coffee time. An animated conversation break, unlike the tranquillity of the previous stretch.
After four decades, my place has now suddenly changed, it’s not the same. A few months ago, I noticed that orange stakes had been hammered into spots along my special section. This did not bode well; I had seen this on numerous occasions along the main trail where upgrades were to occur. A few weeks later, the bobcats moved in and smoothed out the gravel. Then the appearance of formwork along the length confirmed my fears that the upgrade was not to be new yellow gravel, but concrete. And then the next time we rode the section, we rode over smooth newly laid concrete.
Yes, it was wide and smooth, it was flat and faster, there were no tree roots any more, the rainwater drained away efficiently. It still meandered along the same alignment, the verdant lushness still bordered the concrete, the painting views were still inspiring, but it was different, it was not the same. I missed the peaceful hissing sound of the tyres and gravel quietly meshing. I rode too quickly to fall into my meditative trance. I appreciate that local councils are gradually upgrading the Yarra Trail; still too much is in a poor condition. I realise that natural bushy public areas are becoming sanitised. I just wish that my small part of this long trail could have been upgraded at some future time.
I miss my special place.