Week 34 – naming rites

Week 34   Saturday 19 January to Friday 25 January 2013

Water and Sand

The Big Issue edition 423 11 – 24 January 2013

IT IS  the day before Australia Day 2012 and a man is asking me the name of this part of the country. The traditional name.

It is six in the morning, on the Williamstown beach. Dawn.

“I think this is Wathaurong country,” I offer, none too confident.

“Wat-au-rung,” he replies. “Wat-au-rung.” At first I think he might be repeating me, but later I wonder if he was correcting me.

He tells me the name of his own country, way over on the other side of this land, but I can’t catch all the syllables and the sounds. They are like eels, slipping through fingers and disappearing back into a river.

“My country is in the Swan Valley, in Western Australia,” the man says, smiling.

“Near Perth?” I reply.

I’ve never been to Western Australia, but I know the capital city is on the Swan River.

“Yes,” the man responds, “Swan River runs through Perth.” And then: “I saw a black swan first thing this morning. Here. It reminded me of my country. Made me happy.”

He explains that the name of his country means Land of Many Breasts.

He tells me his name: Steven. I tell him mine and we shake hands. I start undressing for my quick dip.

“Steven Edward Roberts is my full name,” he adds. “And Steven John Jackson. And Steven Michael Thomson. And Steven Adam Wright.” The man, maybe in his mid-twenties, with gingery hair, smiles with each variation.

I’m not sure whether, or how, to ask why he has so many names.

It is a lot to take in at this time of day, just before my daily swim, just after I’ve got off my bike.

“My traditional name is Djididjidi. It means willie wagtail.”

I am down to my togs now and, motioning towards the water, tell him that I won’t be long. Just a few minutes.

“I would like to talk to you more,” the man says. “You are knowledgeable.”

Far from it, I think, stepping into the shallows of this suburban Melbourne beach. Far from knowledgeable.

I’m not even sure if this is Wathaurong country. Isn’t it further west, down the coast? What other traditional names of country do I know? Woiworung. Wurundjeri. Kulin. Yorta Yorta. Pitjantjatjara. Not many. And are these names of countries or of clans or languages or nations?

I was born in Mordialloc, I went to school in Geelong, I cross the Yarra River every day on my way to work. I like the rhythm of placenames like Murrumbeena and Murgheboluc, Moorabool and Barrabool. I like the sounds of Wollongong and Maribyrnong, of Wangaratta and Tallangatta. But what do these placenames, these words, really mean?

Walking back to shore I see a man in silhouette exercising, stretching his arms high. About to go for a swim, I presume.

Reaching my bike and clothes I see that the silhouette figure, backlit by a streetlight, is Steven. And he is dancing. Steven Edward Roberts is moving to his own rhythm, sometimes standing tall, sometimes crouching low, sometimes skimming across the sand.

As I dry and dress, I wonder how to politely cut short an extended conversation with Steven John Jackson: I sense he might be up for a long chat and, while I’d welcome that, I have to go home, have to have breakfast, have to go to work and clock up more hours before the long weekend.

Stephen Michael Thomson stops dancing and is now chanting quietly, perhaps praying. He is clapping his hands gently, sitting on one of the kiosk benches six or seven metres away. The sun is rising as the locals pass by: walkers, joggers, cyclists, swimmers.

I strap on my helmet, straddle my bike. Steven Adam Wright is smoking now, looking out to the water and into the sun.

I say I’m not sure if Wathaurong is the right name of this country after all.

“That’s okay,” Djididjidi says, still looking to the water.

I say, as an excuse, as an apology, “I’ve got to go, have to get to work.”

Djididjidi nods, breathes out cigarette smoke.

I say, rather lamely, somewhat unimaginatively, “Have a good day.”

“You’re welcome,” Djididjidi says.


AT lunchtime I buy a map and a book from a city shop. The map shows more than 300 names of country. Near Perth, the map shows Wajak and Pinjarup and Balardung. Are any of these the name of Djididjidi’s country? I can’t be sure, for the map has a disclaimer: “boundaries are not intended to be exact”.

