Each morning my wife is not teaching or otherwise engaged, we head out for our usual walk along the Maribyrnong River, embarking on what used to be called a “constitutional.” From the house, we thread our way down Hillside Crescent to Van Ness Avenue, a very busy road that siphons drivers off the main East-West artery through this suburb and sends them up to Highpoint Mall or down to Footscray. During rush hour, the traffic moves so fast that it can be hazardous to get across, especially when cars from our own neighbourhood join the jungle off Hillside Crescent itself. But on Sundays, even spectacularly fine ones like today, we can sometimes waltz right across as if it were a country road instead of a major thoroughfare.

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On Sundays, most of the traffic we encounter will be on the multi-use path along the river– cyclists, joggers, pedestrians, dog walkers and real runners. On the river the rowers will be are out, in single sculls or in groups of eight. On the other side, golfers inhabit their own green space, pulling clubs and whacking balls, framed by the path on the other side with its own share of joggers. We walk by the old, graffiti decorated building that was a meat canning factory first, then a concrete pipe company. We are in Pipemakers Park.

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In 1803, the first Europeans to explore along the river were led by Charles Grimes, Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales. John Batman, considered the founder of Melbourne, is likely to have explored the river in early 1835. With the establishment of the colony of Melbourne later that year, sheep runs were established by Edmund Davis Fergusson and Michael Solomon in what is now the Avondale and Sunshine areas.

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On Solomon’s sheep station the ford now near the west end of Canning Street in Avondale Heights became known as Solomon’s Ford. This was the lowest crossing on the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River, and the furthest inland point of tidal influence. Batman is believed to have crossed the river at this point probably in the well worn steps of Aboriginals. It was for many years the only way from Melbourne to Geelong and land west.

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During the second half of the nineteenth century much of Melbourne’s industry was located along the river, and the river became a sewer. With the closure of many industries since the 1960s and 1970s, much river front land has opened up to parkland and residential estates. Some of the land adjacent to the river has been terraformed into settlement ponds and estuaries, to attract wildlife and skim off sludge.

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Some days we head out into dismal weather and come across only a handful of individuals, people as determined as us to get some exercise no matter what. Or people with dogs who have no choice. Occasionally, we get caught in downpours. Melbourne weather is the most unpredictable I have ever seen, anywhere. Just one week ago we got caught in a heavy-duty hail storm and had to take shelter in a gazebo until it let up.

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Spring seems to creep up on us here. It doesn’t reveal itself in such dramatic fashion as in lands with a prevalence of leafy, deciduous trees. THe birds announce it. Flocks of colourful, noisy lorikeets follow the flowering of the eucalypts. They fly onto the highest branches, using the tips of their tongues to extract nectar, then move on with much clattering and screeching to the next tree.

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Today, I spotted some old friends, a pair of black swans, and they have two young cygnets. They were too far away to get a good photo. Another day, perhaps. For the last two weeks, I seem to have done nothing but work on taxes. And our migration pattern saddles us with too many winter days and long winter nights, so the arrival of Spring is very welcome. Even in September.

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