Sunset at the Greystanes Aqueduct

There’s an hour or so of the day left, and the birds are darting high overhead, calling out, on their way back to their roosts. The sunlight is fading and its low angle against the horizon elongates my shadow along the pathway. The path curves towards a concrete structure that looks like the turret of a castle, marooned among the grass and the trees.

Beyond the turret is the aqueduct, which spans the valley in a succession of brick archways. Built in 1888 as part of the network that conveyed water from the Prospect Reservoir, the aqueduct was only used for a few decades before it was superseded by a syphon system. But the arches remained, and since the 1990s it has been a cycleway, part of the Lower Prospect Canal Reserve. From where I’m standing beside the aqueduct, every so often a helmeted head is visible, as a cyclist speeds along the path on the top of it.

Although the aqueduct crosses a valley, Greystanes is high land, rising up towards Prospect Hill. Greystanes and Prospect are names which maintain its colonial history: Greystanes (Stane is the Scottish word for stone) was the name of a 19th century estate; the name Prospect was given to the area by Watkin Tench. But of all the names given to this area on the map of Sydney, the most resonant is Pemulwuy. A leader of Aboriginal resistance to British settlement, Pemulwuy led raids on settlers from this part of western Sydney, as he fought for his people and country.

I walk underneath the arches, over towards the far side of the park. The aqueduct is within a stretch of bush and parkland between two residential streets. This land was subdivided for housing in the 1960s, and the houses are the solid, brick family homes that make up so much of Sydney suburbia. They have a square, uncomplicated look, solidly inhabiting the blocks of land. At the edge of the park, a patchwork strip of Colorbond fencing seals off the backyards of the adjacent houses. The smell of dinners cooking drifts through the air. I hear the roll of a sliding door being pushed closed. This is a time for returning home, turning in.

On one of the fences is a metal plaque set down low, small as an envelope, but it catches my eye from afar and I go over to read it. Etched into the roughly cut aluminium of the plaque is a memorial: “Here lies Charlie, our first best friend”. I follow the fence-line for a while, passing underneath a pomegranate tree spilling over from a backyard, with fallen pomegranates on the ground beneath it. At the lowest point of the valley is a creek, crowded by the trees that grow around it. I duck under branches and carefully pick my way over the narrow eroded path from which two terracotta pipes poke out, dribbling water.

Walking between the back fences and the aqueduct I am moving between two atmospheres: the suburban world of 6pm dinnertimes, alongside the breathing-space of the urban bushland. The aqueduct, marching through on its concrete legs, has a weathered look, stained by water and weather. Over time, it has softened into the landscape, as much as brick and concrete can. Like the Annandale aqueduct that passes over Johnsons and Whites Creeks, the Greystanes Aqueduct has the look of an architectural puzzle. It expands and diminishes in size, the arches aligning differently with each change of aspect.

From the top of the aqueduct, where the cycle path runs across it, there’s a view across backyards and rooftops. The scene below is animated by small movements, and my eyes move across them. A grey cat sits watching a white cat prowling across a back garden. A cricket team walk off the field at the sportsground, their game over, their white uniforms bright against the green. The lights of the petrol station on Merrylands Road glow. Up here, on this path that leads above the valley, I can see all this with a bird’s eye view. I can almost imagine how it would be to be flying across here, as the light fades, and the shadows lengthen, and a dog’s bark echoes across the valley, and is echoed soon after by another.