The boundaries might not be exact, but I can see that I was wrong in telling Djididjidi that the beach where we met is part of Wathaurong country. It is, I can see now, part of Woiworung country – although another reference tells me I live on “the territorial edge of Bunerong and Wurundjeri”, and that the area’s name is Koort Boork (‘place of the sheoaks’.)

On the back of the map are many variations of the 300 names of country. Hundreds and hundreds of them. So many names.

The book I bought is a dictionary simply called Aboriginal Words. Seven hundred pages covering just 17 languages. Looking for more clues to the name of Djididjidi’s country, I find three Nyungar words for breast: biip, biba, bibi. And I find two more Nyungar words for wagtail: minidjt, nyidangitj. The letters are easier to hold than the morning’s slippery eels. They are fixed there on the page, even if I’m still only guessing the sounds and the syllables.

It is a lot to take in. These things can take time. Forever, probably.

I don’t know if Djididjidi was back at Koort Boork beach the next morning. I don’t know if he was there talking and dancing. I don’t know if he was chanting and clapping and smoking. I don’t know because on the evening of the day of our encounter I head west, into Wathaurong country, along the Great Ocean Road.

I pass places I’ve always known as Freshwater Creek and Bellbrae and Anglesea and Aireys Inlet. Among the food and the clothes I packed for the long weekend are a new map and a new book.

In the morning light I go for a dip in the ocean. I walk away from the land and into the water. I walk off the sand and into the sun.

It is Australia Day.

Footprints in sand

Eastern View beach, near Lorne.


Next week: The Kororoit Creek Swimming Pool

Week 33 – chasing bubbles; nicking oysters

Week 33  Saturday 12 January t0 Friday 18 January 2013

Air Bubbles in Water

Image courtesy of good-wallpapers.com

This week’s guest columnist is Willy Dolphin Tom Cannon, the bard of the Bristol.

The swimmers

Chasing bubbles through the grey dawn light in smooth water

Hands reaching forward pulling liquid volume in near silence out past the breakwater

Save for increased heartbeat and the splash of the machine working rhythmically

Another morning, slicing towards the yellow buoy, Kevin  to the right, Lester the red back capped in front

Chop beside and Mick behind slowly winding up

The best kept secret the beautiful bay, still in the early morning

No Southerly Buster as the group tread water at the buoy looking towards the pylon

Head down the machine begins to wind up as I look forward chasing the bubbles!

– Tom Cannon

Beach and rocks

The Crystals, looking west to the buoys

Just around the corner from the buoys and the beach is what is known as The Crystals, a popular snorkelling and fishing spot, and scene of The Great Oyster Heist of 1885. In his  excellent book Williamstown Mysteries & Other Happenings, Bruce Tait writes: ‘In the late summer of 1885 a syndicate of Melbourne businessmen hit upon the idea of cultivating oysters in the waters of Port Phillip Bay, deciding that Williamstown offered by far the greatest potential for the cultivation of the popular delicacy. The location was in the crystal clear waters at the back of Hannan’s Farm, just to the east of the rifle butts…

‘Under a veil of secrecy the syndicate distributed between 150 and 200 six bushel sacks filled with the parental bivalve. The operation was completed in such an unobtrusive and discreet manner that people living near the beach had no idea what was occurring. But local resident Samuel Waycott was more intrigued than most. After a few days Samuel’s curiosity finally got the better of him. Ignoring the possibility of a shark attack, he dived into the cold waters and found the Crystals’ floor was dotted with oyster shells. Samuel gathered as many as he could and set out for shore, keen to sample the delicacy for the first time…

‘The syndicate caught word of the oyster-find and a few days later Constable Norgate of the Water Police, accompanied by a member of the syndicate, discovered Sam in the process of filling yet another bag. Sam was to be charged with stealing oysters to the value of 2 shillings and 6 pence but the syndicate, not wanting to publicise the fact that a bed of oysters lay in the waters off Williamstown, did not press the charge. Samuel Waycott walked free from the courthouse.

