1 July 2010


Tuesday 15 June 2010
Eltham to Ringwood
24km / Approx 7 hours

Having recently walked for miles in the bush of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, I was prepared to be disappointed with this walk – I was half-expecting it to run through housing developments, with the Mullum Mullum Creek resembling the concrete-drain sections of Moonee Ponds Creek. Not, I hasten to add, that this would be a bad thing, just that I think I secretly wanted my walk out of the city to have a neat progression from urban to rural, and I expected this section to defy my preconceived narrative needs! . . . It did – but, delightfully, not in the ways I anticipated. For example, I did not expect to walk past a group of kangaroos just after the confluence of the Mullum Mullum and the Yarra, I didn’t expect the stretch of the creek down to Tindals Road to be quite so forested, I didn’t expect the roadside walking to be quite so hilly and quite so nerve-wracking (no footpaths!), I didn’t expect the 100 Acres reserve to feel so ‘natural’ and so large. I certainly didn’t expect what we saw of Ringwood to be so unlike the Ringwood I’d built in my mind – the freeway, Maroondah Highway, Eastland and the railway station were packed together within a kilometre at the end of the walk, and what we saw of the rest of the suburb was full of quiet courts and leafy streets, with unexpected views of the Dandenongs as we turned a corner or topped a rise.

Getting closer to the Dandenongs - it feels like we're really making progress!

One thing that I really enjoy about walking is the real physical connection it produces with the surrounding landscape, and the way it can invite a re-think of the way in which our environments are structured and imagined. I’ve been paying particular attention to the ‘feeling’ of the places we’ve been passing through on this walk out of the city and asking myself why they feel the way they do. Is this spot easily defined as part of one council or another? How do we conceptualise these kinds of boundaries? What kinds of buildings are there – flats or apartments, houses, light industrial – how old are they, and how big are the blocks of land? Are there other people around, and, if so, what are they doing? How does the presence of a river or creek change the feeling of a place? What can I see from here, and (sometimes more importantly) what can’t I see? Which sounds and smells are dominant? Are there signs of birds or domestic animals? Am I reassessing my ideas about this suburb (Ringwood!) or place, or even about the city itself?

machinery returning to nature
Unexpected tractor carcass, making me wonder exactly how far from the city we were!

We started in Eltham, and I grabbed a coffee before we set off along Diamond Creek. This area is beginning to seem quite familiar, even though this is really only the third time we've walked here. I remember feeling similarly about Belgrave the third or fourth time we headed out to walk in Sherbrooke Forest, and it makes me wonder how long it takes other people to feel familiar with a place? Not to know it in that way that only really comes with years of treading the same paths (and even then, perhaps the longer you walk in one place the more variable and unpredictable and different it might become - I couldn't say for sure!), but just to get that comfortable feeling of, "Oh yes, here I am again".

Old fire bell, Eltham CFA
I got a couple of shots of the old CFA bell this time.

Smith, Phillips & Dawson bell, Eltham CFA
You can read more about it here.

We trundled off past the (full size) trestle bridge and over the miniature train tracks down to the Yarra, and crossed at the footbridge. From there we turned left, heading along the boardwalk into completely new territory (for us). Not only was it a new path, but we'd forgotten to bring our map! Again! Considering how prepared we like to be, and considering my slight obsession with cartography, this walk out of the city has so far been almost map-less. I recited what I could remember to D, and drew up a sketch map from memory, and we decided that our first tactic would be to ask people for directions, and our second would be to consult Google Maps on D's phone (if we could get it to work). There is something both freeing and constrictive about not having a map, I find: in some ways it really encourages a closer connection to the physical elements of walking (the topography, the roads and signs on the way, your body's own way of measuring distances and times) and with other people (asking for directions, for example), whilst also averting the mundaneness of knowing exactly where you are on (what in this case would be) the familiar grid of the Melways; in other ways it means not having the ability to change your route, to head down a path with the knowledge that it will eventually join up to the route you'd planned (on a 24km walk I really don't want to come to a dead-end some half an hour down the track), to get a wider impression of the area in which you're walking (what suburb you're in, what's going on over that hill just there). There are things to recommend both options!

j gives this bridge (and this coffee) thumbs up
Thumbs up to the bridge and the coffee!

dan waits to cross at the miniature railway in eltham
D waiting to cross.

Miniature railway workshops and turntable thingy! (What are they called?!)

yarra from the footbridge near diamond creek
Yarra from the footbridge near Diamond Creek.

The path takes you between the Yarra and a large (organic?) apple orchard - another thing we'd never have realised was there had we not walked past it - which apparently has an organic fruit and veg market on Fridays and Saturdays (read more here). You curve around southeast to the confluence of the Yarra and the Mullum Mullum, where an information sign tells you some of the history of the place - particularly its significance to local indigenous people. Across the creek stands Pontville Homestead, Victoria's oldest pioneering residence still on its original site, and it might be a place to go back and explore later. Just a few minutes further down the track in Tikalara Park we stopped a jogger and asked for directions . . . and then noticed a mob of kangaroos lounging beside the creek! If it weren't for the pylons marching to converge upon the power station, we could almost have been on the outskirts of a country town rather than less than two hours walk from the met train. Another kilometre took us to Beasley's Nursery and Teahouse which we visited mainly for the toilet, though we ended up sitting at one of the mosaic-topped tables and having a drink because it was so inviting!

blue tractor at petty's orchard
Tractor at Petty's Orchard. I thought my dad might like this one!

