27 April 2010


Friday 23 April 2010
Thornbury to Heidelberg
18km / Approx 5 hours

Many of the Melbourne walks that I enjoy are those that run alongside the creeks and rivers. In part this is because the organic, snaking lines disrupt the city and suburban grids, both spatially and atmospherically – on this walk, for instance, we saw half a dozen Australian White Ibises stalking quietly through the scrub beside the Yarra, whilst only a couple of hundred metres away cars hurtled past on the Eastern Freeway. However, another thing I like about these arteries of greenness is that in following them, we set our sights (either explicitly or implicitly) on the sources of the waterways and trace them backwards through the suburbs. If we follow them far enough, we can walk right out of the city.

Walking out of the city is a concept I’ve been turning over in my mind recently, as I’ve been pondering what I like about walking in Melbourne, where I’ve enjoyed walking from and to, and whether there is a point (or more than one) on each walk that marks a shift in atmosphere or perspective. It is something I hope to explore a little more in a series of walks and blog posts that trace a meandering line from Thornbury to Warburton. If you look at a map, you will see that our destination is almost due east from our starting point. However, our route takes us down the Merri Creek and upstream along the Yarra, bringing us to Heidelberg Station at the end of the first day, and Eltham Station at the end of the second. From there, we cut south across the river and walk beside Mullum Mullum Creek and through the suburbs to Ringwood Station. At Ringwood our walk takes what looks like the greenest route on paper to Lilydale Station, and then the last section follows the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail, a two-day walk that rejoins and loosely follows the Yarra River from Woori Yallock to Warburton. I believe that in most definitions, this is an exercise in walking out of the city, even though does not start in the CBD! The walk begins in the inner northern suburbs and will end over 100km later at the very edges of Greater Melbourne, and I hope it will give me the opportunity not only to enjoy walking and (re)discovering places, but to contemplate what it means to walk out of the city.

walking We are (celso gitahy)

When thinking of walking out of the city, a whole host of other questions arises. Some of those that fascinate me centre on a consideration of what ‘the city’ is, and also what it is not – that is to say, the ‘other’ against which ‘the city’ is measured. Is walking out of the city merely a matter of crossing the street from the CBD, Melbourne 3000, to East Melbourne 3002, or from an ‘inner east’ suburb to ‘outer east’? Does it mean moving from Melbourne City Council to Moreland City Council, or can we measure it only when we cross the line between city council and shire council (between Knox City Council and Yarra Ranges Shire Council, for example, or Whittlesea City Council and Mitchell Shire Council)? Is it the place on the walks from Brunswick West to Gellibrand Hill where the path suddenly leaves the territory of the MFB (Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board) and enters CFA (Country Fire Authority) land? My reason for posing these questions is not to seek a definitive answer but to show that there are myriad administrative ways to define where ‘the city’ is and where it ends, and that very few of them say anything much about how either side of that boundary feels or how it might be to cross such a boundary while walking.

There are other ways of defining the city, too, and they may be utterly personal, incredibly complex and/or vague: perhaps the end of the metropolitan train service is the end of ‘the city’, and anywhere reached by VLine is not Melbourne; the borders of the city might be defined by streets (Park St or Brunswick Road, Hoddle St or Punt Rd) or highways and freeways (the Western Ring Road, Eastlink between Ringwood and Seaford); maybe walking out of the city means leaving the pages of the Melways, or perhaps out of the city is anywhere without a clutter of buildings, so stepping off St Kilda Rd into the Royal Botanic Gardens is walking out of the city in the same way as leaving the streets of Altona for the Altona Coastal Park or plunging from Belgrave Station into Sherbroke Forest; maybe for you being out of the city might mean being above, looking down on the hustle and bustle from the top stories of the Rialto or Eureka towers; you might define the city by the sound of cars or the sound of trams; and while it might seem obvious at first, when you think about walking out of the city, is the St Kilda foreshore your destination or only the starting point of your journey?

