Regardless, it will flow over weirs and barriers; flush out pollution backed up in its waters; and find its own natural course in this world probably long after humans have passed by. We have to let the river breathe though, and to again sing its own song. We have to nurture it back to health so it can again quack its mighty quack; help it re-align within the Gaian order. There are active community and bush regeneration groups doing wonderful work along Duck River’s banks, you can see, but we need to talk more about Duck River; we have to tell its story to give it back an identity. I am quite sure I have not trespassed or entered private property on this adventure. But in its current condition I would not recommend paddling Duck River for recreational pursuits – it is a highly polluted river system. The parkland along the river, however, avails plenty of access to experience the river from the land, to feel its soul, sympathise with its pain and get a sense of it quietly flowing northbound into Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour. Angela Martin’s acclaimed novel Beyond Duck River uses the area I am paddling through as a setting for place and as a deep metaphor for hope: ‘I want to keep Duck River alive. I want to say, “Hey, don’t forget who was here before you!”’. For despite the pollution threatening to block its veins forever, despite quietly meandering through Sydney’s industrial heartland and burbling away unnoticed adjacent to heavily frequented sportsgrounds and parkland, despite being reduced to a forgotten backwater, Duck River will not be smothered and killed. Duck River is ‘Any River’ in our backyard.
With Silverwater to the east the river now flows through seriously heavy industry and I’m nearly onto Map 253. Only a few more kilometres to Parramatta River and the end of my successful Duck River traverse. I feel quite tired and my mind lapses into daydream with the repetitive motion of my paddling. I am young. I am playing hide-and-seek with my favourite friends among the crazy shapes and structures of the oil refinery on the riverbank to my left. I can feel the beat of my own excited little heart and suppress my giggling as I hear my seekers all around wondering where their hider, me, might be lurking. But the scrubbers and burners of the stacks roar away ominously, belching their flames skyward, and such a frivolous exploit now seems rather nonsensical.
Waves lap against my bow; the serenity of Duck River’s glass-flat waters is broken. I think I see the Parramatta River and yes, I have made it just in time for one of my regular Sydney Harbour nemeses: a Rivercat ferry cuts its way down Parramatta River, leaving me to negotiate both its wake and the mangroves in which it threatens to deposit me. My plan, having manoeuvred through that minor diversion, is to turn left and paddle up Parramatta River for about three kilometres to somewhere near Camellia train station. But now out of Duck River and in the comparatively open waters of Parramatta River I face into the winds of a woolly nor-wester and I decide to get to land as soon as possible. If it’s fine for J, George, Harris and Montmorency the dog – in Jerome K Jerome’s classic tale: Three Men in a Boat about a boating trip up the River Thames – to ‘chuck it in early’, then I think all’s fine for me to do the same too. Fittingly, I take shore upon a rubble-dump of broken bricks, crushed concrete and discarded building material, pull my kayak out and release the bungs, roll up and tether it to my backpack, scale a fence with my chattels and wander up and over a footbridge between two giant water-pipes. I cross the Parramatta River, turn right onto Grand Avenue and back into an industrial world of plaster- and concrete-works and the twee gardens of Rosehill Racecourse. After a dusty walk and three trains I am home on my couch sipping down a nice cup of tea. Then next, I shall have a very long shower, give myself a good scrub and put my head down for a nice afternoon snooze.