Yesterday Brogan took me on a northern suburbs coastal walk to show me what he’s been up to lately, sneaking off to do SWOTI walks (Solo Waterways of the Illawarra). So I dismantled that acronym by joining him. It was a wonderful walk that I’ve never done in all the time I’ve lived in the Illawarra: picking our way along the rock platforms and scrambling around the rocky headlands from Coalcliff to Wombarra, then back along Lawrence Hargrave Drive above the cliffs.
The outward journey is spectacular and beautiful in parts. Looking skyward to see the underbelly of the Sea Cliff Bridge, coming across small waterfalls pouring down rocks to the beaches, densely vegetated gullies, thick seams of coal banding the cliff walls and of course the pounding sea and stiff southerly pushing against our flesh.
Wollongong’s mining history is here too: abandoned mineshafts nestled in the rock and old bits of wood and rusted metal which were once part of the Clifton jetty structure. I’m guessing it was used to transport the coal by sea directly from the mine. One fascinating building, decidedly more contemporary, is a small rusty tin shack tucked into the scrub above a beach. Sort of like a fisherman’s dugout with door, plywood floor and storm window, but on closer inspection an apparently handy site for sexual exploits, with a fully illustrated account written in texta on the door.
Brogan marked the waterways he thought noteworthy on a topographic map. This area is so steep that the sight of water coming off the cliffs is common; whether it is coming from a small creek or just seeping from the vegetation on the clifftop is often hard to tell. Once you get up to the road these waterways are often obscured by houses. They are directed eastward by culverts, pipes and drains, while westward they disappear under driveways and lawns, or sidle along gardens.
This brings me to the title of my post, WOTSANOTS. This acronym signifies a one-off splinter activity: Waterways Of The South And North Of The State. The challenge of this activity was to document all named waterways on the road trip I did out to Broken Hill and back recently. The journey out went via the southerly route (there is no direct route from Wollongong to Broken Hill), through places such as Wagga Wagga, Hay, Balranald, Mildura, Wentworth, then up to Broken Hill. I deliberately made this trip a circuit, returning on the northerly route via Wilcannia, Cobar, Nyngan, Dubbo, Bathurst, Katoomba then Wollongong. With a little notebook, I recorded each creek name while driving (not a recommended practice) and ended up with one hundred and thirty three names. This required some alertness, as it is easy to lapse into reverie when driving such long distances and to forget to observe closely. There seemed to be a fairly even spread of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal names to these creeks and rivers, some with delightful titles such as Talyawalka Creek, Run O’ Waters Creek, Poison Waterholes Creek, the Bogan River and my personal favourite, the Great Darling Anabranch.
Many of these creeks were of course dry. I was struck by two things: on the journey out, there were far more creeks in the first part of the journey where it’s hillier. This made sense to me, as the Great Dividing Range would surely generate many waterways. Yet on the way back, heading east from Wilcannia, there were many named creeks (completely dry) in the very flat western landscape. This made sense too in its own way, as these creeks are part of the Darling River floodplain area and would all be activated by floodwaters flowing down from the north.