For my kids and their grandparents, feeding ducks bread at the local park has become an enjoyable and relaxing way of interacting with the local Pacific Black Ducks. However, feeding them bread can lead to nutritional imbalances, altered animal behaviour, and increase their risk of disease and predation.
With the Grass Point Trail and the Lighthouse Walk taking up the most of our day, Andrew and I decided to keep walking after dinner by heading to the Truganini Lookout. The Lookout, with its 200 plus steps, is on an isthmus of land connecting north and south Bruny Island and was conveniently located near our accommodation.
The beach near the track is open until dusk during Tasmanian summers. When we reached the beach, Andrew and I sat on the sand, satiated and sluggish with pizza and steak from the Bruny Island Hotel. The children spent a few minutes repeatedly teasing then running away from the crashing waves.
At around 8 pm, Ranger Stacey and her junior rangers asked beach goers to get off the sand. We were informed that the shearwaters and the penguins needed the beach to be clear so they can come back to their rookery located under the platforms above the walk. Estimated time of re-entry in burrows: 9.45 pm for the shearwaters and 10.00 pm for the penguins.
Ranger Stacey started with an Acknowledgment to Country for the traditional custodians of South Bruny Island, the Nuenonne, before giving the growing group of families a background on short-tailed shearwaters and little penguins, the magnificent birds we were about to witness coming home that night. Some shearwater oil and a stuffed little penguin were passed around, morbid yet poignant reminders of the millions of birds killed for human use and amusement. I’m not complaining, I eat chicken…
As informative as the talk was, it made me reflect on how sometimes what is not mentioned in a story is as important as what is mentioned. There was no mention of Truganini or her people that managed to survive the genocide of the 1800s. Truganini was a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman who even in death, could not escape the brutal dispossession and destruction of her land and culture. Her bones were exhumed for public display shortly after her death in 1876 and some of her body parts were sent to different institutions for “scientific study”. It was only in 1976 that her request to be cremated was finally honoured.
As to what was mentioned in the talk, at 9.45 pm, the shearwaters made their precision landings into or near their burrows. Shortly after, a raft of about 15 penguins landed on the beach. With red cellophane on our mobile phone lights, we witnessed the graceful swimmers turn into bumbling waddlers. With mingled bird cries filling the air, penguin and chick and burrow were reunited for the night. My son whispered “Good night,” to each penguin he spotted while my daughter had to be sternly reminded by Ranger Stacey to stop jumping so as not to scare the penguins. It was 11 pm when we finally pulled out of the car park and into the dark roads of Bruny Island, smug with the thought of walking three bushwalks in one day, with kids.
Looking for child-friendly materials that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness and don’t know where to start? Click here for a copy of Aunt Annie’s Sorry Day to start your journey.
Want to learn more about birds? Click here to visit the Birdlife website. Identify some birds in your backyard, read up on their current campaigns, and start your own bird survey family project. Click here to buy a copy of Adam Nicolson’s book on oceanic aviators. See below for his description of shearwaters.
Away from the Australian island continent, on the lower eastern side of the island state of Tasmania, lies Bruny Island. Five years ago, Andrew and I were lured to Bruny by the prospect of fresh seafood and cheese. Five years and two toilet-trained and non-stroller dependent kids later, we went back ready to explore some of the bushwalks the island had to offer. We started with the Grass Point Trail which started on the beach to the right of the Fluted Cape parking area.
At 11am, there were already families coming back from the trail as Andrew and I lingered at the start dusting off wet sand. A passing walker recounted how the track took 40 minutes walking in, then 20 minutes walking back. I thanked him and waved to his school-aged children. In the background I could hear Andrew imploring our kids to continue walking. I mentally doubled, then tripled, the kind walker’s figures.
The land for sale to the right of the start of the track triggered my memory of a conversation I overheard at the local oyster place the day before. “You must have to travel out of the island to find things to do,” said a lady in her 40s. “It’s so quiet here, what do you do for fun?” her friend added swilling her white wine. Not missing a beat, the stubbled beanie-wearing waiter, the object of condescension or perhaps flirtation, replied, “Oh I keep busy, I bought 40 acres of land in South Bruny a few years ago and I spend my time camping in and exploring it when I’m not working here.” Anyway, I wondered, will that part of Bruny be subdvided, sold, and commercialised in a few years time or will the owner protect it and keep it wild ala JD Tipper and Mougamarra Nature Reserve? Time will tell.
Andrew and I trailed behind the kids, him taking photos, me finding gaps in the trees to look for seabirds through my binoculars. Our children busied themselves inspecting and collecting what I hoped were gum nuts and not scat, assessing sticks for walking stick suitability, and pointing out insects along the track.
At one point, my son tripped on the track. I suspect it was because his shoes didn’t really have much tread. He was left with some shallow cuts on his forehead imprinted by the gravel he fell on. Andrew dispensed some lollipop treats that comforted our son enough to stop crying, but he refused to walk. Some reshuffling of cameras, binoculars and bags between Andrew and I, followed by a safety talk on how to eat a lollipop while sitting on mummy’s shoulder, then we were ready to continue on.
