To the trig and back

Once the rain cleared yesterday morning, Tilly the blackdog and I headed out for a longer walk.  She deserved it, and I needed it too.  We drove over to Narrabundah Hill, at the top of Duffy, an old haunt from the days of blackdog version 1.0.

When we walked there, way back in the early 1990s, it was a pine forest, dense and dark with hidden corners and large puddles.  Entering from the Mount Stromlo end of the forest, we would walk along the flat path, past the wild blackberries and the cattle grazing in the paddocks over the fence.  Once we’d rounded the corner, been blasted by the wind coming up from the south, and taken in the vista of the Tidbinbillas , Whitby (version 1.0) would take off – she was an excellent off-lead dog, who rarely went anywhere too far away … unless there was a puddle to loll about in.  And that was where she always headed.  Straight down the hill and splash, flat out on her tummy, drinking the muddy water.

All that was well and good, unless she had the kong in her mouth at the same time.

Kong

Because kongs have a hole in their top and bottom, and guess what?  They don’t float.  So if she landed in the middle of the puddle, well, finding the kong again was a job for “super partner” and the rake.  The next day.  Early, the next day.  Ah, the memories.

But these days, we head into the forest from the south, near the water tower.  The vegetation is slowly recovering, although it’s no longer a working pine forest after the devestation the 2003 bushfires caused. But it is still well loved by walkers, with or without dogs, and like us, people were making the most of the sunshine returning.

Trees on Narrabundah Hill

Leaves eaten

Charred

The wind was up, whipping my face, and we did a good hour, heading south and then west in a loop up to the trig station.

Wide view trig

Once up there, I realise it’s been several years since I was there last, and the view has opened up with all the pine trees gone.

View to molonglo

The new suburbs of the Molonglo development fall away in the distance, and there are new buildings up at the astronomy observatory on Mount Stromlo.

Jessie 2

But at the base of the trig station tower is a little box, bearing the name Jessie, and the message “You were truly man’s best friend”, with a collar inside. Evidence that it’s a special place to many.

Tilly and trig

I give Tilly the blackdog a special pat – she’s a bit annoyed at all this camera-ing and wants to head off .  But I pause to take in the whole view again before we head back down the hill.

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Batfink and the wallaroo

Our little black kelpie, Tilly, has big ears for such a small dog.  They remind me of the cartoon character, Batfink, whose ears were proportionally larger than normal and sat on the side of his bat’s head like giant shells.

Bf&karate  Silly Tilly

Batfink and his sidekick Karate                                                   You can see the similarities … Tilly in watching mode

Batfink was a spoof on the Batman cartoons in the 60s; Batfink’s ears and wings of steel were the tools of his rescuing trade. I wanted to call Tilly Batfink in recognition of their physical similarity, but I lost that argument.  Nevertheless, Tilly’s ears are like super-sonic sonar receptors, swivelling independently, checking the sound-scape constantly.  It’s a very valuable attribute, I guess, when there are sheep to be herded, although not so much at 2am when there are pesky possums are on the loose outside, and she is stuck inside in the laundry.

Last Sunday morning she and I did one of our regular walks, looping along the ridge beneath Mount Arawang. The Cooleman Ridge Reserve was devastated by the 2003 bushfires, and its recovery has been steady, although the vegetation is still pretty scrubby.  I suspect it was always like that, but my memory may have distorted the reality.

A few years ago, a lot of work was done on the drainage systems leading off from the mountain … well, it’s a hill really, but now the walking trails are wide and easily shared with runners and cyclists.  The vista is wide too, looking out to the north of the city as you head west along the ridge.

View from Cooleman Ridge

Around the back of the hill, the views south to Tuggeranong and then to the Brindabellas are breathtaking, and I particularly like it in winter.  Sometimes you can see dustings of snow, and as you turn the corner to head south, the wind whips up and is bracing to say the least. It’s where I go to clear my head.

The wind is less bracing in summer, and more like an actual wave of heat.  But the hour long walk I do with Tilly gives her a bit of a leg stretch, and it provides me with another way of doing a cardio workout.

