The Marlgu Billabong

The visit to Marlgu Billabong  was a magic carpet ride.

Three women piled into one 4WD.  I sat in the back of the other, while two of the men in the group sat in front.  Often forgetting I was there, they talked candidly about love and life.  In silence I listened to their sensitive and meaningful perspectives.  How similar we all are!  We all hurt.  We all regret.  We all dust ourselves off and try again.  We all seek meaning to where we were, where we are and where we want to be.  The cycle of life.  I listen in silence and feel grateful for the opportunity to be where I am.

During the usual bone crunching ride we stopped intermittently.  The traffic and views are different here.  We let the yellow spotted monitor cross the road.  The shark was perfectly preserved in fierce heat on the salt flats.  Crisp to the touch, it did not even have an odour.  Soon we were taking the winding road to the Billabong.  We arrive.  In a word, breathtaking!  Acres of white, pink and purple water lilies.  The biodiversity of this place is astounding.  The birdlife prolific.  I should have better photographs but the sheer joy of this place made my hands tremble.  While focusing on the snake I heard an almighty splash.  A crocodile!  But the deceptive beast snuck just below the surface of the water and remained there.  The snake bird emerged and stayed on the bank.  It is a large bird and stretched so far that I struggled with the focus.  The Nankeen night heron found a tasty morsel.  The delightful jacana with a blood red forehead.  Exquisite bird!  The elegant white faced grey heron.  Alive with all kinds of life, the noise at the Billabong was music.  A few hours here was a few hours too few.

For now, I return in memory.  But, I will return, some day soon.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird


The Bower Bird

The male Great Bower bird of the northern region of Western Australia is an industrious bird.  At the homestead I observed two young males diligently honing their wooing skills under a sprawling tree.  One chose shiny metal and green glass while the other preferred smooth pebbles.  The bower they created was not as refined as it could be.  But then, they were apprentices, still learning.

To be known as a bower bird is to collect things.  I think I fit this category quite easily.  I love antique and collectible shops.  I bought some old camp pans and a griddle recently when travelling through the south west.  They are worn and have been used well for what they were intended.  I could see folks sitting around a campfire, enjoying solitude and companionship.  Having experienced that recently, I wanted the same spirit in my home. where they find new use as pot planters or containers.  People exclaim in delight as they are unusual.  Their intended purpose, to bring people together, is kept alive.

The positive spirit message, it is said of bower birds, is one of love and giving.  Seeing the green glass reminded me of an incident years ago.

A ‘poor’ student I loved wandering around the antique fairs that were held twice a year in an affluent western suburb.  I rarely bought anything but got pleasure from seeing things from yester year, and dreamed big … maybe one day.  From a distance I saw a beautiful green pottery vase.  It was the shape and colour of the vase and streaming gum leaves that caught my eye.  I walked to it without blinking, reached and turned it over.  The label stated it was a piece of Australian pottery from the 1930s with the price tag indicating it was several hundred dollars.  My knees buckled.  There was no way I could afford it, so I loved it with my eyes and hands and placed it back on the table carefully.  The elderly lady who was selling the item came up to me.  “Would you like it, my dear?” she asked kindly.  I just smiled and said it was beautiful but no sadly, I could not afford it.  She offered to sell it to me on a payment plan saying she knew it would be in a home where it was loved and appreciated.  It took me the best part of a year to pay it off.  At the last payment, I took her a bouquet of flowers.  She wept saying she could not remember the last time someone gave her flowers.  The story is one of generosity of spirit between two strangers.  It is a legacy that will find a place in my son’s home one day.  He likes the story.

Like a bower bird, I’ve come to realise, life is rich when there is purpose in what we do and how we do it.  Like the apprentice bower birds I am still honing my skills.  And, therein lies the purpose.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

The first morning

“Bloody hell!” the exclamation is loud and startles me awake.  My neighbour has found frogs in the toilet!  A very Kimberley experience, even in hotel rooms in expensive Broome, at certain times of the year.  But, he’s from the East coast of Australia and not used to this!  The frogs are the bane of our existence for the rest of the trip.  We have arrived in these parts just after a biblical wet season.  I cautiously flush the toilet every morning to get rid of them.  During the day, the communal toilet near the campers and caravaners is a safer bet.  I found the frogs find it easier to congregate near the pipes that are easier to reach, so I prefer the middle toilets.  One learns this through trial and error.  There is something very simple and uncomplicated about living life this way.  The trek to these toilets, on the other side of the homestead, is worth it, if for nothing else but to read the simplicity of signage.

