Review Blog

Jun 06 2012

Karrawirra Parri: walking the Torrens from source to sea by Mike Ladd

cover image

Photographs by Cathy Brooks. Wakefield Press, 2012. ISBN 978 1 74305 019 5.
(Ages: 12+) Recommended. Non Fiction. Environment. This handsomely produced handbook of walking along the River Torrens from its Mount Pleasant beginnings, through the hills and suburbs of Adelaide on to its outlet at Henley Beach will beckon even the moot casual reader to don their sneakers and take a stroll.
Each page builds an image in both words and pictures of a water course moulded and changed by its surroundings as new settlements were added with Adelaide growing beyond the first campsites of the European settlers in 1836. Ladd strolls through early settlements, marked now only by a hearth, or stone wall, following the water course as it becomes a larger stream and then a river. Smetana's Moldau kept coming to my mind as I walked with him, reading out loud the snatches of verse by Wordsworth, Brooks and others, as well as Ladd's haiku interspersing the engrossing commentary.
With only an outline map at the beginning of the book, showing the river through the various Hills communities and suburbs, I needed to grab a more detailed map which showed where access to these beautiful spots was available. But this is a small quibble in reading this absorbing travel book which gave some wonderful tidbits of information. The history behind the name of Dernancourt, for example, or the lists of introduced vegetation, native birds and flowers, the story of the body in the Torrens in 1908.
With the upper reaches being in part through private land, his meeting the Linear Park at Athelstone, meant an easier walk along the areas begun in 1979 to preserve the banks of the river and its wetlands, aiming for flood mitigation. The 35 kilometre stretch to Henley Beach is a wonderful resource, and I can remember the angst when it was first proposed.
First written as a series of article for The Adelaide Review, Wakefield Press has published the complete set in what will certainly delight the armchair traveller, and be a guide to those who want to set out and stride it for themselves.
For students looking at the environment of Adelaide, then this is a stunner as a wide perspective of the river is given, drawing in a myriad of detail: the Aboriginal people both in the hills and on the plains (Peramngk and Kaurna) the naming of the suburbs, the dams, weirs and reservoirs, the flora and fauna, the poetry and small details. I was surprised at how many times the black and red markers were mentioned, and a catalogue of deaths along the river, or the overgrown patches of introduced weeds and the kindness of strangers. Not an academic tome, but a richly detailed story of one man's walk through an area we all know about, but do not really know.
Fran Knight

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