Grampians – Rain and Water.

The Grampians sit West and North of Melbourne. A four hour journey by car, longer with kids, an eternity if they are bored, restless and fractious. Luckily eternity does not beckon.
We drove in rain along the Western Highway, the road hiss of wet tires, the rhythmic swish flap of the wipers battled with the rhythms of the music – thankfully yours, not the soul destroying banality of the Wiggles or some such outrage. It was the day after the Grand Final; the gulls were missing this time, just Cats flags – deep in Geelong territory. Missing also were the legions of South Australians that had accompanied us in the past, returning home disappointed, no flag, just flagged spirits and hopes for next year.
Rain, water on the roads, water in the fields (paddocks really) and water in the dams. Nothing unusual for most places in spring, but here it was a novelty. Ten years of drought has robbed the land of its water. Is it really just drought or is it the first real impact of climate change? All I know for sure is that my kids have never seen a wet winter, never seen average rainfall, always known water restrictions. This is not drought for them; it’s just the way things are. Hot, dry and guilt ridden after a five minute shower.

But the last month had been different, rain had fallen across the state, the catchments were filling, slowly oh so slowly, and we had a month of above average rainfall. Not much above average, but after a decade of failure the land would take whatever spring had to offer. There were “Caution: Water on Road” signs which must have been long forgotten, even moth balled. I imagined I could smell naphthalene. There were no animals in pairs anywhere to be seen, but there was talk in the air of a good harvest, you could hear the optimism in the reports, feel that this was not the same as the past few years.

The sandstone ridges of the Grampians produce a landscape rich in rock faces, steep and bulging. The eye follows inviting lines and memories of past climbing - a lifetime and a different country ago - spring to mind. Fingers wrap round the round edges – elephant bums – and reality pushes memory away. I would need more skill than I ever had to scale most of these cliffs. But the sandstone, and the long hand of time, has produced soils which are thin and bitter; plants struggle. Fire and drought add to the mixture and only the strong survive. Surprisingly such conditions lead to diversity, and in the spring the Grampians are famous for their flowers.

It was not the flowers that caught my eye, but the flow of the water. Rivers ran and in places broke their banks; walks were accompanied by the white noise of water as it pushed its way down stream. Bridges, long reduced to simple convenience, became needed again, allowed walkers to pass over long forgotten creeks with dry feet. Some creeks hid pools streaked with foam, others show rocks carved by past floods that mock the currents flow. “Permanence at rest and permanence in motion” as it says elsewhere, but waters fail and rocks can be worn away.

You could see how this land could drink all the water you could pour into it. The soil, sand rich, crystalline and porous would seem to simply take anything the sky could offer and still ask for more. Yet the rivers ran, the waters fell and this was a different place to be this year.

Silverband Falls, just a tourist walk from the car park was popular, had water, it was close to the road, and it was mainly downhill. A small stream ran through the valley that approached the falls. The bush on the stream side was recovering from the fires of 2006 which had burnt much of the park and almost taken Halls Gap with it. In this small valley you could see the two forces that have shaped much of Australia’s ecology: fire and unpredictable rain, with the first feeding off the second. The ecology of the valley had not been destroyed by the fire, and now the spring rains were pushing it along towards a kind of recovery, allowing fresh growth that would feed the next fire when, not if, it comes. Spring rain followed by summer heat can build the conditions for fire.

Silverband Falls drop over a steep, but not intimidating cliff and disappears almost immediately. The water just sinks into to ground, leaving just a trickle at the surface. Although it’s not caused by the drought, the land seems to be drinking all the water it can get – taking it back to itself to use later. The steam reemerges a short way down the valley, smaller than expected, flowing onwards. But the Falls themselves are a plunge to nowhere, a river the losses itself in the rocks only to emerge later on. Thoughts on the meaning of this are lost behind the noise of boys with their heads in the sprays edge, wet and happy, young and stupid. I return to the car in more rain, with my thoughts turning to the noises of the bush.

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