The walk to the homestead is a short one.  A horse is still feeding at my window.  The rising sun unveils the ridge.  It is dark lashed with trees, that, oddly, is hardly visible during the heat of the day.  In the front of my hut, the hardened ridges of the big granite Cockburn Range is softened like a smile by dawn light.  Horses, goats, wallabies and emu, all ordinary animals, made extraordinary in the most gorgeous golden light.  I don’t know where to aim my camera.  There are celebrities everywhere in this red earth landscape!

At the homestead, the fire has already been lit.  The billy tea is brewing.  We talk to each other softly still strangers in a stranger land.   We are a curiosity to the horses who pause intermittently to look at us.

Soon we are feasting on a hearty breakfast.  Eating crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, charred toast and sweet billy tea, is a memorable feast!  While chasing that ever elusive blue faced honey eater around the homestead, I see an unusual feathery end to long fronds in a bush growing in the yard and zoom in.  Barely the size of a child’s thumb, it is an explosion of pink and white tiny, tiny flowers.  It becomes a source of delight when shared with the owners of this place.  They have had the shrub for years and had never noticed the beautiful almost invisible flower that grew at the fingertips of the shrub.  The delight of this discovery, for me and them, is almost as big as the heart of this country.

After breakfast our writing retreat begins …

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird


On finding my True North …

After a cuppa we climb back into the 4WDs and driven with our gear a short distance from the homestead to the bush huts.  It is clean, simple and uncomplicated.  A bed with overhanging mosquito net, an adjoining open air shower and toilet, is my home for the next week.  The walls and roof are corrugated iron.  There is no ceiling.  The open rafters and wooden slats that make up the roof and flooring are no barriers to creatures that call this land home.  A tree attempts to give shade over the roof in the heat of the day.

A shower under a clear sky is luxury.  A quick change of clothes and we are ready for the evening.  The young boy, no more than 11, is stoking the campfire.  I watch him burn the grass under the drum with a lit stick.  His 9 year old sister reads my silent gaze accurately and informs me he is making sure there is nothing to alight should embers rain down.  In the city, the combination of fire and child would ignite adults into action.  Not here.  He is clearly in charge of the chore and trusted to do it well.   His sister respects his ability and responsibility.  So do I.

Soon more people have gathered around the fire, freshly showered, some with beer in hand.  The cowboy, the men and women, who have worked all day, have the distinctive tan of this region.  Their skin is leathery, brown, and deeply creased.  The cowboy plays his guitar.  He has spent the day riding a horse into ever constricting circles.  His “hup, hup, hup” sometimes loud and instructive and at other times, gentle and soothing.  He holds no grudges against the horse that bucks.  Someone else tells a yarn.  There is laughter, music and comfortable conversation.  We have become a group of intimate strangers.  Metal on iron, the dinner bell is rung.  Like an ocean to shore, people move towards the food in waves.

We head to bed by 8 pm.  This is a working cattle station.  We are all early risers.

The first night is pure apprehension.   The walk to the hut by torchlight through grass seems longer than I remember earlier in the day.  Surprisingly, there are few mosquitos in the hut at night.  The geckos know this.  They scurry outdoors on approach.

I had left behind an expensive hotel room in Kununurra where I made attempts sealing up the door with towels to keep a tiny gecko out of my room.  I was unsuccessful and only fell asleep each night out of sheer exhaustion.  Here in my hut I felt vulnerable, a flimsy net providing an illusion of safety.  I used my headlamp minimally to keep insects (and preying geckos) away and climbed into bed in record speed.  When I catch my breath I find the air is cool.  Once in bed, I dared not get out to find my socks, so I wriggle my feet vigorously against each other to generate warmth.

