Introducing Back Creek

About seven years ago now I discovered that I have lived by a creek for most of my life. Back Creek is a tributary of Gardiner’s Creek (formerly Kooyongkoot Creek) which is a tributary of the Yarra River (also known as Birrarung).

1871 Map of Boroondara Shire with Back Creek highlighted

This map of the Shire of Boroondara circa 1871 confirms the original path of the creek (and a number of others besides). The green line is Kooyongkoot/Gardiner’s Creek, the light blue is Back Creek and the purple lines are Canterbury, Riversdale and Toorak Roads (from top to bottom), they should help to orient you if you live locally.

In environmental circles it’s widely recognised that connecting with ‘nature’ is important. Most people tend to think that the only way to do this is to go out into the wilderness where the human is dwarfed by the more-than-human. But what if it’s not?

The environmental crisis requires us to live more efficiently, with smaller footprints. It doesn’t make sense for all of us to go and live in the wilderness so we can stay mindful of our true place “in the family of things.” We need to look with new eyes, to see the wildness in our own backyards, our cities and suburbs, to see that we are part of a greater whole no matter where we are.

To this end I am planning a walk along the length of Back Creek. This journey is significant because the reason I didn’t know I lived near a creek is that it mostly runs underground in barrel drains. I’m not sure what it will be like to walk it, whether the land still gives clues as to the creek’s location.

Much of its length is now parkland and walking trails, a few short sections are open to the sky. It is cared for by council staff and ‘friends’ groups made up of local residents. I am in the process of collecting stories and information, if you have any to share please get in touch.

I invite you to join me on an adventure, on Sunday 27 July 2014, into the history of land, people and home. Come see the wildness in our streets. The creek may be covered but traces remain for those with eyes and heart to see.

Mum

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It was over two weeks ago but the memory still rings with warmth, softness and love. I stood and read a story at Mother Tongue about my mother and about grief. Mum was in the audience at my invitation and when I started to cry she came and stood with me. I clearly remember the gentle clicking of support from the audience that bore me up as I stood, too overcome with emotion to speak.

I was terrified before hand. Sitting in the audience while other women bared their souls, I told the persistent nag in the back of my brain that we weren’t going through with it. When my turn came I calmly rose and took the stage. My mother, the family historian, proudly introduced me with six generations of matrilineal ancestors, all the way back to Brigid who got on a boat in Ireland. I was and am so pleased at her joy in that moment, sharing a knowledge that is seldom appreciated.

The story I read was about me and mum and grief and a hug that was 45 years late but no less meaningful for all that. It’s a precious moment and the sharing of it has only extended and expanded the gift. The next day Mum said “Your story has deepened the experience for me. I had told myself that it was mostly about you, that hug. Reading your story I realised how important it was for me.”

All night people approached us to thank us for sharing it and to share their own stories. “You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.” they said, each in their own way. I’m so glad Mum was there to receive that with me, to know that her experience has echoes in other people’s livess. It felt so right to be sharing the story together, even though I wrote it, it belongs to us both.

To be seen

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When I was a child I did everything I could to get into my mother’s photographs. She’s one of those people who takes photos of churches, architecture and scenic views. I longed for her to take photos of me, longed to see myself through her lens, to know myself and to know her eyes were on me.

When I was 4 we lived in a weatherboard in Mitcham. The kitchen had a lime green breakfast bar with a great big mirror so you could see who you were talking to you. I was fascinated by my own image, thoughts of beauty never entered my mind. I longed to see myself as others see me, to see myself strange and alien and candid, to see myself as I truly was. The family joke went that Kiri just likes to talk to herself, it’s one of those stories that’s been told about me over and over.

Later I came to interpret these things as vanity, and I learned to feel ashamed. My longing to be seen, to know myself was somehow wrong, I’m not allowed to want to be seen, I don’t deserve to be seen, I can’t ask for it or expect it. Over time I learned to hustle, to try and get the attention I craved without anyone knowing.

But people always know.

People know and they are irritated by it. The fear in me triggers the fear in them, the fear leads to comparison and judgement “Oh my god, I can’t believe she’s hustling for approval again. My hustle’s so much better than her hustle. If only she stopped she’d be so much more likeable.” Inferiority triggers superiority, two sides of the same coin.¬†

I have to find the middle path, this is what people mean when they say “Just be yourself” but words don’t work. The dance is within us, buried deep, the habit of a lifetime.

Humans are fickle shysters caught up in their own games, surely only spiritual masters are free of it. (Not being a spiritual master I’m not actually sure what it’s like for them, perhaps they are not free of the game but comfortable with their humanity.)

I have found trees to be particularly helpful as exemplars of being. They are generous to a fault, utterly present and free of pretense. However my heart longs for human community interwoven with the more-than-human world. Perhaps that’s the middle path the reweaving of the human being within the more-than-human Being.