Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking, Environment
Comments 15

Back Among the Mangroves

As a kid living in a village-like Bayside suburb on the outskirts of Brisbane — one store/post office, a one-teacher school, around 80 houses, many of which were essentially remnant fishing shacks from the early days of the settlement — I was often subjected to jokes about the place from classmates at my “elite” Brisbane high school.

I was much smarter in those days, and won a partial scholarship, the only way my parents could have afforded to send me there. I was mingling, generally uncomfortably, with the offspring of lawyers, doctors, graziers, but when I fled each afternoon I hightailed it with relief back to the mud, mangroves and — as the alliterative putdowns went — mosquitoes of our home on the edge of Moreton Bay.

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Soldier crabs just like the ones back home.

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Well, perhaps not quite as adorable.

We all copped it now and then in those days; one evening my mother phoned Channel Nine in indignation after a reporter described our town as “far from picturesque”. Beaches meant rumbling surf, gleaming sand, shining towers; a day at the beach meant slow-roasting in suicidal mass-extinctions beneath beach umbrellas and slick coatings of coconut oil. Not the encroachment and retreat of a tepid tide over crab-infested mudflats and through the trunks of barnacled mangroves.

In the popular imagination we lived in a swamp. Why would anyone want to live there? All that ugly mud at low tide, the driftwood and fetid seaweed piled up at the high-tide mark, the car tyres settled here and there on the flats like stranded turtles after drifting from the primitive beach stabilisation at our sister settlement a little further south.

(That town was actually bulldozed in the mid-70s to make way for an expanding Brisbane Airport. We were almost forced to join them, but had the life-saving gift of a mile or two’s distance from the flight path.)

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Forgive Alex’s headwear. His ancestry is British.

We knew we had it made, couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t envious of us. My father remembers his bank manager driving out to where he was building our house in the early 60s — literally half a minute’s walk from the beach — to ask whether he’d really thought this whole thing through. We could and would spend our whole Summer, and much of the rest of the year, swimming (why nobody was ever taken by a bull shark is beyond me); we’d come home from school at lunchtime and manage a quick dip before heading back.

The mangrove thickets (these were Avicennia marina, the grey mangrove, which are true trees; other species are shrubbier) seemed Amazonian. High tide meant our forts enjoyed the added security of water lapping against the trunk. Low tide would stretch the parameters of our world to the rim of the flats half a mile out towards Moreton Island.

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The tarp & the construction site.

Nowadays most of the original shacks, like most of the old-time residents, are gone. You’d have to have a spare million or so to afford a place on one of the four streets, and a lot of the stigma about mangroves has gone. Their crucial role in marine ecology, coastal stabilisation and fish breeding cycles is appreciated, but not many people talk about their beauty, let alone their excellence as climbing trees and supports for treehouses (plus the undeniably superb qualities of their seed pods in childhood war games).

My parents moved to their present home, not far north but far more suburban, several years back. I used to revisit the old place on bike rides when I lived with them or was in town visiting. Now my bike is over with Kate — still in a box in her basement! — but I hope to get back while I’m stranded here, even if it means walking, a journey of a couple of hours.

I still love mangroves and plan a post or two of them on TGTW. A few weeks back I enjoyed something of a flashback when I went with Alex to a very similar (if considerably larger) coastal town on the northern edge of the Bay. Alex is one of my oldest friends and the only one who also hails from the Northside. His parents have sold his childhood home and are building on a waterside block an hour or so north of here.

I’d brought my tarp and down bag from the States this time; it was as close as I looked like getting to camping on this trip. We arrived in time for a short mudflat ramble while the tide was out. I made pitiful attempts at photographing the ever-retreating, maniacally burrowing battalions of soldier crabs while Alex recalled the way the rippled sand would suggest valleys and ridges in his childhood imagination.

Later, I ran back out for a few quick shots while he was cooking dinner:

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Mandrove Sunset — looking north…

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..and south.

Alex’s brother Graham was visiting with his partner, and his sister arrived later with her boys. Everyone was camping near the house site in various degrees of comfort: trailer, tents, caravan, shed…er, big rectangular sheet of sil-nylon. The tide was in. A moon described in the media as “super” made a dramatic entrance to the stage and levitated swiftly above the Pacific faster than our pathetic attempts to capture it on camera. I knocked myself out with a few swigs of swampwater wine as Alex, Graham and I stood around a campfire in a stiff breeze talking schoolboy metaphysics, boy-scout astronomy and seaside theology.

I crashed. Alex did what he always does; the beer was all gone the next morning. His accommodations were typically lavish: his “air mattress” alone was larger than my entire tarp. My hosts had suggested the creaking cotton tree I’d planned to camp under was a potential widow-maker, so I’d moved camp into the lee of a trailer. There I slept soundly. Wine and tarp camping were made for each other.

I crawled out into a pre-dawn silence…

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A seat under the cotton tree.

..soon spectacularly shattered by eruptions of kookaburra cackling and magpie melody.

Low tide again, and light too lovely to waste. It was a peaceful barefoot wander across those wretched, ugly mudflats (just like ours further south if a tad lighter in colour) and among those nasty mangroves while the moon exited stage west and the sun stuck its head up somewhere beyond the wide Pacific.

I’ll shut up for a bit here and make with the visuals:

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Mangrove seedling and mud whelk.

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Pneumatophores, aerial roots enabling the tree to breathe in somewhat challenging conditions.

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Alex’s folks’ place is visible on the right.

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I rambled quite a way north, and attempted to bush-bash back with variable success. I came across a crude homeless camp — nobody home — before making it back, just beating the incoming tide to the shore:

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As a hiker, I know all too well that peanut butter will keep you alive when you have nothing else.

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Half of a truly ferocious team of guard cavoodles (it actually pained me to type that “word”).

Time to make tracks, more old friends to visit a little further north. Just before leaving I realised I”d dropped the neoprene case for one of my cameras somewhere on my mangrove odyssey. Back I trotted for a half-hearted search, soon stymied by the incoming tide. Oh well, not the first thing I’ve lost on my walks, or even the 20th.

Graham, apparently keen for some entertainment, asked for a description and set off  on a treasure hunt. Just before we left, Alex took me “upstairs” for a sample of the future view — you can just make out Graham to the left of the cotton tree:

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Later that day Alex got a text from his brother. Graham had found my camera case, which had floated into the trees about a kilometre north.

Sooner or later, everything in these parts ends up back in the mangroves.

Good news! My box arrived from the States yesterday! Hard drives, laptop speaker, spare spectacles…pants galore, tons of T-shirts, socks — and underwear, a cornucopia of underwear, a veritable feast of underwear!

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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15 Comments

  1. Pingback: Back Among the Mangroves | Gaia Gazette

  2. Such a contrast to upstate New York — and many other places you’ve been, for that matter! Each has its beauty. Love those mangroves, especially mangrove sunset looking north. What a fine place to grow up. Good to hear that your box arrived and that things are good with you and Kate.

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