Another view of Spring 2021

As is my habit I breakfast in the morning sun on the patio. It is fresh and I don’t switch on the radio, as I want to hear the birds.

Next to me is a kumquat tree with bright orange fruit and new season flowers, which have that lovely citruscent. One of the day’s decisions is whether to turn the fruit to marmalade – I think I will.

The lawn is patrolled by spotted doves and magpie larks. The local magpies pass through to ensure their territories are being respected. They viciously attack any magpie intruders.

A pair of magpie larks,called peewees, are frequent visitors. This morning one of them walked past my chair as I read on the patio after breakfast. I glanced at her and she stopped and eyed me over, then as I was not an obvious threat or interest walked under the table.

She emerged on the other side hopped up onto a chair and then onto the table, only 4 feet from me, looking for morsels. She then stopped, looked at me and sounded her ear piercing tweetshriek. Who knows: maybe defiance, or just a joyful greeting?

In the foliage around the bird feeder, where the pyton often hangs out, crested pigeons kerfuffle frequently – their libido goes through the roof in Spring. Rainbow Lorikeets pop in occasionally, but don’t linger.

Less frequently, we are privleged with glimpses of King Parrots and Pale-headed Rosellas and the occasional galah and cockatoo.

In the syringa tree, figbirds and blue eyed honeyeaters search for flowers or berries almost every day. Noisy mynahs squabble and shriek on the move like gangs of unruly children released from class. Their noise is often pierced by the harsher scrapescreech of the noisy friars who pass by.

Finally, there is a sweet pair of Lewin’s Honeyeaters, who bathe in a patio gutter that needs fixing, carelessly splashing and spraying. They chatter happily as they flit through the trees, playing catch.

Life is not too bad, if we stop and listen to the birds.

Goodwill in bedlam

Herself and I had the honour recently to be invited to the Citizenship Ceremony of dear friends.

There is rare opportunity for the amorphous body of the State to impress upon its subjects the import and high value of being a citizen.

Australia like most former colonies has suppressed admiration for the pomp and ceremony practised by the colonial overlords of former years, but hides it under a veneer of mateship. State ceremonies should therefore be serious and memorable with an acceptable ritual, but men can wear shorts and women slacks and sandals.

So, on Australia Citizenship Day, as befits serious occasions, we arrived early at the Community Leisure Centre (that could have been a clue), to be greeted by a melee of smart fellow guests and citizens-to-be, under direction of slightly flustered bureaucrats, one of whom was a long serving town councillor.

It appears that nobody had told the local Kung-fu Klub that they could not have the hall for their practice that night and martial arts were in process. The sensei had growled at suggestions by the Councillor that a ceremony of State should have precedence  – he explained to us in  a whisper “they are very big men!”

So we had to make a plan as we were told Australians had always done – set up in a smaller hall and split the function into 2 sessions to abide by the Covid space limit of 35 people.

This was also under the faint anxiety induced by the need to ensure Safe Coronavirus Hygiene was observed and necessary tracking details were recorded as well as issue of all important documents for the Citizens- to- be.

There were not enough chairs to allow for all to be seated so attendees spread around the walls, all decorously looking solemn and anxiously trying to observe Covid safe distancing.

I was quite comfortable on the kitchen sink. When every seat was taken and safe spaces were diminishing dangerously, an explanation and apology was made by the Councillor who kept his cool, even as the walls were closing in…

As is fitting the elders of the land were acknowledged and the event proceeded.

The certificates were given out with only a minor confusion of some Singhs, and the two Oaths of Affirmation (a separate one for non-Believers) were completed with everyone invited to join in.

The old Councillor was so relieved that he despatched us all to tea and cake in the Karate Hall, only to be met with an outcry – we haven’t sung the Anthem!

Everyone was remarkably calm and accepting of this bureaucratic balls-up of a ceremony, waiting patiently for their certificate and posing sweetly for a photo with the old Councillor, clutching their gift of a spindly indigenous seedling and a Labor Party holdall.

The Guest of Honour, a state MP who made an inaudible speech, was soon forgotten and slunk away into a corner.

Everyone sung the Anthem with serious demeanour and then we were released.

It was an interesting batch of new citizens, mostly European but with some Filipinos, Middle Easterners, Chinese and Indians – all on their best behaviour to avoid losing the prize at the slightly vague finishing line.

They weren’t yet Australian enough to barrack at the bureaucrats for stuffing up what should be a smooth, sedate ritual reinforcing the competence and effectiveness of a modern State.

