Visiting thrombolites with Boardwalk

Boardwalk-children-adults-sun-lake. Photo by Rebecca; 6 years

Boardwalk is an active protagonist in our visits to the thrombolites. More than just a structure which allows human access and some measure of protection to thrombolites and their ecologies, it is also a place for nonhuman perching, preening, hunting, nesting and web anchoring. Boardwalk frames children’s views and is present in photographs they take (but rarely in their drawings). Handrails, uprights and shadows (the weathering of sun-Boardwalk-child) are regular participants in children’s photos, but children (and their parents) also peer through the boards.

Boardwalk’s design offers uninterrupted vistas only to adults and is ignored as an active part of the ecology. Looking back through our own researcher photos, the boardwalk is rarely used as a framing device or a feature to add interest to a sunset shot. In fact, we have actively cropped it from most images. However, looking at the photographs that Rebecca (6 years old) took, many include parts of Boardwalk-the visual point-of-view of the child whose views are framed by Boardwalk’s timbers.

And another thing…

The presence of Boardwalk in Rebecca’s photos has caused us to wonder whether the timbers were sourced from the nearby pine plantations that drink from the same underground water sources that feed the lake? What impact might pine plantations have on thrombolites?

And although Boardwalk enables human access to the thrombolites, what are the implications for the thrombolites of Boardwalk?

Boardwalk framing the view of a crouching adult. Boardwalk-body-thrombolite ecology

Remembering thrombolites

Do you remember when you visited the thrombolites?

What do you remember?

Can you remember what the weather was like? Was it hot or cold, windy or calm, sunny or cloudy? Was the weather comfortable for you? Was it good weather for thrombolites?

Can you remember what the thrombolites looked like? Did they remind you of something else? If you could touch a thrombolite, what might it feel like?

What sounds did you notice while you were at the thrombolites? Did the thrombolites make a noise?

Did you notice any smells? Could you tell where those smells were coming from?

What other creatures and plants can you remember seeing? Where were they?

What sounds can you remember? Can you make these sounds?

Or did you notice these signs and the creatures shown on them as you wandered along the path past the grasshoppers, the spiders and their amazing webs on your quest to find the “blue birds” (splendid fairy wrens)?

How did being at this place make you feel?

weathering thrombolites

If you look closely at the two photos above you can see a number of different ways that weathering affects the thrombolites and their ecology. The old reef eroded by time and weather to a flat pavement of eroded forms which are inundated by still salty water after prolonged rain and baked in the summer under a crust of salt and foam.

Have you visited the thrombolites? Can you remember what the weather was like? Was it hot, windy, cloudy, sunrise? Were the thrombolites covered in water? What colour was the water?

children took photos of the clouds during their visit.

Thrombolites are weathering – responding to the changing seasons and the cycles of erosion as they dry out and then rehydrate. They are also weathering increased visitor numbers and the hats, litter and footprints that come with them.

rising lake levels, after recent rain, are beginning to erase human footprints as the benthic algal mat responds

Local visitor numbers have increased about 400% since the first easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to the ranger we spoke to, his hands full of discarded bottles. He was also concerned about the number of human footprints around the thrombolites. The footprints suggest people are ignoring the signs to stay on the boardwalk, perhaps in the quest for the perfect ‘selfie’. The human footprints affect the thrombolites and their weathering.

How would you design a sign to remind visitors not to walk on the living rocks?

During the COVID-19 lockdown, not all the researchers were restricted from visiting the thrombolites. It was a quiet place to walk with few human visitors, but the weather was always affective. Windblown foam and still reflections, brilliant sunsets and moonrises, changing water levels as rain fell. Some days still and quiet, others noisy with the sound of wind and slapping waves.

Boardwalk weathers too. Children notice boardwalk and include this weathering in their photos. Bee has also been affected by the strong Summer easterly winds and rests on boardwalk. The timber splits and cracks from constant exposure to sun and salt borne winds, eroding into patterns that echo the shapes of the eroding fossil thrombolite reef.

In late June after Winter storms, one of boardwalk’s planks was replaced.

Weathering bodies

Astrida Neimanis and Rachel Loewen Walker (2014) remind us that weathering is “a way of being/becoming, or a mode of affecting and differentiating that brings humans into relation with more-than-human weather. We can grasp the transcorporeality of weathering as a spatial overlap of human bodies and weathery nature” (p. 560).

The children interact bodily with boardwalk- lying, sitting, squatting, climbing, running and include their bodies in their photos. Bodies that wear hats clamped on tightly against the wind and sunblock in the strong Summer sun, sweating and itching in the heat. Arms and legs and faces that come out in goose bumps and shivering voices that complain of the cold when the breeze picks up. Bodies are affected by the weather and by weathering as fingers touch, stroke and probe the eroding boardwalk timbers, hair whipping in faces as they take photos of clouds and recognise faces in the thrombolites. Children learn and world-make with weather (Rooney 2016) through these body-weather relations.

Rooney , T. (2018). Weather worlding: learning with the elements in early
childhood. Environmental Education Research, 24(1), 1-12. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1217398

Neimanis, A., & Walker, R. L. (2014). Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality. Hypatia, 29(3), 558-575. doi:doi:10.1111/hypa.12064

Common Worlding and Pedagogical Documentation

In situating this multispecies ethnography within a common worlds framework (Pacini-Ketchabaw, Taylor, & Blaise, 2016; Taylor, 2013, 2017; Taylor & Giugni, 2012; Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019), we recognise that nature and culture, humans and nonhumans are not separate. Rather, they are infinitely interconnected in a constant state of intra action (Barad, 2007) whereby they simultaneously affect and are affected by each other.  Common worlds “are always already full of inherited messy connections [and] entangled and uneven historical and geographical relations, political tensions, ethical dilemmas and unending possibilities” (Taylor, 2013, p. 62). Thus children, nature, thrombolites, water, politics, trees, histories, are all inextricably entangled. Furthermore, common worlds relations are constantly being made and remade in an ongoing process of progressive composition (Latour, 2004).