In the dark my hearing is acute.  I hit record on the phone.  It is the only flask I have to carry the elixir with me when I leave.

I hear the resident emu, Marilyn, grooming her feathered quills with a long, sweeping motion.  The horses and wallabies chomping grass almost at my ear aroused the child in me.  I wake to every sound, curious, darting the flashlight to catch a glimpse of whatever it was.  A flock of birds!  The sound is similar to the Tour de France racers.  The lengthy winged zoom tells me there is a canopy above the vast paddock.  The brolgas, probably somewhere near the King River, with their distinctive call.  I close my eyes to see them lift their wings in slow motion, circling each other in elegant dance.  In the far distance, a dingo howled.  The horses have been spooked.  Now in fast gallop, there is urgency in the sound of hooves.  I fall asleep, waking intermittently, to gentle rhythmic snoring from the men on either side of my hut.

In this alien landscape I burrow deeper into skin that breathes.  I am alive.  It has taken me a long time to get here.  I find a smile in the darkness.  Still clutching it, I birth new from this wondrous womb, at first light.

May you wake to find your True North, too, some day.

Until next time,

As always,

a dawn bird



It’s where a journey began

I meet my fellow travellers at the hotel in Kununurra.  We go to a café for a quick lunch before heading off to Wyndham, about 100 km northwest.  Despite the air con the ride is hot.  I am silent for most of the trip, taking in every moment.  This, after all, is a major ticket item on my bucket list this year.

Once off the main highway in Wyndham the road is unsealed and corrugated for another 40 km.  We pass the salt flats, now covered with a film of enough water to draw in the birds.  I see some species I have never seen before.  Some how I manage to spot the tiny red capped sand plovers.  It’s the movement that always catches my eye.  They are exquisite creatures.  I am a child in a toy store.  I take it all in.

At times we drive through riverbeds, some dry and some a low running creek.  The wet season has left its signature in the tumble of smooth stones, boulders and river debris.  We drive along the narrow shoulder that adjoins the King River.  It is brown as coffee, flowing lazily, somewhere below.  When the tide recedes, there is a sooty line left in its wake.   We scan for crocodiles on the banks.  None today!

Soon the open spaces of station country and the Cockburn Ranges come into view.  Horses and cattle are grazing.  From where we are they are just specks in the landscape.  We are at the cattle station.

We have been watching a bush fire for several kilometers.  There is anxiety in the crackle of voices on the two-way radio.   The paddocks are on fire and being monitored.  There is concern about the feed for the animals.  We finally arrive at the homestead.  Someone alights and opens the white metal gates.  Now, with arms wide open, the cattle station welcomes us with benevolence.  We drive through slowly.

We are introduced to the homestead and to the verandah that skirts it.  We can see for miles past the paddocks to the Ranges.  The horses lean over the fence in curiosity.  The blue face honeyeater is a familiar visitor.  I did not realize at the time I would spend a few minutes every day chasing it for that perfect shot.  I’m not sure if I succeeded.  It is a beautiful, if unusual, bird.  Olive brown, black and white with a vivid blue face.  I separate myself from my group briefly to take it all in.  The camera is my ruse.  It legitimizes the moments of ‘apartness’ I need in a crowd when seeking a moment.

Most of the workers or volunteers are out somewhere in this vast station.  Those who remain are introduced to us.  A family with three young children ranging from 9-16 years, are taking a break from the city.  Travelling around Australia for a year they are experiencing life as a classroom.  I’m intrigued to hear they even joined a circus once for a short time, doing odd jobs.  Oh! To walk in the shoes of the 9 year old!   A young woman from Tasmania is on a path to healing after serving her country.  She has driven across to this remote region in a caravan with her dogs.  I am filled with admiration to hear of her courage.  Two European backpackers, skilled horsewomen, are busy with chores in the corral.   A cowboy walks into the kitchen with spurs clinking on stone floors.  He says, “g’day!” to all within ear shot.

I have arrived in another world.

These were the first steps in an amazing journey.

