Sweet-water people

“Cross the bridge, head along the bush track to the pipeline… you can’t miss it. Turn right, then keep your eyes peeled for a downhill bush track that leads to the water…”

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An intrepid band of souls, we venture away from the straggle of suburbia in downtown Heathcote, plummeting along a vertiginous track in search of water, desert explorers pinned to the mirage. Blackboys and bugs tickle, clack and sigh, moving with metronomic incessancy through a sluggish heat.

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Rocky outcrops teeter above a teeming expanse drenched in the peppermint spice of eucalyptus, the air blue with lazy oil and heady intent, the dog days of summer prickling skin and shivering spines.

The ledge of the Woronora Plateau juts imperiously over everything it overlooks, a benevolent overlord snazzy in sage-green millinery. The bitumen fast forgotten, ‘merge now’ lines are formed by bent branches and sandstone, and traffic dissipates, a lone hiker stomping into the distance; a mother with a stroller watching us drift away.

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The documentation of this area persistently refers to waterholes and rivers and creeks and billabongs – the lifeblood of the basin – but we need no paperback confirmation. The presence of the Woronora Dam Pipeline helps solidify the feeling, a steel watercourse bound by humanity. The pipeline is 27.1 km long and consists of 42 inch (1.07m) mild steel spirally welded pipes, which is of significance to The Cowboy alone…

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The Tin Lid and I are more taken with the bolts and graff:

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While our illustrious Germanic wild-swimming raconteur is chiefly interested in the etymology of this useful message:

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There is water here – we can feel it, rich in our veins, its scent like a drug that drags our conscience to the cool belly of the depths. The branches bow to it, the track snakes forward, one step in front of the other until we can see, feel, hear and taste it, a clear space that ripples and rents beneath the canopy.

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The Tin Lid rip his clothes off and bombs into the cool waters, closely followed by the rest of the mob, a splash of skin that sizzles on contact…

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A turtle bobs up to look at the long-limbed tanine-crested humans as they loll and sprawl in the cool. He dips back down beneath a lily-pad fringe; a squiggle of snake disappears fast, a ripple in time.

The Cowboy channels Huck Finn, a watery vagabond with a keen eye and braces for his pants.

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This is Goburra Pool, deep in the heart of Heathcote National Park, named, it is believed, for the kookaburras hearty laugh. In divining this lucid haven, the illustrious German – a man of exquisite idiosyncrasies and precise perfection – has channelled his ongoing quest to swim wild.

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Wild swimming answers a primal call; it seeks an elusive Eden and is driven by the urge to submerge beneath the ephemeral border that carves a line between land and water. Defined as encompassing the spiritual quality of swimming free in nature, wild swimming is often remote, adventurous and potentially frilled with danger, which is always a plus.

“You pass the lake’s edge, the sea’s shore, the river’s brink – and you break the surface of the water itself. In doing so, you move from one realm into another: a realm of freedom, adventure, magic, and occasionally of danger.”

Robert MacFarlane, Outdoor Swimming Society

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It emerged in the UK about a decade ago with the formation of the Outdoor Swimming Society, whose devotees seek to swim in nature and “connect with the wilderness, induce joy, help us to lose track of time and dream in sync with water’s breaths, currents and tides…” And while this is to be heralded, there is little chance a cold, eel-infested pond in the dank heart of Rochdale will ever get the Cowboy to float its boat.

In Australia, however…

A throttle of trail bikes revs in the distance, the mechanic chak-chak-chak resonating off sandstone cliffs to be swallowed by meaty summer air, a human rhythm that crescendos briefly above the bugs. The water is like cool tea, softly slinking over hot skin, a chilled embrace that inspires whooping joy and the bravery of fools.

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A mob of teens crash through the air to tumble shrieking into the depths. Armed with a quart of sunscreen, tepid tap water in old Coke bottles and the insistent bleep of Mum calling, echoing unheard from the cracker-crumb strewn crannies of an old sports bag, they are kings for a day, astride ancient rocks and high above the pool. They stamp, holler and splash with the pride of loose youth, not yet slumped on sofas with overly pixelated pulses and reeking of disdain.

Lazy jazz spools from a shoebox speaker, a sea eagle soars high above us, and the water lilies clasp close as the sun is shuttered by clouds.

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In the dying rays, I teach the Tin Lid the finer etiquette of Hula Hoop ingestion, and absorb rich, vivid memories of ‘how life was’.

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This is Dharawal [or Tharawal] country, the land of the original peoples of the southern and south western Sydney area from the south side of Botany Bay, around Port Hacking to the north of the Shoalhaven River (Nowra), extending inland to Campbelltown and Camden.

This sweet water has sustained the mob since the beginning, its sacred peace, brimming with life and laughter and barely hidden sustenance, a drawcard for the ages.

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Clans will always gather here, to swim, eat, laugh and love, to dip beneath this reality into the watery depths of time.

And this magical place’s dreamtime story will spool on into the future, memories unfurling with it like streamers of the past caught in the eddies of time.

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