We rarely do a walk without seeing some kind of wild life, with loads of cockatoos, rosellas, magpie larks and magpies, and if we’re late enough in the evening at dusk, (we’re rarely early enough in the morning!) we will see large mobs of kangaroos, wallabies and sometimes wallaroos that have come back to the mountain over the last ten years.

Rosella cooleman ridge Kangaroos on Cooleman Ridge

Tilly’s sensory system goes into overload; she sets a pace that is steady, pulling on the lead, as she tries to take it all in.

Sunday’s walk started out in the late morning and I was forcing myself to go the long way, trying to shed some of the Christmas cheer.  Ice cream on several successive days is really a step too far.  The walk was uneventful, except for noticing the height of the grasses, especially the wild oats, which were taller than the small kelpie.  The birds and ‘roos were away in the shade – only we mad dogs were out in the midday sun.

We came down off the ridge path via the steps, taking our time as I nursed my various ailments.  Once back on the path though, Tilly became very attentive to something ahead on the side of the hill.  Her ears pointed upwards – very little swivelling – and her head slightly moved from side to side, in full alert mode.  I eventually noticed her interest but could not for the life of me see what she could sense.  My head voice sounded more like Sonny in Skippy rather than Batfink. What’s up Til, what is it?  What can you see? My guess is that she probably couldn’t see anything much, but she could hear and smell something …

As we moved along the path around the side of the hill, I saw a small kangaroo bound away further up the hillside, and then stop and watch us.  Nothing unusual, although it seemed to be by itself, which was odd.  As I was looking at it, I saw something move near the fence, about twenty metres below it, but above us.  We stopped, and it moved again.  As we approached the path’s edge, I could see that a creature was caught in the wire fence.

My heart sank.  I like to look at creatures, and I am more than happy to share the great outdoors with them.  But I am less than keen on getting close to them, particularly if they are scared.

We went down into the ditch between the path and the hillside, and scrambled back up the other side, Tilly leading the way.  I tied her lead to a nearby fence post and went to investigate.  Sure enough, a joey had caught both of its legs in between the wire and was lying on the ground upside down, trying to pull itself free.  But it was caught fast and there was no way I could separate the strands to release it.  The animal struggled and struggled, and had obviously been there for some time.  It was a hot day, and its eyes were glazing over.  Its body was reacting to the stress both of me and the dog being so close, as well as its situation.  I don’t think I’ve felt so helpless for a long time.

I glanced up and down the path – some other people with three dogs had been walking on the track earlier, but they had gone.  I could go down into the houses that back onto the reserve, but was reticent to do so.  Just then, a woman on a bike appeared, and I hailed her down.  Her phone had internet access and she kindly looked up the ACT Government site (132281 – won’t forget that number) to call for help.  Even between the two of us, we couldn’t move the wires.  I got through to the rangers on my phone, and they thanked us for reporting it and promised to be there as soon as they could, but couldn’t give me a timeframe.  The other lady headed off.  Before I left, I tied to a tree the empty bag in which we carry the doggy-do, to mark the spot, and wrote a RANGERS HERE sign in the dirt on the path.  Not quite up to the rescue standard of Skippy and Batfink though.

I wept all the way home.

Partly because of the animal’s suffering, partly because of my own inability to help it, and partly because I didn’t think the rangers could get there in time to save it. They have so many priorities and resources are tight.  I wept for its struggle, and for its mother, which stayed near by the whole time we were there.

Thankfully, though, I was wrong.  The rangers rang me about an hour later, saying that they had been able to find and free the joey – it was a wallaroo, a species whose numbers are low in the ACT, so I was relieved by their success.  It had been well enough to bound away with its mother, and the rangers had been unable to catch it, so hopefully it will be okay.

Tilly had sat quietly through the whole episode, not a peep out of her – her super-sonic sonar radar had helped the little wallaroo, and that was enough for today.  Really, there was a walk to be finished.