Until next time

As always,

a dawn bird

A rainbow at my feet

While walking through Celebrity Park, Kununurra, locals would walk by glancing in the direction of my focus.  They soon got used to my presence in the park and would ask, “have you seen the rainbow bee eaters?”  At that point the birds were elusive.  I knew they were in the park but even with the incredible biodiversity, I could not find them.  And then, just when I was focused on something else, I caught glimpse of them early one morning.  Right above me, a pair, with one chomping on a dragonfly.

Once I saw them, they were everywhere, their distinctive tail streamer, setting them apart from the sacred kingfisher.  In sunlight, I could not get a good picture of their beautiful markings and colours until one dropped down at my feet in the tall grasses along the Lagoon.

So, naturally, I share with you a rainbow at my feet!

Until next time

As always,

a dawn bird



About nurturing

Across the road from my hotel in Kununurra is Celebrity Tree Park.  Yes, although a highway, it’s a stroll across a road that is often without heavy traffic!  There are plenty of boab trees at the Park, but I love the oldest and largest boab tree.  It is huge, tactile and the urge to lean against it’s wide girth is something tourists, like children seeking their mother’s skirt, cannot resist.  It is my go to place in the Park, too.

Late at dusk one evening I was heading back to my hotel when a honeyeater caught my eye.  She bounced off the side of the old boab and suspended in space, flapped her wings vigorously like a hummingbird.  She was quick and agile and I could not get my focus right.  Oh! the frustration!  She disappeared over the other side.  I circled the boab with her.  She then stopped and to my amazement I found she was feeding her chick.  Her frantic wings were a way to disturb the insects off the boab.  These are tiny birds so the chick was no bigger than a small thumb.  Perfectly camouflaged, it was safe.  I stood still and at a distance witnessing a precious moment of nurturing.

As a child my play consisted of dolls and houses.  I was constantly tending to my children.  At one point I had so many dolls that I played hospitals, taking turns being doctor and nurse to my patients!  The need to nurture was strong.  It followed through into my career and my personal life.

I’ve enjoyed a long weekend at home and the opportunity to catch up with my children.  In a world that is chaotic and the propagation of fear rife, I made a concerted effort to make the house a home and to have meals with the family.  It seemed important to create a base of safety for them.  As I walked through the house, which, three years on, I’m still trying to settle into, I found a strong motif emerged in the paintings and sculptures I have.  They all represent the theme of mother and child.

On holidays, the theme was still strong.  It’s one of those things.  If you seek it, you’ll find it.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird


A magic moment

Kununurra is about 3000 km north of Perth, and borders the Northern Territory which is only about 40 km away.  It lies in rich country of the Kimberley region.  Cattle, fishing, diamonds, agriculture and unsurpassed beauty of gorges, waterfalls and landscapes, are hallmarks of this region.

I’ve been to Kununurra several times but always for work.  I love staying across the road from Lily Creek Lagoon.  The Celebrity Tree Park runs alongside it, another favourite haunt of mine, because of the birds.

This trip, time was mine.  I would wake before sunrise and drive up to the jetty.  The sun rises beyond.  It is always spectacular.

I had been told there were crocodiles in the lagoon but had never seen them on other visits.  Locals will tell you, “they are just freshies”, meaning, the crocodiles are freshwater crocodiles, not the fearsome “salty” (salt water crocodiles).  Freshies will only attack in mating season or when provoked.  So they say!  I do know, it is wise to heed local caution around these waterways.  The region has had a very wet, ‘wet season’ and there is plenty of moving water this year.  Reptiles like this.

Early one morning, so early, even the birds had not yet broken the silence of the day, I stood at the water’s edge.  There was no one else as far as the eye could see.  Then I saw the surface of the water break.  An imperceptible movement.  I held my breath as the unmistakable silhouette of a crocodile emerged.  We shared the same space for less than a minute.  Silent.  Still.  It then slowly swam away with a lazy swish of the tail.  The Lagoon was glass again, but, this time, I knew the crocodile was just below the surface.  I was thrilled!

In the silence I could hear my heart beat.

Who knew something I feared could thrill me too?  I learnt something about myself in that moment.

Nothing was the same again, for the rest of the trip.

More on that later …

Until then,

As always,

a dawn bird