I love saying the word billabong. It bounces and rolls in my mouth like a hard boiled lolly. A billabong is a pond, a stagnant body of water left behind when a river or creek deviates away. Some call it a ‘dead river’. A misnomer! There is nothing further from the truth.
Banjo Paterson in his poem, Waltzing Matilda, evoking imagery with simplicity wrote, “Once a jolly swagman, sat by the billabong, under the shade of a Coolibah tree …”, and forever associated the solitary traveller in Australia, with a billabong. So, it is not surprising when I travel, my eyes scan the landscape for one. I know there will be some other creature seeking life there too. Billabongs are not always in the outback. They are along highways too. Wildlife there is different. More often, I see a solitary white heron, stretching its neck elegantly to posture. But, it was rare for me on one trip to find a billabong that so epitomises the spirit of a country I call home.
On the outskirts of Derby, Western Australia, near a place of historical importance (which I will write about later), it was a delight to find this billabong at dusk. Wallabies, raptors, water birds and the magnificent brolgas ended their day quietly while the black cockatoo, with the splendid red tail feather, broke the silence occasionally with a loud squawk. It was a surreal moment often seen in the paintings of Australian masters.
About 2300 km south of the billabong, along the coast, I woke to a similar surreal moment this morning. Once shadows broke free from the darkness of an autumn morning, the magpies sang in chorus. The tiny Willy Wagtail, not to be outdone, chirped along with its familiar sweet tweet. The kookaburras, reluctant to share, kept their call rolling deep within them, never shattering the morning silence with their distinctive laughter.
And, once again, I am observer.
I am, as always,
a dawn bird