‘The case was widely discussed in legal circles. Most legal men were of the opinion that, had the site been settled upon, a clear case of theft would have been proven. For the syndicate the cat was well and truly out of the bag now, as news had spread of a bed of oysters at the back of Hannan’s Farm. Any thoughts the borough could boast yet another new industry were soon crushed, as a number of locals had by now also acquired a taste for the mollusc, and within a short space of time not one single shell from the original sacks of of oysters could be found.’


Image sourced from oystersentinel.org

365 Swims snorkelled The Crystals recently and found zebra fish, angel fish, a bull-nosed stingray, spiky sea urchins, abalone shells, a tyre or two, some bottles, a golf ball – but no oysters. Bruce Tait’s book is available from Hobsons Bay libraries. Recommended reading.

Bruce Tait book cover

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Week 32 – fresh water

Week 32      Saturday  5 January to Friday 11 January 2012

Photo by Teresa Dowd

Photo by Teresa Dowd

This week’s guest columnist is Willy Dolphin Teresa Dowd, who – having moved to central Victoria last year – now enjoys fresh-water swimming in a reservoir near Chewton, a town near Castlemaine.

Three kilometres past the site of the 1851 Monster Meet, Chewton’s version of the Eureka Stockade, there’s a reservoir. It’s a regular spot for teenagers, and women take their kids there for a dip after school on a hot day.

There are some sights along the way. There is an alpaca farm where the animals have been shorn a bit like poodles; very close cropped around the body, leaving frilly ankles and fancy feet. Quite posh really. There’s a also a family of ducks who have taken up residence in some grass and they move back and forth across the road without a care in the world.

ducks by roadside

Photo by Teresa Dowd

Most mornings I have the reservoir to myself. Recently, however,  I shared it with a bloke who was trying to catch a redfin for his breakfast and three 60-pluses out for an early morning skinny dip.  The guy with the delicious breakfast aspirations had pulled his hippy bus up alongside the water the previous night, made a camp and had claimed the prize spot on the fairly small muddy bank where the swimmers enter the water. As for the skinny dippers*, eyes averted was the best approach.

One morning this week there was a mystical vapour coming off the water as the air temperature was down to 2 or 3 degrees (reaching 30 by 2pm in the afternoon).

And the distance from one side to the other? 130 strokes. Cheers.

*Editor’s note:  365 Swims has pencilled in Saturday 1 June, 6am, for the inaugural meeting of The 365 Swims Skinny Dipping Sub-Committee. Lanyards optional.

Recommended reading: Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria

Hampton beach

Hampton beach. Photo by Reuben Maskell

Meanwhile 365 Swims’ dips this past week were:

Saturday morning: Williamstown (very crowded)
Saturday afternoon: Jawbone Marine Sanctuary with my mate JD (too choppy, poor visibility)

Sunday morning: Williamstown

Sunday afternoon: Hampton (windy but good.)

Monday morning: Williamstown

Tuesday morning: Williamstown

Tuesday afternoon: Jawbone with my mate Walter (very good visibility, especially of the sun-lover on the eastern shore)

Wednesday morning: Williamstown

Wednesday afternoon: The Bunburys, a little rock pool between the Willi beach and the Willi footy club

 Bunbury rock pool

Thursday morning: Williamstown

Friday morning: Williamstown

Friday afternoon: Bonbeach, Chelsea, Edithvale.

Next week: The Crystals and The Great Oyster Heist of 1885.

Click on any of the images below for cinematic viewing.

Thanks for visiting 365 swims.

Week 31- what rhymes with ‘2012’?

Week 31 Saturday 29 December 2012 to Friday 4 January 2013

Rotunda Cafe, Williamstown

Rotunda Cafe, Williamstown

The Willy Dolphins had their annual breakfast in late December at the Rotunda Cafe on Williamstown Beach.

Once again the group’s poet laureate Kevin Moran summed up the year with an ear for rhyme.

Here are some extracts from Kevin’s 2012 poem, The Year That Dolphins Surfaced…

THE  beach at Willy runs east-west, but to swim year round is the test

The group has varied as we know; I’ll list them all as we go:

Andy, Clive, Dan and John; Karin, Keith follow on,

Kevin, Lester, Mark and Mike, who comes along on his bike.

Pam and Paul and Roger too, and Teresa, who has since shot through.