People seemed genuinely happy if somewhat bemused by the awkward shambles – it was almost heart-warming and definitely memorable in an unintended way.

Sursum Corda*

(*Lift up your hearts)

I get up just before the sun to walk Lulu. My Dad called staying in bed after you wake up ‘scugging’, – I am not a scug.

The first few minutes are  mostly muzzy: where are my shoes? Fill the bird feeder or the bird shrieks until its fed, waking herself… why am I doing this thoughts begin seeping up….

Then Lulu woofs and I go to her room and she kisses me and bounces around making soft growly joyous sounds.

As we step outside the cool freshness is sublime.

Morning skies this week have been blue with high wispy wind clouds tinged pink by  early sunlight. This morning they were swollen, lowering grey with a hint of purple. Maybe it will rain.

stone curlewAt the end of the street, two stone curlews freeze and pretend invisibility. Lulu suspects something but is not sure.

We are heralded by the butcher birds who whistle and chortle from tree to tree. The kookaburra leads us across the park.

Under the big gum tree that is shedding its winter bark and displaying its new pastel green skin, two crows are examining something on the path. They shout squawk off  but flee as I approach. Their interest was not a blue tongued lizard as I had thought, but an Australian wonder: a squirrel glider.

squirrel-glider.jpg

Such a pretty little thing! It hopped towards me miaowchirping as if to say thank you, pleasecanIwalkwithyou. I said No and herded it to a tree waving away a persistent crow. It scrambled up  and was soon safely out of sight. A lovely little animal – I have not seen one before.

We walk on under a fig tree quivering with breakfast birds and past the water-dragon.jpgsilly ducks that think I am a feeder. I am not.

Two water dragons stretch their necks, frozen to bathe in the morning sun.

magpie goose

Three magpie geese waddle away from us as we walk down to the bridge.

purple swamphenLulu tries to ignore the purple swamp hens (pukeko in New Zealand) who gallump across the path on tbush turkeyheir long feet and the bush turkey scuffling on its mound of leaves which it uses to keep its eggs warm.

Back up the path, we meet Harry a big grinning chocolate Labrador for a sniff and a smile. Then home again.

Let us give thanks and praise.

Dignum et justum est. It is right and just

 

 

 

Cockatoo

Crocodile Dundee calls it the Kakadu; the place where he bewitched water buffaloes and baffled crocodiles.

That’s where herself and I spent a few days camping in a tent – once next to a billabong in which we saw three crocodiles. freshie

Alright, they were only freshies, but they are not exactly toothless or harmless you know. One of our camp neighbours was over three metres long!

We were lucky enough to be invited to join friends doing a Grey Nomad trip through the Territory in their caravan. We sourced a tent and self inflating mattresses and hopped on a plane. Such spontaneity for 65+ year olds is invigorating!

The Kakadu National Park is part of the Northern Territory and very much on the caravan route which could be called the grey fringe of Australia because of the  continuous flow of  middle aged caravanners, campers and tourists which clog the camps and roads.

That is,  in the dry, up North; in the wet monsoon and cyclone months most of the area is under water or subject to flooding at a moment’s notice.

In the summer months 75% of the area is burnt off. The result is a open  savannah with burn scarred trees, rejuvenated grass, anthills and lots of  cycads. Sadly, we saw almost more roadkill than live animals: a few feral pigs and wallaroos. Despite lush grasslands, there were not many water buffalo in parks and a few cattle in areas outside of parks. I was reminded of the rocky ridged cattle country near Nomahasha in Swaziland.

Waterways were busy with birdlife and crocodile seeking tourists. Every roadside, park entrance and river bank is posted with warning signs about the danger of salties: the ubiquitous and lethal estuarine crocodiles.

Paradoxically, the most popular tourist venues and camps were those adjacent to beautiful billabongs, pools and streams where swimming was deemed safe. Nevertheless these places were studded with signs advising that estuarine crocodiles were know to visit all waters, but were removed when observed; freshwater crocodiles were always present and harmful if provoked!

The waters were clear and refreshing with gushing waterfalls and darting fish. Everyone swam, including herself, who has a known aversion to chilly water.

There were quite a few birds, many of which were clearly kin to African counterparts:

rainbow pitta

Cockatoos, storks, coucals, cormorants, flycatchers, bee eaters, ducks, geese and rainbow bee eater

hawks and eagles. I think I saw a Rainbow Pitta, which I have not seen before; my dream birds, the bee eaters, followed me all over the North.

