As the years have passed, the family grew to include six children. The river flows by at the foot of their garden, beyond the well-worn path where locals walk and cycle. During dry times, the river flows quietly, at only three foot deep. Other times, after storms, it can rise and rage, and everything – foot paths, shrubs and rocks will disappear. But by and large, the river made little difference to the lives of the Lang family.
That was until September 2004, when Andrea’s husband Alex (Zander to his friends) saw kayaks on display at the Royal Melbourne Show and thought to himself; ‘I could do that’. The whim led to a quick discussion which in turn led to a deposit being paid.
Despite her husband’s enthusiasm, it was Andrea who took the kayak out first. Compelled not to let the opportunity pass, she began with a tentative paddle on a mill-pond still day. Launching it from the foot of the garden was not too difficult. Straight away, she felt enlivened by being able to cast off from all that cluttered her day and demanded constant attention – a life that involves part-time teaching, as well as co-parenting her lively brood. On the river, all she had to look after was herself. So she did.
“For the first few times, I almost felt afraid of the loneliness and the exposure of the place,” says Andrea,
“….but gradually I began to look at the quiet trees and small blue kingfishers. I couldn’t remember what had kept me as busy for the last ten years that I had not found time to do this before.”
If you do something physically different, your body lets you know, as Andrea’s did. But the bruises from the tumbles in, soreness in the muscles and blisters on the hands were overridden by the lure of the solitude and
challenges held by the river.
So, twice a week, Andrea paddles seven kilometres from her home down to Pound Bend, or the longer course of around twelve kilometres from up near Kangaroo Ground back home. Both courses provide the challenge
of rocky outcrops where chutes have to be selected in order to successfully glide through with the surge of
deeper water. Not exactly ‘River Wild’ scenario, but still demanding sharp skills.
Despite being little more than a few kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, in some stretches it feels like you are in the wilderness. A sheltered, fertile place, where people have fished, children have frolicked and tribes have shared timeless stories over centuries.
The river’s banks are cluttered with untidy scrub and tall overarching river gums. Some have been wrenched from their shallow rooted moorings in recent storms and have fallen into the water. Platypi can be spotted scavenging and the bird life brings strong and consistent melody. The only signs of human intrusion are the tiny white bubbles, probably caused by pollution upstream, that congregate in stagnant places along the banks; or the occasional sighting of a house high up on the river’s banks.
Andrea has noticed her physical stamina improving, with muscles developing where none had been before. She also felt the river expanding her capacity to think and to meditate. She has found a place to recharge and return home feeling more firmly grounded than before.
“It is interesting that after so long of doing no sport, I find myself looking forward to this with what has almost become a longing. It is not only physically demanding, but presents me with a new experience revery time I do it. Afterwards I am sore, tired and yet satisfied…and I always have a new story or two to tell the kids when I come in the back door.”
Andrea’s heightened awareness of the Yarra got her thinking about who is out there protecting our river environments. When news broke of the thousand kilometres of river red gums dying along the Murray River, all she could imagine was the sheer tragedy of kayaking through that desolate landscape. So she wrote her first letter to a Member of Parliament and started to build up a file which she intends to use in her classroom teaching.
Now there are two kayaks lodged in Andrea’s carport and the older children sometimes take turns to accompany her. Zander also kayaks from time to time. Even one of the dogs loves being allowed to sit up front. There is space on this river for all.
Story by Merridie Costello