Pontville Homestead
Pontville Homestead.

kangaroos (i think) in tikalara park

a pylon moot

mosaic ducks at beasley's nursery
Our table at Beasley's Nursery

The next few kilometres were extremely pleasant. We were very much in the swing of things, and the Mullum Mullum trail was easy to follow. We watched cockatoos flying through the treetops, saw a flock of rosellas or parrots or something hanging out on one verandah taking turns in the bird bath, passed a small group of people quietly planting grasses and shrubs beside the path (my guess is Friends of Mullum Mullum Valley, stopped for lunch at a well-placed picnic table. I'd imagined that this section was going to be much more like an inner-suburban creek: nice, but closely hemmed in by houses. The houses were there, for sure, but it felt a lot less suburban. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, we were so busy enjoying ourselves that we forgot to take many photos!

Nope, only kangaroos.

d taking a business call
D at our lunch spot - not at work, but they still call him!

The next section, though, was very different, and I want to take a moment to consider some of those differences. Often, I read promoters of walking saying that it's the easiest and cheapest and most accessible and environmentally friendly way of getting around or spending your leisure time or getting some exercise, and it's easy to agree. I only have to step out of my house onto an even pavement, walk a couple of minutes to the smooth bike track beside the Merri Creek, stroll down the alleyways . . . it's easy, cheap, accessible, no-carbon. Now, when I planned this route, I consulted the Melways and Google Maps (on mapmyhike.com) to trace the greenest route I could find between Eltham and Ringwood stations, but even so I knew there was going to be a couple of long sections of road-side walking. Noting that most of this was going to be in areas with a significant amount of housing – big blocks, I thought, but not exactly uncivilised – I think I assumed that there would be either sealed footpaths or informal paths alongside most of the streets. After all, it's still the city! I was wrong. Between Mullum Mullum Creek and the 100 Acres there were small stretches on unsealed tracks off the road, but most of the time we were walking on the shoulder of the road, crossing before blind corners in order to stay as safely visible as possible, backtracking and scrambling up and down cuttings to avoid dangerous bends, traipsing through weeds and grass, and picking our way along the gutters and drains.

As we made our way along Stintons Road, constantly alert for traffic, I thought again about the meaning of 'easy', and for whom and in what circumstances walking is 'accessible'. D and I agreed that this part of the walk was actually not too bad - it was interesting, there were good views, and we felt rather intrepid. But – and this is key – this is only because we are relatively fit, mobile and able-bodied, and probably also because we were determined to get to our destination (where else would we go?) by foot (because we didn’t really have another option). It is a somewhat ironic state of affairs. There we were in lush green surroundings with views over rolling hills, smatterings of bush, paddocks with horses, fresh(er) air and the sound of birds calling . . . and it was almost completely inaccessible to anyone who was not in/on a motor vehicle (cycling would also be nervewracking in some parts of this route) or who wasn’t a landowner. It was certainly not accessible to people in wheelchairs, or to anyone pushing a pram. I don’t want this post to turn into a rant or get completely bogged down in a discussion about the politics of land ownership and urban planning, but I think this is something of a paradox: people tend to think of the freedom of being out of the city, but sometimes as we get further from the city, the environment actually becomes more restrictive.

somewhere warrandyte/park orchards-ish
View from the roadside.

This amused me!

Eventually we reached the 100 Acres reserve (not the Hundred Acre Wood!), snapping a photo of the map on the information sign before we plunged in. The 100 Acres apparently used to be orchards, before the military purchased it early last century. Since the end of the second world war (I think), it has been left to re-vegetate, and it is now a public reserve. It is a really lovely spot, big enough to spend a couple of hours exploring without retracing your steps, but small enough that it would be difficult to get lost. We had a cup of tea on one of the benches scattered around the place before heading out onto Berringa Road.

white heath (Epacris impressa, I think)
Epacris impressa, I think? The white version of Pink Heath that is Victoria's floral emblem?

slightly sinking sun
In the 100 Acres reserve.

d makes tea
Time for tea!

From here, it should have been an almost straight walk south to Ringwood Station, but a wrong turn sent us on a detour, adding a kilometre or so to the distance. Luckily we weren't too pressed for time, so we enjoyed having a stickybeak at the surprisingly peaceful and attractive part of Ringwood (even if we did have to climb a hill!). All too soon - and it felt quite sudden indeed - we were crossing the freeway, passing Eastland shopping centre, and heading into the station. It was a bit of a shock after such a rural-feeling meander through suburbs that could hardly be described as suburban to find ourselves back in the thick of things.

The Freeway
A lot of people choosing driving over walking or riding . . . but considering how far it is between stations, I'm not sure I blame them.

EASTLAND (or EASTLANDS if you want to make it sound like NORFLANDS)

It took us some time to get home on the train and tram, watching the fiery sunset and dozing off. It is actually rather satisfying to think that we have walked all this distance, that we are getting somewhere, wherever that might be . . .

j & d in the 100 acres flora and fauna reserve
Us in the 100 Acres reserve

And tomorrow we are heading out to do the next leg - a section that will bring us almost to the foot of the Dandenongs!


  1. As always an enviable expedition!

    I'm impressed to see apples still being harvested in mid-winter, even under polythene. I could happily handle a fresh-off-the-tree apple right now and I've got a couple of months to wait.

  2. yes, i was surprised, too. then again, it's not like we have particularly harsh winters.