The Orbweavers | West Melbourne Swamp Song Map | ink and watercolour on paper | 2018
Early colonial journals and maps document the dramatic changes to, and environmental losses from, the West Melbourne Swamp area after European settlement. By 1850, the beautiful tidal wetlands of the Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri people, abundant with life, had become polluted with noxious industrial waste and sewerage. The meandering and flood-prone Birrarung, its central artery, had become a frustration of curves to ship navigators heading for Melbourne Port. Engineer Sir John Coode was eventually commissioned to address both the drainage and navigation problems by designing a more direct course for the Birrarung. This epic dredging and realignment project created the Coode (Shipping) Canal, Coode Island, Victoria Dock and a new confluence for the Maribyrnong and Birrarung Rivers. Dredged river silt was reused to infill the swamp to create the Spencer Street Rail Yards.
In the poem on this area included in this collection, we have attempted to explore some of this history along with our own personal connections to this place. The punctuation of the first stanza, where lines end in commas, is sharply juxtaposed with the second stanza where the lines end in full stops. The subject matter of these stanzas is designed to mirror these punctuation choices where the meandering rivers of the first stanza become subject to human intervention and control, thereby effectively stopping their movement at various points, in the second.
The third-last stanza continues the rhythmic movements as the three main lines are in iambic quatrameter, bringing the regularity of iambs to lines that replicate the movement and flow of riverine ecosystems. Here the lines form rhythmic layers as they work upward, starting at the underlay, the soil, the vegetation and then the water. The inclusion of the single word ‘drift’ at the end of this stanza breaks the regularity of the lines, but not the rhythm, as the poem returns to the human intervention of train carriages. The rhythm here suggests the power of the river ecosystems even if they are deliberately hidden under industrial tracks.