This Duck Needs a Quack

This Duck Needs a Quack

Blair quacks down the mighty Duck River

By Blair Paterson

On a calm spring morning I rolled up my inflatable kayak, tethered it to a backpack, tore the three necessary map-pages out of an old street directory, bottled up some drinking water and set off on an urban adventure along Duck River. It had rained for two days solid prior to my outing, ensuring the litter, refuse and stormwater pollution will have gushed down drains and gutters, flooded into gully-pits and concrete canals, and washed downstream into this lesser known Parramatta River tributary. The pollution will have settled in eddies, caught on snags, fouled the waters and further compounded the reputation Duck River has as an eyesore – a reputation which is so often sadly associated with many of the creeks and rivers in my urban Sydney locale. Why should I wish to pursue such an undertaking? I wanted to see and experience Duck River up close; I wanted to understand it a little better, to listen to its story, to read its palm-lines in an attempt to unveil what secrets might lay within the recesses of this highly urbanised and modified environ. I like these adventures, and surely, I felt, there must be some remnants of beauty existing under the river’s thick veneer of pollution. And I set myself the task to expose it.

I wanted to investigate Duck River from as sensory and challenging a viewpoint as I could possibly conceive by traversing its length under my own steam by foot and paddle.

My expedition would take me northwards from Duck River’s headwaters at Sefton, through Regents Park, along the border between Auburn and Granville, and then onto where the river empties in confluence with the Parramatta River at Silverwater. Many of the risks involved in an adventure like this in an intensely urban and industrialised setting are obviously different to those on an unmodified river flowing through natural surrounds. And I was prepared for an absence of the romance one might acquire from ‘nature’ experiences. So why then would I, of my own free will and sane state of mind, choose to undertake such a ridiculous activity in a dirty, disgusting, weeded, polluted backwater like Duck River? I might sustain a nasty cut from broken glass or jagged metal sure as death and taxes of becoming infected. I might get mugged or bitten by a rat. I might wash-up to who-knows-where and did I notify anyone should a search party need to retrieve my bloated remains from a sewer-drain or mangrove-bog or the like? Why? This is a concerned mother talking, yes, and I did find myself tentative at the outset I admit, maybe even a little loony for considering such an expedition. But I had asked myself these questions and there was a point. I wanted to investigate Duck River from as sensory and challenging a viewpoint as I could possibly conceive by traversing its length under my own steam by foot and paddle. I wanted to expand on my first acquaintance with the river from some environmental work I’d done in the area as a council employee a few years back. Obviously without endangering my own safety, I wanted to have a firsthand look at certain stretches of the river which are only accessible by boat and hopefully happen upon some features and landforms I’d only heard about. And I wanted to piece together more parts of the jigsaw of the environment around me and what the hell’s going on with it.

Sometimes I think of rivers as the veins and arteries of the land. Rivers carry away waste and deposit nutrients as does the blood which flows though the vessels in our bodies. James Lovelock, considered by many to be the pioneer of modern environmental awareness, was the originator of the Gaia hypothesis. He posits the Earth as a self-regulating ‘super organism’ whereby the land, the oceans, the atmosphere, and all the organisms – including humans – interact together to maintain an environment necessary to sustain life. All things and beings are and need to be connected to one another. I am connected to my neighbours, my brothers and sisters, the plants and animals around and overhead and the millions of organisms in the soil under my feet. While my home exists in a neighbouring catchment, or sub-catchment, Duck River drains a large land-area into the Sydney Harbour basin. In turn, from a Gaian perspective (albeit one with a more ‘local’ instead of ‘global’ slant), I am affected by what happens in Duck River and all the goings-on in its catchment as in turn my goings-on affect those in the Duck River’s – our waters are intrinsically connected to the same ‘hydro-vascular’ system. And we all strongly influence the health of our great urban Sydney Harbour waterways. I set off for a day, surreal as it may seem, as a flowing cell in the veins of Duck River where I felt sure I would sense its erratic pulse and beat out my own rhythm in an attempt to understand this river, and maybe myself, a little better.

And so without further ado…

The train trip at early morning peak hour from my place in Ashfield is a generally non-eventful experience. My appearance with a cumbersome bright-red bundle rolled up on my back and dressed in my daggiest clothes evokes no more than passing glances from commuters on the whole. I have found this to be the case from past urban adventures too, though I’m not sure why. Usually I find elderly people, drunks or druggies, or those who may be deemed ‘eccentric’ by societal norms are those who are forthright enough to ask me what on earth I might be doing. I don’t bite, I promise.

I am lost already, disorientated in a grid of industry and dust … I have still yet to find the river.

After changing trains at Strathfield and disembarking at Sefton Station I am happy to begin my adventure afoot. I walk out onto the platform and into the warm September air which greets me with the smell of burning rubber and asphalt; a light breeze carries the clatter of grinders and air compressors as I cross the station bridge. Down on the street a trolley is hoicked into the flat-bed of a nearby truck making such a crack, with my already jittery nerves I literally jump on the spot. Welcome to the work-a-day bustle of industrial Sefton! I walk west down Carlingford Road past a plethora of factories including smash repairers, tile distributors and scrap-metal yards. I am lost already, disorientated in a grid of industry and dust, and must stop to consult my map: page 293; I have still yet to find the river. I get back on track along Chisholm Road and within a short while I catch my first glimpse of flowing water in a channel alongside the road. Here, the canal walls of graffiti and tags give way to some sort of discernable river bank and I

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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