Urban Nature Study – Part 1

Earlier this year I volunteered to take part in an Urban Nature Study for an Honours student at the University of Wollongong. The study involved two Zoom interviews and three urban walks. On these walks I was required to take notice and record my interactions with urban nature. This included what I could hear, see, smell, and feel. To help me remember what I observed I made notes on the voice recorder app.

During the walks I was encouraged to take photos of the things I saw. It was pretty much the perfect sort of study for me! To top it off it we were still under some COVID restrictions so it was not as if I was doing anything else.

The student has submitted her work and I have permission to publish my contributions. I am not sure what her ‘findings’ were. Here is the first of my 3 walks. I have changed some of the street names.

Urban Nature Diary Day 1 – 13th June 2020

Saturday Beach Walk

My walk today was one of the two routes I take frequently. I call this route my “beach walk”.  The other is my “neighbourhood walk”. I sometimes run these routes rather than walk.  Today, I ran part of the way and walked part of the way as I was stopping to take photos. All up it took me about 1 hour 20 minutes.

This route takes me along Crown Street, past the hospital and railway station into the CBD, I then walk down to Smith Street and head to the beach from here. I walk past Levendi’s (a cafe), along the harbour, past the lighthouses and then past WIN Stadium. When I have the time (as on weekends) I extend the route and walk along the beach to the end of the golf course cut back up Swan Street under the railway bridge, up Gladstone Street, X Ave, Y Street, and then finally back onto Z Street and home. This is a little over 8 km. If I’m in a hurry, I cut back up to the WEC (Wollongong Entertainment Centre) and head back home through the Mall. If I’m running, I can do it in 50 minutes.

And we’re off…

This morning I left home at around 7:30 AM. There was a partial cloud cover. It was fine and crisp. It had been raining overnight so there were puddles and wet leaves on the ground

My phone said it was 12.7oC and dead calm.  I had dressed in long tights and a long sleeve lycra hoodie, joggers and socks. I normally listen to music or podcasts while I walk. Today it was a podcast.

The ground was wet, and the leaves made it slippery, so I picked my way out my driveway. The large liquid amber at the corner of my driveway drops so many leaves and I have slipped there before so I am always cautious.

The creepy tree

Just before you get to the hospital there is a huge Morton Bay Fig in a tiny park. There is very little room left in the park for anything but the tree. (Image 1) I really like this tree and have wondered how old it is and what it must have been like before it was hemmed in by the road and houses. It would make a good climbing tree as the branches hang down low to the ground. However, it would be near impossible to climb as the limbs are very broad and smooth. The buttress roots spread out for at least 5 metres in all directions.  I call it the “creepy tree” because it does not matter what time of day it is, the massive tree is always casting a shadow on the park. It smells dank and composty.

Image 1 – The Creepy Tree

Noisy traffic in the shopping precinct

The noise of the traffic makes it hard for me to hear any birds, but I did notice some dead or close to dead earthworms who had boldly ventured onto the pavement when it was raining and had now become trapped on the drying pavement. A bit of styrofoam captures my attention and I get annoyed and feel that the hi-fi store (likely source of the foam), should be held to account for the amount of foam that blows out of their bins and ends up as pollution on the street near their shop.

This part of the route is in my opinion, nothing but “urban”. It is paved and built up. There are few gardens as most of the premises are commercial. In the CBD itself, the council is attempting to green things up. (Images 2 – 4) 

It’s sad to see that their bright little street flower boxes are the target of vandals (Image 5)  If there are council workers watering the plants or replanting what has been ripped out, I’ll thank them for their work so hopefully they don’t get too downhearted that not everyone appreciates the little bit of colour the boxes provide. I notice the raindrops sticking to the leaves of plants. (Image 6)

Wollongong Harbour

Once I get to the harbour, I join the many others who are enjoying a walk or a run on this nice morning. The clouds are making a dramatic backdrop to the little lighthouse and Belmore Basin. Some pelicans are preening, and people are out in kayaks paddling on the smooth water. (Image 7)

Image 7 – Belmore Basin

There is a reasonable swell and some surfers are clustered at the end of City Beach. The water must be colder now as most are wearing wet suits.  (images 8 and 9)

It’s warming up and I am regretting that I didn’t wear a T-shirt and jacket rather than the hoodie which I can’t take off. 

Image 10 – Dead Calm

On the Beach

It’s dead calm.  (Image10) the air is clear and fresh, but I lament that it is not as clear as it was a few weeks ago when we were deep in COVID lockdown and the sky had a fresh luminous blue with no pollution hanging about in a brown haze.

Image 11

Once I get to WIN stadium and the footy field/golf course junction I head down to the beach. I take a lot of energy from the ocean and enjoy seeing it every day. For me, it’s peaceful and rugged and energising all at the same time. It’s mid tide so there is some compacted sand to make the walk easier. I have to dodge a few incoming waves to prevent getting my shoes wet but this adds to the fun. The sand shows evidence of last night’s rain with the little pock marks dimpling the sand. (image 11)

There are a few shells. (image 12) Last time I was on the beach there were lots of rocks and pebbles at the wave line and I notice that this time there are very few rocks. I wonder if they were carried away by last week’s big surf or if I was at a different part of the beach. Up ahead I see the little pebble “garden” I was looking for and figure that they do probably get moved as a result of the tide. (image 14.)

Image 13 – Roof tile?

Not a rock

I take especial interest in an unusual green “rock” (Image 13). I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. I decide that it’s not a rock after all and probably a piece of roof tile that has been washed down a creek. I’m on the lookout for sea-glass[1] as I collect interesting bits of that.

This is an off-leash beach but there are few dogs. A couple of gulls fly past skimming close to the sand. The air smells salty but since there is no wind to whip the sea spray into my face, I don’t taste it.

As I re-join the road and the buildings, I can hear some rainbow lorikeets squawking and fluttering in a large flowering gum near the dog training park on Swan St. There are some magpies or crows cawing as they fly overhead. I pass a garden which has some nice succulents spilling over the fence and I break off a small piece to bring home and plant in my own garden.

The home stretch

I am about two kilometres from home and I am now very much regretting the choice of outfit! The sun is rising higher and I am getting hotter! It’s a balance between going faster to get home quicker and overheating! On Gladstone Ave there are a few private gardens with some lovely old roses, but today most only have a few straggly petals left. There is also a house with a reasonable size quince tree. They don’t pick the quince and they fall on the ground every year. Each year I say to myself, “next year I am going to knock on their door and ask if I can have them before they go rotten!”

The large date palms on X street, always make me think of the cover of Hotel California (an album by the Eagles).

(I included that detail because the person doing the interview was very young and possibly not a 1970’s music fan!)

I cut across the little park on the corner of X Street and my joggers get wet from the grass.  The Bird of Paradise flowers catch my eye and a few spiders’ webs in the neighbour’s garden are glistening with rain.

I am home and it’s time for a cup of tea!


[1] Glass that gets washed up onto the beach and has been made smooth and translucent by the action of the sand and waves.


A Win-Win!

I’m a bit of a research study enthusiast and this study combined a few things I like to do, walk, take photos and write! In addition to that I was helping someone out so it contributed to my happiness! Doing good for others boosts your mood! As I said I have not seen the student’s finished work or even really understand the purpose of her study. However, having to stop and think about how I interacted and experienced nature in my urban setting was interesting and made me feel a real sense of connectedness.

Apart from this study I am also participating in a two long term health studies. One called the 45 and up study which has a long questionnaire every 5 years; and another 3 year study on dementia and lifestyle which has frequent questionnaires which alternate between eating and exercising habits. Once each year there is a comprehensive set of cognitive and memory tests.

I have also just done a five week stint being a “patient” for a trainee medical professional to assist them with their tele-health skills.

Being a writing frugalist, I wasn’t going to “waste” an extended piece of my own writing without including it here! It was a win-win! She got some observations for her research: I got a blog post! (Maybe 2 more if I publish the others!)

Chess Tournament

It’s mid-afternoon and 32oC on an early December day in Sydney.  My buddy*, Isaac and I are sitting on a park bench in Hyde Park watching a chess tournament. Tournament may be a bit generous, but let me tell you the atmosphere is quite tense! 

There is a group of 9 people in the inner circle, all men over 60, probably over 70 shouting and gesticulating as Mr Black (we’ll call him) picks up his Bishop to make a move. His choice is roundly opposed by the Inner Circle except Mr White who is gleefully saying “Bye-Bye”.

I am unsure what language they are speaking. The Inner Circle is made up of people who appear to have Asian and European backgrounds. English is no-one’s first language. I am guessing that bye-bye is an agreed term for checkmate in this chess game. 

Mr Black goes boldly ahead with his move and the game is swiftly over. The pieces are gathered together and a new opponent sets up to face the victorious Mr White. 

