An Eerie Journey

Posted by Ernie Cooper on 2010-05-01

Our rotation moulded plastic sea kayaks slid smoothly off the weed covered launch ramp and out across the calm surface of the river through areas that were coated in the pollen of Casuarina trees. The grotesque looking limbs of long dead trees protruded from the water creating an eerie scene as we made our way upstream. The overhanging trees provided shade from the midday sun as we moved quietly along listening to nature’s orchestra provided by the Cicadas and Bell birds; the performance was however, periodically interrupted by the man-made sounds of engine-driven irrigation pumps drawing water for the surrounding farms.

The river remained mirror calm, only the surface detritus changed from the gold of the pollen to a black, grey dust given out from an adjacent, but unseen, coal treatment facility. Fortunately this was soon behind us and we moved on through weed and reed beds that created some interesting obstacles for us and possible nest sites for the Moorhens and Ducks. The bright ultramarine blue kingfishers that flashed occasionally between branches would be looking for sandy banks into which they would create their tunnel nests.

My five year old grandson Jai sat in the aft hatch of my Shearwater kayak like a WW2 Lancaster rear gunner; he was armed with a plastic bilge pump and took great joy in trying to soak his father, my eldest son Stephen, who took great care to paddle just beyond his range of fire.

As we continued, we negotiated long, broken down weirs and the river began to narrow so that it was necessary to paddle around and under low overhanging branches as well as keep a look out for the submerged timber. The proximity of the banks gave us a much better view of the local wildlife; several times we spotted Eastern Water Dragons (aquatic lizards), sunning themselves on exposed branches or we would just see a sudden movement to indicate that they had seen us first and taken cover in the undergrowth. More alarmingly, we came across one of the highly venomous snakes that frequent the riverbank, the Red Bellied Black Snake; we watched nervously but kept our distance as it lay on a log in the sun no more than three metres away before it decided to take cover. Thankfully in this area of the country there are no descendants of the dinosaurs to give us concern.

Throughout the short trip our eyes and ears were given a treat but it was our noses that we assaulted by the presence of death in the form of the occasional rotting and partially submerged body of a dog or an indigenous animal, the smell was unmistakeably unpleasant.

It is difficult to paint a truly accurate word picture of our short 12 kilometre journey on Australia’s Napean River as it winds its way through rural New South Wales within thirty minutes of Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport but it might help to re-read this passage while thinking of the Duelling Banjos signature tune from the John Boorman film, Deliverance:- it sets the scene.

Ernie Cooper

Article copyright © Ernie Cooper 2010

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