The messy, entangled deep time ecology of the Lake Clifton thrombolites including non/human infrastructure that facilitates visitors and residents – human, insect, arachnid and avian. Looking west towards the present coastline of the Indian Ocean, behind intercoastal dunes with pockets of tuart woodlands and coastal heathlands. Rusty freshwater springs seeping through tangled rushes (waagal’s whiskers) and samphire to lake foreshore and thrombolites and the boardwalk across shallow salty water. Remnant fenceposts, cut from local timber, recall a settler past. 

In following common world relations, we draw from the multimodal and multiperspectival strategies of “pedagogical documentation”, the systematic way of researching with children used in the educational project in the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy (Fleet, Patterson, & Robertson, 2017; Giudici, Rinaldi, & Krechevsky, 2001).

Pedagogical documentation uses an array of strategies, for example: conversation, drawing, playing, making, pretending, photographing, experimenting. Similar to the French do-it-yourself artisan, the bricoleur, these strategies allow us to use what is on hand and available at the time, enabling us to trace unfolding common world relations as they emerge.


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.
Fleet, A., Patterson, C., & Robertson, J. (Eds.). (2017). Pedagogical documentation in early years practice: Seeing through multiple perspectives. London, United Kingdom: SAGE.
Giudici, C., Rinaldi, C., & Krechevsky, M. (Eds.). (2001). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.
Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., Taylor, A., & Blaise, M. (2016). Decentring the human in multispecies ethnographies. In C. A. Taylor & C. Hughes (Eds.), Posthuman research practices in education.(pp. 149-167). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. London: Routledge.
Taylor, A. (2017). Beyond stewardship: Common world pedagogies for the Anthropocene. Environmental Education Research, 23(10), 1448-1461. doi:10.1080/13504622.2017.1325452
Taylor, A., & Giugni, M. (2012). Common worlds: Reconceptualising inclusion in early childhood communities. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(2), 108-119. doi:10.2304/ciec.2012.13.2.108
Taylor, A., & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2019). The common worlds of children and animals: Relational ethics for entangled lives. London: Routledge.

Hats off to beverages and other associated litter – traces of human passing

The message about being sun smart and hydrated in the heat seems to be well heeded by visitors if the traces left behind are anything to go by. On our December 23rd walk, we were surprised by the number of hats left behind- red, pink, blue….  

The breeze was gentle, barely rippling the water and not troubling our hats at all. (The beautiful Christmas spiders of more concern to those who went bare headed but stay tuned for more on that).

However, when a stiff afternoon sea breeze comes gusting across the lake, it would send hats cartwheeling off heads to sail briefly on foam topped waves before sinking into the lake or being caught in the reeds of the lakeshore. Lost and discarded by misadventure rather than deliberately thrown away.

What do the reeds do with these captured ‘treasures’? 

One of several hats trapped by reeds and sinking into the mud of the lake.

Where do the microfibres go as this hat breaks down?

Do thrombolites contain nanoplastics?

Beverage containers are noticeably discarded waste marking the edges of the path and leaving rusted skeletons in the shallows.

What stories could these containers tell?

Where have they come from, who drank from them and how do they feel about being entangled here and becoming redundant and extinct?

Cigarette butts and eutrophication from nutrient rich runoff. Factors that also change the ecology and chances of survival for this Threatened Ecological Community.

A 1 in 5 chance of winning!!

Are they the odds offered on the thrombolites surviving?

Temporality of place or the place of temporality?

How many lifetimes have these dwelt in this place? Are they still alive? Who is living there now?

“I’m not sure if they are even alive” – child, aged 6.

“They have to be in the water to be alive” – another child.

“To appreciate the agencies of nature and materiality, not only do we
need to appreciate the very differing forms of beings and processes in which they are articulated, but also the very differing velocities and rhythms they might be operating in. Places are ‘where spatial narratives meet up or form configurations, conjunctions of trajectories which have their own temporalities’ (Massey,2005: 139)” (Jones and Cloke, 2008, 87)

The land measures time differently. Sea-levels rise and fall bringing with them extinction…and…rebirth.
How many footfalls have passed this tree, carrying messages from the tree to the thrombolites? Does the tree notice? Do the passing feet ?

The failure to articulate non-human agency within its own ecological time-scales as well as in its own places has made it difficult to grasp the notion of non-human agency within extant and more anthropocentric views of agency” (Jones and Cloke, 2008, 82, original emphasis)

Processes, velocities and rhythms of currents, forces and pressure at work in the ecological time-scales of water and land.

“Water pushes fossils down and layers get on top but they need to get a bit older to push down” – child, aged 6.

Air and water are not objects that act. They are material media in which living things are immersed, and are experienced by way of their currents, forces and pressure gradients” (Ingold, 2008, 212)

A meshwork of spider webs spanning between transpiring trees amidst the material media of air-water-land. Web becomes cloud. Predator-prey-meal-waste. But how easy the web falls prey to those that blunder into it.
These young children help build a web; a temporary ephemeral work woven of string.


Ingold, T. (2008). When ANT meets SPIDER: Social theory for arthropods. In C. Knappett & L. Malafouris (eds.), Material agency: towards a non-anthropocentric approach. Springer, Boston , MA.

Jones, O., & Cloke, P. (2008). Non-human agencies: trees in place and time. In Knappett, C. & Malafouris, L. (eds). Material Agency: Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach (pp. 79-96). Springer, Boston, MA.

Massey, D. B. (2005). For space. Sage, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi.