'Creek-side ephemera' by student Mekdes Yimam was developed in Writing Nonfiction in 2021.
In a hairpin bend of what was once part of the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate, a blip in the 26 km stretch of an ephemeral creek makes its home, and moments add up to centuries of settlement. An industrious din rings out in the tradition of rearing cattle and sheep that’s been passed down the Clarke family: Jim to Geoff to Ian, and is expected to continue to the next generation. Here, Jim Crow Creek—not to be confused with Jim Clarke: farmer, father, grandfather—curves through Franklinford, Victoria.
In winter, Jim Crow’s been known to flood and keep the Clarkes in, or out, depending on which bank they find themselves when the creek swells and jumps beyond the upper limits of safe crossing over the bridge built by Geoff and Jim in July 1979—as inscribed on the underside of their monolith—while a then 12-year-old Ian stood watching, learning.
Long before the Clarkes’s 70-year history of farming here, in 1830s US, a minstrel hit ‘Jump Jim Crow’ was performed in black-face. With the help of seafaring colonialists, the catchy song crossed oceans and cultures, and in this corner of the world, inspired the renaming of Lalgambook (present day Mount Franklin) to Jim Crow Hill, which in turn caught on as a name for other landmarks in the area, the protectorate, the creek, and the Dja Dja Warrung ‘tribe’ and its men.
At the apex of the bend in Clarkes Road, the creek carves an aqueous path between Franklinford Streamside Reserve and the Clarkes’s property. The sky is blue, and at just after midday, the sun is due south, on its daily journey towards the homestead, where it sets. Soothing sounds of free-flowing water assert the creek’s presence despite its being hidden by a dense cluster of foliage and having to compete against the roaring engine of a red tractor rushing over pastures. The tractor pulls an orange trailer that rattles over the undulating land. Minutes later, exhaust fumes puff across the horizon like a learned response to machine activity.
Close to water level are shrubs in lilac bloom. Sunlight bounces off their edges, giving them a silver aura; their beauty lulling my thoughts of danger in accessing the creek. Loose rocks make it hard to get a footing but all the easier to make contact with the prickly gorse that thrives. It is a threat not only to this scrambler’s flesh but also the creek—that and stock access where barriers are non-existent or permeable between creek and farmland.
Beyond the apex, on the straight, the creek widens and deepens. The expansive terrain absorbs the creek’s upstream energy; its once sonorous flow is languid, silent. Carrying on in stealth, it passes more gorse on the reserve side and a steep, jagged cliff on the other. Making the home stretch to the Clarkes’s driveway, it passes under the dilapidated bridge before stopping— abruptly—at a second crossing to the farm where it is siphoned, in finite quantities, through a concrete pipe and spat out the other side.
A ute approaches at snail’s pace. Ian lowers the window closest to where I stand, on the right side of two ‘keep out’ signs that dangle on a taut belt across the bridge. We talk, briefly. Of plans to change the creek’s name, he says, ‘Not being political about it, hopefully it stays the same. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong—’ then switches mid-sentence to the creek’s renown for trout fishing. Like his forebears, he too will build a bridge—bigger, better, before next winter—to weather future inundations without pause.