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Soup of This Day #393: I’m Going Home To Where The River Runs Dry

September 17, 2014

John Street, Beverley
Looking back down the placid John Street, the main thoroughfare in Beverley, Western Australia. If you were to make your way down that road, in the same direction as we’re gazing, you’d end up crossing the Avon River – Photo: Longworth72, 2014. Image cropped by Longworth72.

At least a part of this post was written in the Western Australian wheatbelt town of Beverley.

I grew up there.

Technically I grew up in a lot of places, and maybe you could argue that I’m still growing up approaching 40, a fair while after the generally acknowledged ‘growing up’ period has supposed to have ended. Semantics aside though, Beverley is where I did the bulk of my formal schooling and it’s where my mum died, and so it’s where I feel like I first confronted the wonderful and sometimes harsh realities of life. That makes for a decent amount of growing up and so I credit Beverley as the nursery for adult me.

Adult me doesn’t live in Beverley now – It’s been 22 or so years since I left and I’ve been back maybe a handful of times since. That irregularity of visits is not because I think ill of the place though – Far from it – I have a lot of great memories attached to that part of the world. Those memories though, however wonderful, are a part of the problem for me.

There’s too many of them.

I can’t walk a metre in that town without being swamped by a surge of memories. They foam over me such that even the best ones can send me tumbling, the sheer volume and pace at which they cascade being too much for sure mental footing.

It helps a little if I close my eyes, but not that much – The smells and sounds are still vividly familiar. Plus, my memory is pretty accurate from when I lived there, but the local government of Beverley has moved some stuff around across the past 22 years. Too solid stuff like bins and lamp poles.

So mostly I just have to let the memories wash over me, see if I can’t stand my ground or failing that, ride the flow. Almost like I’m back rafting down the Avon River.

The Avon runs through Beverley and through most of my memories. Our house was not much more than a stone’s throw from the eastern bank of that river and so it had a constant presence in my life. I rode or walked over the main and only bridge in Beverley on the way to school or town most days – Almost all of Beverley’s businesses and facilities sit on the western side of the Avon.

Bridges though can lead to a distant experience – Sure I looked down often but mostly I was hurrying to get to the other side. At other times though, mostly weekends, I got to forge a closer bond with the waters of the Avon. Those days saw us holding a Huckleberry Finn like relationship with that river. We built cubby houses on and made of it’s banks, played a myriad of adventures through it’s attendant bushland, and even rafted down it when there was enough of a flow to satisfy the draft of some old drums lashed to planking.

That latter experience was hardly a whitewater thrill-ride though. The Avon is still fairly young when it passes through Beverley and there’s hardly any elevation drop to call on, so the flow is generally marginal and placid. The challenges then are mostly more about portaging your cobbled-together vessel across stretches of sticky grey sludge, whilst avoiding the many mosquitoes that plague the stagnant oxbows. It’s not so much a lark with adrenaline as it is a toil with histamine.

The Avon does pick up in ferocity further downstream. At Northam, roughly some 70kms to the north of Beverley by road, the river takes a hook turn towards the west and, gathering volume from tributaries, heads for a descent down the Darling Escarpment and on to the Swan Coastal Plain. The greater flow and that drop, together with a fair smattering of granite outcrops, makes for a rapid and rock filled journey. That turbulent stretch is less suited to rafting and more for agile and shallow-drafted craft.

Like kayaks.

Kayaks that don’t have me in them.

I need to disclose at this point an unreasonable fear of kayaks. I see lots of people enjoying kayaks but I can’t do that.

The very concept of a kayak freaks me out. So much so that I’ve never tried one out, not even on those calm stretches of the Avon in Beverley. This is largely because I have a traditionalist understanding of these nimble watercraft – In my mind they’re not much more than an extension of your legs – A thin skin and frame rendition of a merperson’s tail that is tightly bound to the very un-merperson-like upper torso of a regular, air-breathing human.

This arrangement is all fine and good for paddling down a river, as long as you keep the kayak beneath you. This latter requirement though surely wouldn’t be easy for me to fulfil – Kayaks have a very shallow draft and a seeming subsequent and wilful propensity to roll.

This is where it gets awkward for me. Because once the kayak has rolled, I’d be under water, still tightly locked in to the craft above me. This, for learned kayakers, is no big deal – There’s manoeuvres they can undertake that will quickly right their ship, restoring them to the air-rich environment we all like to enjoy.

I however, am very sure that I’d find a way to fuck that up, and then I’d drown.

In my defence I’d like to point out that the kayak rolling thing looks complicated. In fact in researching this piece I found a video which promised to address the common errors encountered when rolling a kayak.

That’s common errors, plural.

That there is more than one possible common error is alarming. I’m not even touching yet on the uncommon errors and it turns out I’ve already got enough to go on with. Personally, I feel like the main error I could make would be to get into the kayak in the first place and with the expectation that the bloody thing was not going to roll over on me.

Because it would and I’d be under water, trying to remember all of the common errors I should not be making. My kayak wouldn’t be offering up any help either. This is even more disconcerting – Call me weak, but I like my watercraft to ship some of the responsibility for keeping me above the surface.

That’s just not a kayak though and so I’m not planning on getting into one any time soon. I do though have a lot of respect for those who do – Seriously, it looks like they’re having fun and the professional paddlers display an astonishing ability to harness every eddy and swirl.

You get to see this skill on display regularly on the Avon, but nowhere more so than during the annual whitewater endurance race, the Avon Descent.

The Avon Descent doesn’t take place in Beverley, instead starting it’s 124km run in Northam. From there, across two days, competitors battle some serious rapids on the run down the Avon and into the Swan, finishing on the latter river and at the fringes of Perth’s greater metropolitan area.

Around half of the competitors take to this challenge with a paddle craft, such as a kayak. The rest attempt the run in flat-bottomed powerboats. Which would be ok for me except that I probably should widen my disclosure beyond kayaks…

I’m really not good with powerboats either.

I have given them more than a go than kayaks, although not by much. I have in fact been in control of a powered boat just the once in my life, during a Beverley Amateur Swimming Club day out.

It was a very short period of control and it ended with me getting stranded out on a park pond. I was in a tiny single-person bumper boat with a lawnmower engine that I’d flooded and could not get restarted, despite what seemed like everybody in the park calling out increasingly frustrated instructions. Eventually and humiliatingly, I was rescued by a pissed-off park worker.

Not all of the memories are wonderful.

I’m Going Home To Where The River Runs Dry

  1. When I was about 12 or so I was out on a small boat in the Chesapeake Bay near Maryland when out of nowhere dark storm clouds gathered and lightning quickly became the word most often uttered as we raced back to port. It left quite an “impression” on me and to this day the only boats I have been on have been securely anchored to the shore. I did take the ferry across from New Jersey to New York City and back a couple of times…with one eye towards the sky.

    • Boating while securely anchored to shore sounds about right to me. Maybe dry-dock even, and that’s in fine weather.

      Thanks for reading and commenting – The Sports Attitude take is ever worth a read.

      • On a totally unrelated note I somehow fhave found myself encapsulated within a Champions League Football Pool where I have to pick the winners/ties of each round’s games. The first round I went 6-10. I fear I may have to adjust my strategy as I picked ties that ultimately were wins for one squad or the other- you get a win for picking a tie (that in itself is fascinating). I’m not used to picking tie games in sports. Thank you for your kind words about Sportsattitudes commenting on the quality of the soup being served…always tasty.

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