Tom and Vin and by all reports, Digger and Kimba are canine escorts.

Many others do come by, some to swim some just say ‘hi’…

The team is growing as the good word spreads, the simple rule is no clashing heads.

Speeding cyclists on the bend, calls to council for the practice to end

They oblige and a sign they erect, shows an abductor in actions suspect

Bikes on the beach bend

Beware the bikes on the beach bend

Tom went in the corporate teams, on Australia Day it seems,

he swam like hell in a relay split; and fell over the line to finish it.

The Big Bay swim saw some action, three Willy boys the main attraction

An older one picked up first while one dog owner quenched his thirst…

By Summer’s end with all the fame, the team was in a winning frame.

The swimming group needed a name and suggestions freely came

Some were witty some were lame some were rude others tame

Ideas flowed back and forth, with all and sundry having sixpence worth.

A polar fleece to keep out the frost, with simple design to keep down the cost

Willy Dolphins was the name embossed; while Chilly Willys just got tossed

Dolphin jacket

As the winter months grew near, a few of the team seemed to disappear

Teresa sought another clime and headed bush before winter time.

Attendance levels were an ebb and flow certain folk were just no show

Colder days, absences noted, while in Broome and Corsica they floated

Or up in Noosa where it’s warmer, recovering from some imaged trauma

Even Kimba had a rest, with his good keeper way out West.

We lost a buoy off Willy beach, it drifted off out of reach.

VicParks said all was fine, they would replace it with a marker sign.

A marker post has been installed, most of us are now enthralled

A 5 knot speed sign has been fitted, and boating vessels are not permitted…

The council promised a new carpark, when it’ll be done we’re in the dark

First they put a fence around, and then they knocked the dunnies down.

Vegetation was removed quite quick, then they did a magic trick,

The graders moved up and down as they dug up all the ground.

Replanted palms with fonds stripped bare, stand like sticks in the air

Alas, the car park is yet to appear, and this has been going on all year.

Car ark photo

But now the year has reached its end, we greet each other as a closer friend

We wish all folk far and wide a happy and wholesome yuletide.

– Kevin Moran

Photo of notepad and goggles


(My dips this past week were Urquhart Bluff, Eastern View, Moggs creek, Sunnymeade (Aireys Inlet), Williamstown and Jawbone Sanctuary.)

Week 30 – on the road

Week 30 Saturday 22 December to Friday 28 December 2012

Queenscliff beach

Queenscliff beach. Saturday 22 December.  

After pedalling the 30 kilometre rail-trail from Geelong to Queenscliff I was glad to have a dip. The water revived me, but not quite enough: halfway on the return journey, I was done. Tuckered out.

Queenscliff beach

Queenscliff beach.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown

Sunday 23 December. Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown

Sunday 23 December was going to be a scorcher. Thirty-nine degrees. Back in Williamstown after the Queenscliff ride, I headed to Jawbone at first light. The water was sparkling clear, the fish were awake. I had the place to myself. As I headed home for breakfast I saw a boat creasing the water in the distance and an aeroplane overhead.

I swam at Williamstown beach on 24, 25 and 26 December, including two dips on Christmas Day.

Hang glider at Moggs Creek

Moggs Creek. Photo by Reuben Maskell

On Boxing Day afternoon I had a dip at Moggs Creek, where we were staying for a few days. There were plenty of hang-gliders landing on the beach.

Eastern View beach

Thursday 27 December, 8am. Eastern View, just down from Moggs Creek.

Lorne surfboat

Thursday 27 December, 4pm. Lorne.

Lorne beach

Lorne beach

The water was lovely at Lorne on Thursday 27 December. A few people seemed to be practising for the Pier to Pub swim. Meanwhile, there was tragedy at my ‘home-beach’ in Williamstown: a 74 year old man from Footscray drowned while swimming with his family.

Sunnymeade beach cricket

Friday 28 December Sunnymeade beach cricket

Sunnymeade beach, near Aireys Inlet

Sunnymeade beach, near Aireys Inlet

The week’s dips concluded with two swims  – 7.30am and 4.30pm – at Sunnymeade beach, near Aireys Inlet.