Celebrating Canberra's lakeside traditions

I'm not sure if it's a case of having run out of commemorative cheer after last year's Centenary of Canberra, but already two months into this year and there's hardly been a mutter of Lake Burley Griffin's 50th anniversary.

What's the one thing our city wouldn't be the same without? What, if you took it away, would make our cityscape a distinctly different place? While Parliament House and Black Mountain Tower are obvious contenders, for me it's indisputably the lake. As our city has grown, our man-made water feature has become more and more a place for relaxation, a focal point for celebration and for recreation.

Well, let me assure you, this column doesn't plan on letting the golden anniversary of our civic pride and joy pass without any merriment, and over the next 10 months I plan to circumnavigate the lake in as many different ways possible; from kayak to bike, from Segway to dragonboat. I hope to uncover and share with you some of the secrets that surely lurk in its murky depths and lie hidden around its more than 40 kilometres of shoreline.

The lake means different things to different people. For aspiring Olympic rowers, it's a training ground; for cocooning couples, it's a romantic picnic on Aspen Island while listening to the carillon bells chime; and for a growing number of my friends, it seems to be fish'n'chips on the lawns of the yacht club. Sure, I like a good feed of fish'n'chips as much as the next Canberran, but that's what Batemans Bay is for, isn't it?

According to my friends, not so - apparently in recent years takeaway fish'n'chips at the yacht club has evolved into a lakeside summer tradition. So this week, I packed up the yowie clan (along with my old ''seabass'' kayak) and made a beeline for Lotus Bay in Yarralumla to see what all the fuss is about. We arrive late afternoon and the grassy area in front of the club is already packed with families, couples and groups all feasting on generous servings of battered fish and fried chips.

Although there's plenty of room to spread a picnic blanket or unfold a deck chair, it doesn't take my two young daughters, Emily and Sarah, long to commandeer my kayak for an impromptu rendition of ''Row row row the boat''. In fact, so engrossed are they in their marine-themed nursery rhymes, that to the laughter of two young boys fiddling with the rigging on their small sailboat, my dry-docked seabass doubles as their dinner table.

Although my crumbed snapper tastes distinctly similar to frozen fish fillets we buy at the supermarket, the chips are tasty enough. But we're not here for fine dining - the water's glistening, the kids are laughing, the birds are singing and, heck, there are even seagulls.

We'll be back. Next time we might combine it with that other summer tradition on the lake - paddling one of those bright-yellow paddleboats through the spray on the Captain Cook Water Jet. Oh, and I might try the battered barramundi instead of the snapper.

Have you got a story or tradition you'd like to share about the lake? If so, I'd love to hear from you



The Big Five-O: Although the valves on Scrivener Dam were closed on September 20, 1963, a lack of significant summer rain meant the lake didn't fill until April 29, 1964. It was formally inaugurated on October 17, 1964.

Canberra Yacht Club: Lotus Bay, Mariner Place, Yarralumla. Plenty of free parking.

Fish'n'chips: The Canberra Southern Cross Yacht Club has a seasonal (September-April) takeaway kiosk hidden away under the western side of the club. Battered fish'n'chips from $8.50 a serve. Open Friday 5pm-8pm, Saturday noon-7pm and Sunday noon-6pm.

Don't miss: Today's Canberra Classic Boatfest to mark 50 years of Lake Burley Griffin, featuring a dozen or so wooden steam launches and putt-putt boats on display in Lotus Bay (adjacent to the yacht club) all morning, with a grand parade around Central Basin after 2pm.


Pumice Ponderings

This column continues to be swamped with pumice stories (Broulee's Puzzling Pumice Piles, January 11, p30), with several readers even receiving chunks of the black rock (which were blasted out of the Havre Seamount, an undersea volcano north of New Zealand, more than 18 months ago and only now washing up on some south coast beaches) as a gift.

One lucky recipient of the volcanic rock, Denis Wilson of Robertson, who received a piece of pumice from Mystery Bay near Narooma from friends Lee Freeman and Robyn Lawrence, reports that he ''was fascinated to see the many live organisms which floated on it'', and that ''over a month after it was removed from the beach, at least one of these barnacles still appears to be alive''.

''It's remarkably resilient. It is easy to see how islands and coral reefs can be populated from great distances by these 'stowaways' on pieces of pumice,'' marvels Wilson.

Unfortunately, not all pumice stories have a happy ending - Rachel Swirgsdin of Kingston is still recovering after a pumice-collecting trip went wrong.

Several weeks ago, Swirgsdin - who hadn't been to the coast for several years - made the trip down to Surf Beach [near Batemans Bay] with her friend Judy ''for a bit of salt air''.

While walking along the beach, ''I was excited to see a piece of volcanic rock with coral growing on it'', recalls Swirgsdin, who promptly picked it up and put it in her pocket. A bit further along towards the rocks end of the beach, Swirgsdin spotted another pumice piece in the water. ''While attempting to pick it up, I lost my balance and fell onto a sharp rock, badly breaking the skin on my right arm,'' reports Swirgsdin.Unable to stem the bleeding, she ended up having to seek attention from nearby paramedics.

Although Swirgsdin's injury is still painful, she can at least see the lighter side of her accident. ''In your article you warned people not to stub their toes - well, I did a little more than that,'' she laughs.

Perhaps next time Swirgsdin is after a prized piece of pumice she should contact Maggie De Greuw of New Zealand. De Greuw, who was the first person to spot the mass of pumice floating on the Pacific Ocean from a plane window shortly after the eruption of the Havre Seamount, has started making necklaces and other jewellery out of the pumice.

Ute Pool

Chanel Gallen's ingenious hay-bale pool (Feeling Hot, Try This, February 1) prompted Bronwyn Parsons of Flynn to submit a photo of her son's equally resourceful effort to beat the heat this summer - a pool in the back of his ute. ''The Esky lid provided a great floating table for the biscuits!'' exclaims Parsons.

Flying High

Last week's hike up our highest peak (To Climb a Mountain, February 15) brought back fond memories for many, including Maureen Blackmore of Pearce. ''Last February we did the pre-dawn walk from Charlotte Pass to the mountain-top, which was absolutely magical,'' recalls Blackmore, who adds, ''we didn't even need our torches as the moonlight was so brilliant''.

Despite being far from a significant peak on a global scale, Mt Kosciuszko is still a special place for many. ''I have just returned to my home in California after visiting family in Canberra for three months,'' writes Keith Campbell of California. ''Six of us did this walk three weekends ago in the daytime with a range in age of 63 years,'' writes my 70- year-old American correspondent, who reports, ''the experience of doing this with my youngest daughter and four grandchildren was one of those things that money cannot buy and will be with me in my memory and heart forever''.

Meanwhile, James Lee of Weston Creek was equally as surprised as I was by the large number of ravens on the summit walk. ''Two massive flocks flew over us - it was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds'', writes Lee, who celebrated Australia Day on top of Mt Kosciuszko. On returning home, Lee's close encounter with the haunting birds prompted him to search for their collective noun. And the answer: an unkindness of ravens. ''Surely one of the more unusual common nouns,'' writes Lee.

Still on ravens, but somewhat further afield, legend has it that when fewer than six ravens are present at the Tower of London, the monarchy and the kingdom will collapse. Last year, that myth came precariously close to being tested when two of the birds living at the Tower were killed by a fox, leaving just six in residence. However, QEII and her loyal subjects can now sleep easier, for earlier this week plans were released for a new enclosure for the unkindness of ravens, which, it is claimed, will let them roam freely without fear of attack.


Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.