Monday, 21 September 2009

Urban non-adventure

Through the grapevine I had heard about an underground water reservoir in Paddington which had been unused for this purpose since 1899. Researching a little more I learned that it had been through a few uses since then, including a garage. Still I hoped it had decayed through time. A little later in its life (1990) sections collapsed as the park on its roof finally weighed more than the supports could hold. Immediately my mind went

Wow ... an urban wasteland, nature consuming the reservoir. Trees and plants growing wherever nutrients allowed. A snapshot of a ruined civilisation. Sydney's version mayan cities. I started wandering through a humid jungle of vines, hiding the animals as they watched me pass. The dappled light showing glimpses of fur and feather as they scurried ahead. Brushing the ferns aside so to pass my sleeve catches on the frond and a tickle of blood runs from a scratch on my forearm. I make a note to watch for that fern  in the future

In the darkness a slow dripping sound resonates through the still humid air. A startled lizard hisses and opens its mouth wide when I disturb its basking. Perched on a stone jutting from the wall at shoulder height its diminutive size being no indication of the monster lurking inside. The effects of water lapping against the stone wall has evolved the surface into contours, even in this artificial environment drought years showed as undercuts closer to the floor. What is tucked away in those recesses I am not game to fell to find out.

Ducking below the lizard range I spot a leech looping its way up my sock. Despite looking gorged on blood it progressed swiftly upwards before being flicked to the ground. Immediately contorting its body, before rising to full stretch and attaching itself to an overhanging fern so to transfer itself to the next passer by.

The rubble from the collapsed ceiling lay in piles, obviously moved by human hand to ease the passage through the maze. Slabs of brickwork creating caves, hills and valleys. Trinkets and rubbish blown down from the city above adding to the colours of the birds and insects that flashed through the tree tops. The low hum of traffic droned quietly in the chambers, creating haunting tones as the arches and columns of the still standing sections directed it on unexpected paths.

A trickle of water crossed the path, small scratch marks lining its course. I hope it is something native, but could be assured of its vermin status. Moving further into the darkness giant fungus protrude from the walls and the sound of a bats leathery wings makes me stoop, before peering up into thousands of tiny eyes. Their high pitched chirps bouncing off the walls while they register the surroundings. The ground below slick with the remains of their victims.

The air is thick and warm towards the rear of the chamber and the smells irritate my nose. Rags, food wrappers and bones litter the ground. Huddled in the corner a ball of fur whimpers before scaring the life out of me with a blood curdling scream. Not wanting to wait around for who was being call for I continued along the worn ridge line to where the trickle I had seen should pass.

Finding its course easily I gingerly stepped over twisted metal and the ribcage of a dog. Grateful I had not sampled the water at my first crossing I follow it across the cavernous space, until it disappeared into a wall. A micro-system of ferns, fungus, climbing vines, insects and frogs had established itself at the tiny pool, their meager means easily met in the warm damp environment.

Conscious of time, I stand from my crouching position and turn a set of eyes look back at me. Straddling the stream I had followed to this point was a small boy. With wide eyes and a hard-set jaw he stared not at me, but though me, like he could see what I was thinking. But when I looked down to check my step forward he vanished without so much as a rustle.

Not wanting to tempt fate I turn to my left and take the most direct route towards the stream of light which pierced the darkness. Stubbing my boot against a the buttress of a massive fallen tree I stumble to the ground. Hidden in the leaf litter thorn covered vines start to curl upwards, clawing at my hands. Not being one to hang around I am up and away, my foot aching, and the tiny barbs form lines across my hands. They have not bled yet, though I'm sure it will be another story when I come to removing them.

Crashing though a stand of saplings a nest falls from above, the contents smashing to the ground while the understandably disgruntled parents attack with all the ferocity of a magpie after a cyclist. Flailing wildly at the birds I once again miss my step and find myself sprawled in a clearing.

Painfully rolling over I refrain from using my now throbbing hands and scan the shrubs. No sound, nothing. Beyond that barrier is another world. A wilderness surrounded by an urban jungle.

Then somehow I pop out of my daydream and back to the couch, google and reheated sausages. My imagination has been betrayed by reality, the council and an architect. Why did they have to conspire to turn a raw, evolving element of our past into a sterile park/function venue. No taking away from the great detail on the gates, the trendy vibe and manicured gardens, but, you can create that without carving up a piece of history. Hope fully next time the wilderness wins.

So when I did visit the site, it turns out that while I thought I was going on an adventure, instead it was just another day in the park.

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