On the tier above, there is another tight group of players using a regulation-sized board. From my angle, it appears to be a serious game. The onlookers, standing with one hand on their hips have the other held on their chins as if holding their mouths shut. The easy conviviality of the giant board players is missing and no-one is shouting out suggestions. 

The Outer Circle of 20 -30 onlookers is populated with people like me. Folks drinking coffee, eating ice-creams and enjoying the shade of the large trees that surround the chessboard. There is a nice breeze brushing across our sweaty skin and there is a feeling of slow calm peacefulness. No-one is in a rush. Languid laziness has set in. Even the pigeons and bin chickens (aka White Ibis) seem to be less raucous than usual.

Although each separate group of onlookers are sitting the regulation 1.5 m away from each other, the intense force fields from 6 months ago have been dropped. Our fear seems to have subsided and everyone is happy to enjoy a communal space. Close but not too close. 

*My 5-year-old grandson.

Is it just me or is everyone in a COVID funk??

I published this on September 16th but it turned up in my drafts folder… not sure what happened there….

Am I suffering (post)-COVID funk? Last week I talked about the idea of mini habits suggested by Stephen Guise and the strategies used by Michele Bridges in her 12WBT Challenge (12 Week Body Transformation) as ways of getting myself off the couch, or more correctly out of bed and into action.

Let me set a few things straight, it’s not that I am NOT exercising or eating OK it’s just that I know I can do better.  A lot better. I know that once it’s done I feel GOOD after I have exercised first thing in the morning. That smug sense of self-satisfaction gives me a real boost for the rest of the day. My problem has been maintaining or re-establishing my preferred routine.

There have been two factors that have led to my routine crashing around my feet, one novel and one that happens every year. Firstly, the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 and the second, winter.

Been here, done that, sort of.

I can see from my Facebook memories that this time last year and the year before and most likely the year before that, I was in a similar space. On top of that, we have COVID.

Speaking with friends, reading social media posts and a quick search of “post COVID funk” on Google shows that I am definitely not alone.  There are a plethora of articles already published claiming   we’re all feeling like this. That is, unmotivated and not liking it.

Articles published by the Sydney Morning Herald right through to a blog post about getting back into your bass guitar practice are offering support and advice.

The advice is consistent. Get off social media and get outside (after you finish reading this post of course). Stop watching the news. Eat well, sleep better, connect with friends.

The bass guitar blog even agrees with me on the benefits of mini habits

It is common to hope for motivation to show up to make us want to practice. But a more useful strategy is for us to show up for a small, doable task – regardless of motivation being involved or not – and then celebrate the fact that we did the task.

Motivation is overrated.

Regular short practice bits (and feeling better about ourselves for having done them!) are underrated.

Focus on a short task – one scale, one verse of a song, one technique exercise. Then high five yourself for having done them. The good feeling the high five creates will have you coming back tomorrow. (If you want to know more about this, check out this book).

More serious concerns

My personal situation is not a dramatic problem and I anticipate my laziness will begin to evaporate once we head towards spring and the mornings are brighter and warmer. I have a secure “essential job”, I have a house where I can retreat to if needed. I really have very little to worry about.

There are real concerns that some people will develop more serious health issues and potentially post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the months of uncertainty and stress. For many Australians, particularly those on the east coast, COVID hit when we weren’t yet over the devastating fires of summer. Just as families were getting back on their feet, we were locked inside. Health care workers and other “front line” people haven’t had a chance to catch their breath. They have lurched from one crisis to another.

According to a report from The Black Dog Institute (one of Australia’s peak mental health bodies) people who have had  positive diagnosis of COVID-19 are also at a specially high risk.

“In past pandemics, patients who experienced severe and life-threatening illnesses were at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, months to years following their illness [12, 13]. Appropriate systems and supports need to be put in place to screen patients, especially hospitalised patients who have survived COVID-19, to screen for common mental health problems and to provide appropriate psychological supports.”

Problem solved.

I have spent enough time wallowing and when I look at the hardship some others are experiencing, I am embarrassed. I need to recognise the privilege I have and stop whingeing! I’m going to use the idea of mini habits and JFDI to drag myself up by the shoelaces and get out there and exercise.

Next month, I  am going to look more closely at mini habits or more specifically Tiny Habits. I will post a review and executive summary of  the Tiny Habits book by BJ Fogg. (Similar idea to Guise’s mini Habits)

In the meantime,  I am off for a run.


If you are suffering from severe anxiety and are seeking more useful help than I am talking about here please reach out to people who can help.  There are some great resources here at the Black Dog Institute’s website.

Australian readers can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for mental health support.