The trail ended on a pebbly beach. A few hundred metres away, a tour boat gently bobbed up and down to the beat of the waves. Our kids waved and shouted, their hellos muted by the wind. Some people on the boat waved back while most continued to look intently to the right of where we were standing. Intrigued, I urged the kids to continue walking along the beach to investigate. We were rewarded with a view of a rocky outcrop in front of Penguin Island where terns, seagulls, and cormorants rested.
Our walk back the way we came was spent by everyone listening to my son pointing out where his blood dripped all over the trail although in reality, only a pin prick blood was spilled where his forehead hit the gravel. We played along as this distracted into walking most of the track back.
Some shelf back in Sydney lay a partially read copy of Adam Nicolson’s “The Seabirds Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets, and Other Ocean Voyagers” and Jeannie Baker’s children‘s book about kelp, “The Hidden Forest”. The Grass Point Trail enriched our reading nights when we got back home, bringing us closer to the world and creatures we thought we’d only ever see through books.
The Tamar Island Boardwalk meanders through wetlands that lead to the grassy Tamar Island then ends on a wooden platform overlooking the kanamaluka/Tamar River. The Tamar wetlands is home to a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, fish, and insects. The wetlands currently supports over 1% of the world populations of pied oystercatchers and chestnut teals. A few years ago, Andrew and I walked along the Tamar Island Boardwalk with our then eighteen-month-old daughter who wobbled along slowly next to the pram. Fast forward to 2017 and we were back with two children along with our new-found family walking buddies: my sister-in-law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, which you may remember from our previous Forest Path Walk.
We started our day at the Wetlands Centre where we picked up maps and the kids inspected preserved specimens of native animals common to the area. My son kept whispering “Is that dead?” then pointing to each display, which Andrew and I took turns in answering with varying versions of yes. Our kids are familiar with the sight of stuffed animals having visited many museums and I have explained, to my daughter at least, that although some animals are killed just because people want them in a collection, most are required to die naturally before they are preserved. At this stage, the age-appropriate version of “naturally” is old age which has recently led her to question why her great-grandmother is still alive. Some drawers were accessible to the visitors, one of which housed a replica of a copperhead snake that was enough to entertain the kids for a few minutes while us adults rummaged through the reference books, peeked through the spotting scopes, and checked the recent lists of bird sightings
After the Wetlands Centre, we continued walking for about 500 metres before veering to a side track sheltered by a small patch of melaleuca forest. Here, we were treated to the sight of a bevy of swans slowly navigating their way around trees in the shallow waters. When they sensed us watching, they hurried their pace and broke away from the forest to slow float on the lake next to the bird hide. My daughter said the bird hide smelt like our chicken coop which was enough to deter Neil from going in.
Away from the melaleuca forest, a constant cool breeze soothed our skins from the stinging midday sun. The continuous rushing noise along the board walk from the wind-swept reeds and sedges served as reminder that these were the dominant vegetation in the area. My son was intent on finding snakes, unstirred by a bird of prey gracefully circling above us, and the orange-beaked blobs – pelicans – flying towards the water. Alicia and I watched dragonflies darting in and out of the reeds working out the mechanics on how it was possible for our parents to have caught such delicate insects bare-handed. The horizon changed every few bends, from blue skies and cotton wool clouds grounded by farmlands on the mountain sides on one bend, to glimpses of power lines and urban sprawl running along the Tamar Highway the next.
There are three bridges along the walk, each offering a welcome breeze and views of the river. Each bridge had a few benches ideal for resting, re-adjusting piggy-back or shoulder-riding passengers, and the usual watching of the river, the reeds, the birds, the sky, the nearby mountains, whatever appeals to the beholder. I am a bad birdwatcher so naming the birds we saw was a result of thumbing through the Birdlife brochures and bird books we had at home, long after our walk, where my kids and I shared small Eureka moments matching the pictures we took and the details we remembered to the photos we found on our bird books.
An hour later, our shoes crunched gravel signalling our arrival on Tamar Island. We watched superb fairy wrens dart in and out the bushes along the path. Reeds and sedges behind us, we sat at the picnic area munching on some fruit and muesli bars to my son’s squeals of “I want to go home”. Under the sympathethic gaze of the family of four at the picnic bench next to us, we carried on for another 500 metres, with my son on my shoulders.
The walk ended at a platform overlooking a wide section of kanamaluka/Tamar River. Here we watched a small boat rip through the small waves, a faint whirring sound in the otherwise quiet setting. Well, as quiet as the gusts of wind, the wet slaps of water on the timber posts, distant bird calls, my children’s giggles while pointing out bird poo patches on the platform, and conversations among us adults about wanting to move to Launceston for good. We returned the way we came with Andrew and I sharing the load that was our son while Neil, Alicia, and my daughter set a fast pace back to the shady respite of the our cars.
1 km loop
The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the United States. It was a crisp winter Sunday morning and we started the day lounging at my sister-in-law and her partner’s place in Engadine for a quick visit to return their car that we borrowed last week before heading to the Royal National Park next door. I was so excited to show my kids the ocean-fronting clifftops, the open Pacific Ocean, and coastal heathland that captured me in my twenties but I was met with both of them saying “I don’t like bushwalks,” eyes glued to the TV, intent on finding out how Owlette, Catboy, and Gecko would thwart Romeo’s evil plans. Andrew and I finally succeeded in prying them away from the TV (after all we’re about walking with kids) but it really made me wonder whether they were actually getting anything out of our walks.