gravel path and adolescent trees

During this walk from Thornbury to Heidelberg, D and I talked a lot about why we walk and what we enjoy about it, and perhaps I will recount this discussion (or others like it) at a later time. However, one thing we both noticed as we were walking was how quickly and easily we were walking. We wondered if this was partly to do with familiarity: we’d walked almost every part of this route before. I’ve wandered the first three-and-a-bit kilometres along the creek to North Fitzroy several times just in the last three weeks on the way to various appointments and brunch dates, so it feels almost workaday to me – though last time I walked that way I saw a dozen or so New Holland Honeyeaters (I think) near Ceres, the new bike path around Brunswick Velodrome opened only in the last month, and last week G and I watched Bell Miners making nests, so it’s not boring by any stretch of the imagination! Just east of St George’s Rd, D and I used the newly opened pedestrian and cycle bridge across the Merri Creek, and for the first time found the way up to Park St to join the Capital City Trail instead of having to jump the fence onto the path near Rushall Station! But apart from the birdlife, the leaves of introduced species turning autumn-yellow, the water level of the creek – the natural variations that are best appreciated when walking – the curves of the path to Yarra Bend Park and Fairfield boathouse are well known to us and our legs ate up the distance.

ooh! a before photo!

tiny red berries on the merri creek

d near rushall station

one of my favourite bits of the creek

alien clouds, th westfield reserve

After crossing the Yarra on the pipe bridge, we took our favoured route – the dirt track beside the river, rather than the path that climbs to the top of the hill. Yarra Bend Park is always something of a surprise to me, a corner of bush and scrubland tucked away like a fold in the handkerchief of Melbourne where, if you didn’t make a specific point of visiting, you might assume that Clifton Hill or Collingwood just merges straight into Kew. I noticed that it’s a bit over 15km to walk here from Federation Square along the Main Yarra Trail – that would feel like a walk out of the city to me! There are new ‘gates’ across the path to keep cyclists to the tracks they’re meant to be using, but someone else was annoyed either that they couldn’t fit their pram through when they were out running, or that they had to slow down to get through.

d is the centre of the tension

the track by the river

someone is pissed at parks victoria

We stopped for an apple and a handful of scroggin at about the 10km mark, in a cool and remarkably tranquil nook below the Eastern Freeway, before striking out for Burke Rd. We didn’t have a map, which is unusual for me, but we knew roughly where we were – after all, we only had to follow the trail!

The path crosses the river on the footbridge near Burke Rd, and we were soon crunching along a wide gravel track with the river and trees to our right, and a small plain of grass on the left between us and the genteel suburban homes of Ivanhoe East. For me, this was the moment that the walk changed. But what was different? The most obvious change is that we were no longer squeezed up near the freeway, but that doesn’t account for all of it, as the path only followed the freeway for three of the previous twelve kilometres. Let me provide an incomplete list of changes: the green corridor (as Melbourne Water would call it) widened, the sky seemed bigger; the space that opened up around the path meant that the wind felt fresher; we caught the surprising sight of an occasional horse in the paddocks beside the trail; there were more non-native deciduous trees crowned in red and yellow leaves; the path turned north (perhaps only something that affects people like me with a strong sense of direction); the information boards alongside the trail with reproductions of Heidelberg School paintings done nearby reminded me of high school art classes, going to see a Frederick McCubbin exhibition with my dad, and the links to history that seem stronger when embedded in place; the surface underfoot was gravel instead of concrete or asphalt, which changed the feel and the sound of our walking. This new atmosphere lasted for the 3km between Burke Rd and Banksia St. We stopped at some picnic tables and ate lunch in order to soak up the atmosphere: roast pumpkin, potato, onion and garlic with salsa brava style sauce; cup of tea from our visit to Betty’s in Yorkshire; Lindt dark chocolate and nuts. We watched the clouds rolling closer, and wondered if we would get rained on (we didn't - it started bucketing down as soon as we got on the bus, and stopped just before we got off).


autumn in eaglemont

On reaching Heidelberg half an hour later, we climbed the little hill above Heidelberg park and drank the rest of our tea while looking east over the suburbs. In the distance we could see the blue silhouette of the hills, the steep slope where they dive down to the Yarra Valley. Somewhere further along there is Warburton, which we will reach after walking another hundred or so kilometres along our crooked path out of the city.

the after shot at ivanhoe station


  1. "we caught the surprising sight of an occasional horse in the paddocks beside the trail"

    Oh, those occasional horses - they are so surprising!

