13 March, 2013

Heartbreak Ridge

Merri Station, circa October 2012
Okay, that was exhausting.  Three working bees in short order over October and November finally delivered a life-sustaining outcome for our plantings on the North-East site, the Indigenous Garden.  The boulders are now in place and looking stunningly megalithic. Grasses, ground covers and small shrubs are safely tucked into a thick layer of mulch. All this was made possible with a generous Community Grant from the City of Darebin - many thanks!

When we started out this site was a large pan of what we thought was highly compacted, sandy soil.  We got a rotary hoe through this, then covered this with a layer of the compost from SITA and let it settle for a good six months to develop some nutritious topsoil.  However, when it came to cultivating we found this was not enough - our volunteer gardeners were downing spades and picking up mattocks and crowbars to break into the subsoil, which remained highly compacted and composed of sand, clay and shale to boot.  Truly hard going.  It took two working bees to get everything planted and yet another to apply extra mulch to give the plants a fighting chance in the coming summer.  While it's always fun to work together, we really asked a lot of our weary volunteers this time - thank you everyone for your dedication and persistence in getting this difficult site sorted out.

But what about the rabbits, George

Getting Started
Matt's Production Line
Matt's Slave Labour

take that, you bloody ground


get in there, you bloody plants

Still smiling

Thanks to Stationeer Anna Deleeuw Poole for the photos, and also to Matt White for watering and watering and watering the new babies for days on end with about three or four hoses linked up from his property to the new plantings.  Over this "angry summer" we've contracted Noleema Services to water this site every two weeks, with Darebin City Council helping out with extra watering in between.  Thank you to both.  It's been a difficult summer for so much plantlife in Victoria - if they're not on fire, they're dying of thirst - so it's good to still see these new plantings showing a bit of green among the brown!  Watering regime notwithstanding, it seems a testament to landscaping with our drought-tolerant local species. We'll have to wait until late Autumn to get a sense of which plantings definitively survived the long, dry, hot spell and organise replantings as required.  Meanwhile, the more established native plants in areas to the west of the line remain green and lush with very little rain all summer.

Meanwhile, we've had some progress on our archaeological finds: looks like the "wheel" we unearthed was a "ship tank lid" built by the Burney & Co foundry in Millwall, London, which operated in the 1860's and also from 1890 to the early 1900's.

Ship Tank Lid. As New. Still in Box.
Here's one we prepared earlier.

According to an incendiary article by internationally lauded Director of the Unitied Nations Observatory on Ship Tank Research, Michael Pearson, whimsically titled From Ship to the Bush: Ship Tanks In Australia, Ship Tanks were used for ".. the purpose of containing, enveloping, preserving and securing from damage the several articles of merchandise and other goods, whether in the solid or in the liquid form, which are taken on board ships and other vessels to be transported or consumed..."  Basically, it's a late Victorian era upgrade of the humble barrel.  It is like a barrel designed by Iron Man if Iron Man had lived in 1893.  I am not sure what sort of barrel Iron Man would make today but it would probably fight crime.

"The author, Michael Pearson, a heritage management consultant based in Canberra, has been intrigued by these objects for many years, having found them adapted for many purposes including dog kennels, water tanks, coolers for whale oil, eucalyptus distilleries, reinforcing collars for mine shafts, and perhaps most poignantly in the form of the beche de mer boiler used in 1881 by Mrs Watson as a boat for her escape from Aboriginal attack on Lizard Island. Mrs Watson died in her attempt." A cautionary tale indeed.

On removal from freight ships at the docks, Ship Tanks would have been further transported along train freight routes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Their lids were likely used as frisbee-like projectiles by burly, shirtless, irritated stevedores fending off the zany rail-side antics of local children and Irish clergymen.  Thanks to Roger Sykes and Heather Hesterman - and Michael Pearson, wherever you are - for the fruits of your stunning Ship Tank research!

Still no news on the bell.  The Railway Museum drew a blank too.  Oh, well... it's a bell.