By Anna Braiser
“We live in the shadow of the Westgate Bridge, a feature of our great land.” This is my favourite line from my daughter’s school song. When the kids sing the Wembley song on Monday mornings at assembly, I tap my feet in time with the beat and my thoughts wander to the backwash and the river, and the tanks and the ships.
I realise that this place under the bridge, where the Stony Creek backwash meets the Maribyrnong River, may seem an unusual spot for reflection, but as I walk to the end of the boardwalk and watch container ships sail under the bridge like fat slugs, I feel calm. These imposing vessels glide like graceful dancers along the river’s surface.
High above me, the bridge stretches across the Maribyrnong, linking the west to the city. Tyres rumble across the bitumen and birds screech as they circle the wires. When the wind is up, flags and wind-socks stand to attention. On those big, red-light-flashing days, tugboats guide the ships across the choppy water.
There is a weird mix of industry and nature, but somehow it all blends together to form its own urban nook. There is no escaping the presence of the huge oil tanks, nor the smell on a hot, still summer’s day.
Young boys and old men cast their lines off the wooden bridge, and some sit and dangle their legs over the edge of the concrete wall, though I often wonder whether I’d trust eating anything that was caught here.
Swampy reeds and saltmarsh grow along Stony Creek, where I sometimes see feral rabbits scamper in the undergrowth. There certainly is a lot of windswept litter caught in bushes and water-logged in the backwash.
Old maps of the area reveal that this place was once ear-marked as a potential tip. However its present day landmark is now a memorial to those who lost their lives in the 1970 bridge collapse. I was a young girl when the bridge collapsed, and I remember the shocked look on my mother’s face as she watched the news.
There are shadows here, and ghosts. This place has a history with both life and death. Depending on my mood, its atmosphere can sway me either way, but I love this place under the shadow of the bridge.
Photo credit: David Porteus