  2. I wish it were easier to walk anywhere but the city here. Past the north end of Santa Monica are mountains and canyons (Topanga, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, etc) but it's a bit too far to walk there and then continue on (especially for Carla). It's more the kind of place you have to drive to and then walk. :-/

  3. @dB - just ONE occasional horse, seen surprisingly many times!

    @Travis - yeah, there are a lot of really nice walking places just outside of Melbourne, which can only really be reached by car (PT will get you there, but you'd mostly want to be staying overnight to get a decent amount of walking done). Luckily there are also some lovely outskirt places (like the Dandenongs) that can be reached by metro PT. Are there any buses you could catch to Topanga and then walk?

    There's something really satisfying, though, about stepping out of your door and walking somewhere. This is one of the reasons, I think, that I've come around to walking in the suburbs - and it's very fortunate that when you start looking there are actually some really lovely walks to be had in Melbourne.

  4. I do enjoy walking in the city. This is where I was born and raised and these are the streets I rode my bike around day in and day out when I was a kid. I love Santa Monica (Los Angeles in general, but of course especially my city) and that didn't change when I had a car, but one thing I noticed as soon as I started walking more (even before we went totally car-free) is that I felt so much closer to my city. I don't necessarily want to be closer to the people (I am happy to never talk to anyone!), but it is just a feeling of being closer to the city itself.

    And having written that up, maybe I will write a post about walking and being car-free form Three Weeks for Dreamwidth. :)

    As for Topanga, there are no buses, I don't think. I should check just in case, though.

  5. I love this post. Your writing is so lyrical and musing, wandering along like a path beside a creek. It's a welcome rest from all the hard theory and political blogs I mostly read.

    I've been thinking about walking a lot more since talking to you about it. Not walking like you do, but just getting around. Sometimes (usually when I'm heading out of Flinders St Station for some reason), I have this moment of realisation, of amazement, at the capacity of my body to move, to transport itself.

    I'm not a walker, though. I'm slow and I get left behind and my feet hurt and I find it frustrating (which might have something to do with when and why I walk as well as my physical limitations).

    I do love my bike for reasons similar what you've described. It feels like flying. I love the spaces it makes accessible, and the way it changes my orientation to the city.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, you two! Travis, I’m looking forward to reading your DW post, and did you find any buses? Sizeoftheocean, thanks for the compliment – it means a lot, as I’ve been trying to find a way to discuss this combination of bodily experience (phenomenology?), feeling (affect?) and critical thought (theory?) without being too heavy duty, but also without being too lightweight/patronising (“Walking is fun! Tee hee!”).

    I like that both of you commented on the way walking (or riding) changes your connection with your respective cities – the closeness Travis describes, the different orientation and accessibility that sizeoftheocean mentions. It’s quite difficult to write about, in a way (at least I find it to be difficult): how best to describe the way a path unfurls in front of you, the slowness of your immersion in the landscape, the familiarity and unpredictability that seems to happen on a smaller scale while also being indicative and making you aware of much larger things (sizeoftheocean, it reminds me of SYNECHDOTES from that workshop)? How best to describe it in words rather than images, prose rather than poetry? Is it even possible?

    You both also bring up good points about accessibility, which is a really important aspect often overlooked in discussions about walking. I can’t be bothered finding the quote right now, but Rebecca Solnit (in Wanderlust) talks about the history of walking for leisure of being the history of having time, space and freedom for walking – and I think to that we should add the physical ability and desire to walk. Hopefully this is an aspect I’ll be able to explore further in later posts. but for now, FOOD AND POIROT!

  7. * Synecdoche, sorry! Clearly got confused with anecdotes, there!

  8. Unfortunately, it's just as I thought. There is a bus that goes up Pacific Coast Hwy, but nothing that goes into the hills (and those roads don't have sidewalks, so walking from PCH to hiking areas doesn't seem likely).

    I did remember there is also Griffith Park, which is in the Santa Monica Mtns, too, but to the east. I know that is accesible by bus because that's where the LA Zoo is and we took the bus there once when Carla first moved out here. We may have to try that some time.

  9. damn. but that would be cool if you can get out there - take some photos for us! :D

  10. For those following this thread, we have a second post up about this walk/theme.