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Western Walkabout: Gypsy Walkers

Richard Harris tells of the delights of rambling around with like-minded folk.

The Gypsy Walkers took a ramble through the Canning River Regional Park in June, listening, looking, with a particular interest in colour, and smelling.

We are a group of older people associated with the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Perth, Western Australia.

We started off at the Riverton bridge in Fern Road, one of the last major timber bridges built in the metropolitan area. It has been rejuvenated with a concrete deck and a wider, dual use footpath on the downstream side.

The river was full and in the downstream lake we noticed about eight large black swans and numerous ducks. Welcome swallows nest under the bridge.

A willy wagtail chased tiny insects in the grass with an endearing concentration.

Our first stop was to view a mistletoe infestation in a sheoak on the upstream side of the bridge at the boat launching ramp. The sheoak was a male tree and is of interest now in the Aboriginal Makuru season – after the first rains – being in full flower with a rusty brown hue.

The Nyoongar would chew the branchlets on this tree during Makuru to quench their thirst. An infusion of the bark was used to treat diarrhea. The wood was used for coolamons and other water carriers.

In the private homes at the border of the park we noticed spectacular displays of autumn colour from introduced trees. Native trees in the park, the river gums and other eucalypts, looked strong, and some trees were showing white blossoms. The color white is a signal for linking – that is, gather the family and go hunting.

A black wattle was showing some early blooms. This tree is a good source of bardi grubs. The soft green seeds of many wattles can be roasted and eaten in the pods, or when ripe ground into flour and used for damper. Be careful, though, for some species are toxic.

We roamed through the park talking to the trees and listening to what they had to say and listening to the whispers from the grass.

In a billabong we viewed a large white spoonbill digging in the mud for tiny creatures, and a white faced heron perched on a dead branch protruding from the middle of the water. You’d be white faced if you’d had to dig for your breakfast in those cool waters.

After the walk, we used a traditional ceremony to disperse our cares and fears then went to Clontarf markets to eat gozleme, a Turkish pancake filled with ricotta and baby spinach.

“How was it?” the stallholder asked me. She’s a Turkish girl from Ankara.

“Harika,” I said, which means wonderful.

It’s great to wander around gypsy style with U3A people of similar values – wouldn’t be dead for quids.


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