Where does our backyard end? The unwary burglar or, more plausibly, brush turkey fetishist leaping over the back fence and finding themselves falling off the small but perfectly formed cliff between our place and our downhill neighbours might think the answer obvious. But clearly, property boundaries don’t mean a lot to the brush turkeys or the bowerbirds. As far as they’re concerned, our backyard is just a part of Berowra Valley National Park with better snacks.
And since our yard is, in essence, a part-time storm drain, you could say that this is where our backyard ends:
Sometimes the view from the deck seems like a theatre backdrop, an artful two dimensional screen behind our suburban dramas. Every evening, the cockies, wheeling and screeching, burst through the scenic backcloth. Last weekend, a bit more quietly (bar the kayak-onto-roofrack related cursing) I did the same, plunging into the dawn mist towards the very bottom of the garden, the watery end point of our backyard.
In the 1990s, Berowra Creek was not a good place to be a fish. Sewage outflows from waterside communities at Dusty Hole and Berowra Waters and the landlubber suburbs to the south meant algal blooms, brick red water and floating fish. As the cheery Hornsby Shire Biodiversity Plan ten years back noted “Some parts of the tributary creeks in the Berowra Creek catchment feature weed invasion, garden plants and waste, streambed siltation, rubbish and gross pollutants from stormwater drains, bank erosion, undercutting, tree death and poor water quality” (2006, 28). It’s enough to make a gardener think long and hard about what might wash down the hill in the next heavy rain.
Thankfully there’s a whole lot less nitrogen going into the creek these days largely thanks to better poo processing. I don’t have a lot of interest in fish. I don’t eat them, they make rubbish cuddly pets and they lay very tiny eggs far too infrequently. But even to my disinterested eye, the backwaters and mangrove flats of the estuary look like fish paradise. Okay, fish paradise probably doesn’t feature stingrays, cormorants or osprey, but you get my point.
Fishermen get up earlier than kingfishers, it seems. People who say they’re “up with the birds” or even, in that eloquent Australianism “up before sparrow fart”, are clearly lying through their teeth. The welcome swallows were barely out of the fluffy slippers and the ducks were still brushing their hair and cleaning their teeth, but the fishermen of the Hawkesbury were already out on the water, lurking in quiet bays or drifting mid-channel like tinny Mary Celestes.
The feathered fisherfolk only seemed to appear after the mist began to rise. I’m not sure whether I can attribute that to poor avian night vision or my water spattered multifocals. You’ve got to assume the rufous night heron can see in the dark, but I only saw it scoop up a take-away in a kind of disgruntled way, after some annoying canoeist with an inadequate zoom lens made a nap in the mangroves untenable, and that was long after sunrise.
For all the wildlife in these parts, that sharp edged snap of an azure kingfisher sparkling in flight is as much beyond me as a decent crop of salad potatoes, it seems. But I’m not going to complain. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen plenty of boats with girls’ names, but I haven’t seen too many Rubys, Calistas or Beverleys actually messing about in boats. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden and there are certainly plenty of fish, but there don’t seem to be quite as many fishwives. Seems like it’s a rare privilege to be Her Outdoors.