A white-faced heron hunted galaxias in the Sandy Bay Rivulet, at the point where it crosses Errol Flynn Beach and merges with the Derwent River.
Jollytails, spotted mountain and climbing galaxias …. the heron was having a field day but I was less interested on this spring day in the natural history of the rivulet than its place in man’s modern, and ancient, history.
Errol Flynn Beach is dominated by a large artwork proclaiming “1909”, the year the Tasmanian destined to become a Hollywood film legend was born in Hobart. A plaque with art work tells beach users that Flynn lived nearby and attended Albuera Street Primary school just up the hill from the rivulet’s winding course as its leaves the bay and snakes towards Mount Wellington.
No doubt he learned to swim at this very beach and I also like to think that a young swashbuckling Flynn would have explored the upper reaches of the rivulet, and revelled in the sights and sounds of its wonders to be found there. His father, after all, was a biology professor at the University of Tasmania.
It’s a wonderful journey to the past. You wander the streets adjoining the rivulet in Sandy Bay, and then join the course of the rivulet itself in the Waterworks Valley and on past the Waterworks Reserve and into the foothills of the mountain.
And it’s a journey that more people will no doubt be taking if the proposed Battery Point walkway reaches fruition. The walkway will end at the rivulet and, if completed, it will open up the possibility of more people discovering the watercourse, and perhaps it being paid more attention.
Did Flynn watch the hunting herons at the rivulet mouth, as I did on this day. Did he see them stab in a flash at not only the small, silver galaxias but also bigger eels, and croaking brown froglets.
Flynn might be a Hollywood legend, an icon in the lexicon of the silverscreen, but the rivulet has its place in a different kind of history, one far removed from popular culture.
It played its role in the development of one of the most significant scientific theories of the Victorian era, if not the most significant: that of evolution.
Charles Darwin on his five-year voyage of the Beagle called in at Hobart town in 1836 and used the course of the Sandy Bay Rivulet to travel to the summit of Mount Wellington. Darwin was not so much interested in living things at this time but in geology and was fascinated by the structure of rocks dissected by the rivulet’s winding path. The rocks, and the birds singing along the rivulet’s banks, were all part of the magical mix that would help Darwin later formulate his ideas.
The rivulet in its lower regions, those between the suburb of Dynnyrne, Sandy Bay and the coast, firmly belongs to man’s modern world, and suburbia has tried to tame it and constrict it in the straitjacket of culvert. It shouts in protest during storms when it roars along its course. It is only in the Waterworks Valley that the rivulet can be seen in its natural state, especially beyond the Waterworks Reserve where its riverine appearance would still be recognisable to the first humans to see its beauty, the Mouheneenner and Nuenonne people of 40,000 years ago.
I’m a birdwatcher and for me it is the birds that tell the story of the rivulet, not just its ancient natural history but its character in modern times.
The calls and songs of the birds are the rivulet’s connection to the past. Errol Flynn would have heard the raucous “song” of the yellow wattlebird; the angry grunt of the white-faced heron when it is forced to take flight by intruding children or dogs on the beach.
And when Darwin walked the Huon packhorse trail that once followed the rivulet through the Waterworks Valley to below the Springs on the mountain, the young scientist would have heard the nervous chatter of the green rosella and the chuckle of the yellow-throated honeyeater, Tasmanian species found nowhere else on earth.