The best bird was the Jabirua black stork, with a powerful bill said to be strong enough to pierce a croc’s skull. Certainly they were ignored by large passing salties.ro jabiru

If you are brave enough to fish, the Barramundi, provides fine sport and is a very tasty fish dish. The only one I saw caught was a ten kilogram plus beauty, snapped up by a huge crocodile.barra-croc.jpg

We had a really good trip with our good friends and tenting was quite fun; certainly no hardship. Beer and wine seemed to go down quite well despite the fact that it is more difficult to buy alcohol in the Territory than it was in Alabama during Prohibition.

There are huge social problems with Aboriginal communities as a result of generations of drink dependency which necessitate such measures.

I was left with a somewhat surreal impression of empty land with crowded roads and camps, lovely waterways and an economy greatly dependent on a population of crocodiles, once nearly exterminated by hunting, now nearing over abundance!

The Kakadu must be very interesting to see in the wet, but with temperatures in the 40’s and humidity consistently close to 100%, I will rather read about it.

 

 

 

 

Raucous cacophony

Australian birds are numerous, many are garishly coloured; they are not very shy and when together frequently create a raucous cacophony. It seems to have  rubbed off on to a number of Aussies too!

bluebirdIn the early morning we are stridently informed by the blue ring-necked lovebird that there are insufficient sunflower seeds for breakfast.rainbow lorikeets

No sooner is the feeder topped up than rainbow lorikiets chase him away and colonise the feeder in  a mass of scarlet, electric green, purple, orange and yellow, squawking and crooning.

noisy minersA sudden intensified chattering and shrieking from the local noisy miners indicated that there might be a snake about. Sure enough – coiled on a branch above another seed feeder is our local carpet python. Still a youngster at about two metres and the thickness of a pick-handle, his brown paisley camouflage makes him nearly impossible to see.

31.1.18 Our python 001

The noise attracts the attention of a family of sulphur crested cockatoos who perch in the trees about the area, grinding out their harsh shrieks.

To make matters worse this corella cacophonyattracted a flock of correllas, which circle above like helicopter gunships, adding further creaking shrieking.

Finally, the local crows croak by adding their indignant comment to the whole affair.aus crow

The noise is a raucous cacophony.

 

The snake slumbers on, unperturbed; none are brave enough to engage.

Lewins honeyeaterEventually they all get bored and move off,  leaving only the Lewin’s Honeyeater which chatters on all day every day, a Spangled Drongo  and spangled drongothe crested pigeons  (kuifie duifies) which are practising for Spring because the sun is out.

Later, my wife who has been trying too sleep after a night shift, is awoken by a crow and a butcher bird on the verandah,  arguing over a dazed spotted dove that had taken refuge behind a pot plant. I rescued it and had to go inside to avoid the butcher birdclose attention of the persistent and clearly hungry butcher bird.

 

So much for the stillness of suburbia – it’s worth its weight in gold!

Happy Day

Its already a year on since I wrote my appreciation of Australia Day.

It seems that my opinion is not shared by all. There are some that say gday mate

celebrating  the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales is not OK – that ultimate New Age condemnation.

 

 

So sadly, there will be some people who will say that celebration of the arrival of a different culture is in fact a celebration of the subjugation of the Aboriginal people who were already in Australia and apparently owned all the land and resources thereon.

This is a common theme of native populations who were affected by the arrival of more technologically advanced and powerful colonists. It is a sad fact that in Australia and the Americas, by and large, the people who were there were defeated and subjugated and those who were not successfully incorporated into the new societies still suffer diminished and pathetic lifestyles and the disappearance of traditional cultural practices.

In Africa and Asia, the colonists were expelled after a century or two of domination and exploitation, leaving modern technology, knowledge and infrastructure and some vicious struggles to achieve power and the benefits that flow from the dispensation of favours. The eventual collapse of economies and reversion to tribal conflicts is frequently blamed on the historic, invasion of the colonists.

That is a digression which may make some people hot under the collar – we don’t really need that as the southern part of the continent is stricken by a heatwave, leading to the cancellation of many functions. But let me hasten to add -NOT THE CRICKET!! australia day cricket

(On second thoughts, given the success of the Australians against the Poms, maybe it should be cancelled as a threat to national morale.)

No doubt this viewpoint of the mainly left wing and some indigenous people will  gather momentum, like the #Me Too movement, notwithstanding Germaine Greer‘s opposition. (Who would have thought of her on the right side of the spectrum…?) .

Me? I am not an Aussie mate, but I love the country. I thought the day was meant to celebrate Australia, not some ancient event invested with political significance.

Pick a day which doesn’t create too many bleats and change it. Celebrate the day like the popular song says:

Australians all let us rejoice 
For we are young and free 
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil 
Our home is girt by sea…

Look forward, not backwards!

Girraman-dha

currimundimouth

… that means  ‘Place of Flying Foxes‘ and that’s where we were yesterday. Not a dark, stark, spooky swamp, but a sunny, sandy beach and tidal estuary.

 

 

It’s now referred to as Currimundi, an Englification of the ‘foreign’ local dialect, no doubt. That’s an interesting digression: how the first ‘civilised’ or ‘literate’ visitors to a new land transcribe the local language… it has significant political effects. But that’s for another day.

I have been moved to write about the unfettered happiness and  evident joy of visitors to this natural playground, having been infected there last Australia Day.

currimundi under treesWe got almost the last space under a shady tree, which was lucky as the tide was high and thus the beach diminished. Gazebos and sun shelters were filled with coolboxes, the sand littered with lilos, floating unicorns, paddleboards, spades and frisbees – all the paraphernalia of dedicated beach experienced holidayers.

Nearly everyone wore a hat or cap and most wore ‘rashies’ as sun vests are called; the slip-slap-slop of sunscreen application was audible  – the summer sun is mean here!

Children splashed in the shallows and chased bream and garfish, idly watched by bikini’d grandmothers and ignored by teenaged siblings. Dads stalked the river channel with their one time a year fishing rods and mudprawn pumps; children plunged off the riverbank into the water with Tarzan yells, others rode the incoming tide at the rivermouth.

Paragliders sailed out of the sky onto the beach as the coolboxes were opened and serious relaxation started, to be followed by a gentle snooze.

BeachFunLaughter, squeals and smiles were the order of the day. It remains a seriously positive experience, despite some sunburnt edges and the loss of my sunnies when tumbled in the surging riverstream as the lake ejected its water back into the sea as the tide turned.

Oh happy day!

African Odyssey

 

We took off from Perth at 20 to midnight and landed in Joburg at 10 to five – but flew for 11 hours overnight, during which sleep was elusive.

Immigration was quick and impassive, baggage delivery slow but effective: all there and undamaged. Customs alert and easy going. Friends beaming at the gate – AT 5H30 ON SUNDAY MORNING!! Such love!

Car hire…eish! system is down… but sorted and 4 suitcases, 4 hand luggage squeezed in and away we go. At garage exit, we are stopped by a slovenly policeman. (Rat smell!) – kept cool and stared him down, he checked driver’s licence and let us go: Welcome to Africa!

Things have changed and we got lost in Boksburg North and stopped to listen to hadedas and then arrived at Bridie’s. Last home of Mum and Dad, with same furniture, curtains, vases. Watched the rugby test, specially recorded: boring draw! Grand breakfast.

Little snooze and in walk Jeff and Gail, besties from the ou dae! Beer and braai and a bietjie wyn! Heart full as I thought we might miss them.

Early bed – to awaken at 2am – ain’t jet lag grand!

Lingering, languid lunch with Jen and Rich – awake at 2 am again! Aaarghh!

 

It was about here that I realised this could turn into an epic requiring undue perseverance by my faithful few readers, so ……. I wrote a sort of travelogue poem, condensing our trip while trying to cover itinerary, cast list and feelings about what we saw and did.

Here is a link to the poem, which I called Second generation Souties

 

 

Going back to Africa

I must confess to mixed feelings now.

It has taken some time to get to this point. Nearly twenty years in fact.

This has been quite a sudden realisation; not so long ago I wrote a poem about returning my spirit to Africa, where I grew up and where 10 generations of ancestors are buried:

Journey

Like a boomerang, we go forwards to go back

to our hearts home where our mum’s wombs rest.

From light to dark and smooth to shoddy.

People simple but direct, not so friendly.

But it’s the home of our heart and soul,

darker Africa, so far and so near.

The warm people now despondent

about unrealised comforts, leached away by lazy overlords,

Maybe blamed on us, who give, build and take.

 

Where I die, twirl a thorn twig,

catch my ghost and take it home,                                         

like a boomerang, back from where we came,

to the bosom of the family we left.

Then maybe I will rest.

 

Now our near family is here, not there. Without a doubt, feelings are mixed.

But now I feel as if I am leaving home, not going home.

I am happy and sad.

(The picture is a twig from the Umlahlankosi tree that can be used to carry the spirit of the deceased from the place of death to a new resting place).