The Bush Meeting.
The bush meeting was huge. At first I thought there was no one there, that I’d got the wrong address – third dam along near the big Grey Box – but it took only a few moments to see who was here and I was impressed. The largest attendees by size, were a family of kangaroos lounging beneath a dead wattle bush, and the smallest? Well I eventually picked out a line of meat ants spread along a twig but I had the feeling there were even smaller folk present.
Birds were the most prolific audience members, there seemed like hundreds, and mostly small and constantly moving, changing their position on a branch or swooping down close to the water’s edge. I found myself cataloguing them, Thornbills, Pardalotes, Fairy-wrens, Weebills, a pair of Mistletoebirds, a party of Silvereyes and a group of Red-browed Finches. Moving up a size took me to the Grey Fantails and the Restless Flycatcher, the Yellow Robins and the Rufus Whistlers, a brown Treecreeper and on to the honeyeaters; Yellow-faced, Purple-naped and a White-plumed. Next came the Wattlebirds, the White-browed Babblers and the Grey Shrike-thrush and then the crows, magpies, White-winged Choughs, and plump as always, a pair of Common Bronzwings, then Pied and Grey Currawongs, a pair of Kookaburras, a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, a solitary Mopoke, a lone Sacred Kingfisher and finally the Galahs, Cockatoos, pairs of Eastern and Crimson Rosellas and a pair of Red-rumped Parrots and Musk Lorikeets. There were more birds, a Pallid Cuckoo and numerous small birds I couldn’t immediately name. On the dam, a pair of Grebe watched on as Welcome Swallows and Dragon Flies skimmed the water in search of insects.
Every bird I had ever seen on this sparse overgrazed woodland was present. But then came all the other critters, some who lived nearby and one that I thought I had met the year before, drinking at a waterhole on a fire track in the Muckleford Forest – an ageing Koala. I recognised the ragged damaged ear and hairless patches on one side caused most likely by a dog attack. Possums, a Wallaby and there, peeping from a hole in the tree, the pointy pink-tipped nose of a Brush-tailed Phascogale who I had not met before but had been told about by residents of a nearby property. A patch of dead leaves moved suddenly and an Echidna emerged oblivious to what was happening all around. A Yellow-footed Antechinus followed behind, scurrying first one way then the other, and almost hidden amongst the evergreen branches of a nearby cypress cherry, a pair of Sugar Gliders sat cuddled-up as one, and very still.
Silence descended on the scene except for the gentle plop of a Long-necked Tortoise reentering the water and the sound of a Stumpy-tailed Lizard pushing its way through the leaves under the tree.
One of the Kangaroos coughed loudly and began to speak. She thanked me for attending the meeting and proceeded to enlighten me on the reason for my presence.
“We want to know why you humans are taking this piece of land away from us when you have so much land available to you in the village. What is it with you lot? Why are you never satisfied with what you already have? We hear that you want to build more than forty houses here. Your bulldozers will totally destroy this landscape. So can you offer us any good news in all of this or are we really doomed?”
The speaker stopped and leant over to lick her slightly bulging pouch. There were murmurs of agreement from around the dam and in the tree. It took me a little while to gather my thoughts. I was unprepared for this. Why me? Why didn’t they ask the damned developers to front up? Maybe they know that I write a column for the paper and think I can help their cause.
“Lost your tongue?”, came a sharp reminder from somewhere in the tree.
My mind was full of all the spin-doctor stuff associated with plans like this one; the community would benefit with more people to shop with local business, more children are needed to keep the school open and on and on. The same safe sticky-sweet patter that all development projects spread through a community when a developer smells money.
“Come along,” called a magpie. “Out with it. What are our chances?”
“In the short term, not good I’m afraid.” I blurted out responding to my mother’s constant urging to always be honest.
“You are right. The plans have been approved and soon the heavy equipment will arrive along with lots of workers. I don’t know the details of what will happen but I’m certain that it won’t be good for you who live or pass through here.”
There was silence accept for the gentle tinkling of water as a sleepy Growling Grass Frog slipped into the dam to cool off. On the far side of the dam, what I thought was just a silver grey tree trunk moved just a little and I saw that a not quite fully grown goanna had wandered up and positioned itself on the stump to better view the proceedings.
A gravelly voice came from the direction of the Koala.
“Please tell us what you know. Will the people who come to live here bring dogs and cats with them?”
“I believe that they won’t be allowed to bring these animals with them. The problem will arise later when folk try to change the rules or flaunt them by bringing home a dog or a cat.
I tried to be nonchalant in my reply without knowing why. I felt tense, sensing the importance of the topic to those around me. Was I sounding too frivolous?
“Your kind love water hungry cottage gardens and lawns, and collect boats, caravans, jet skiis, shipping containers and whipper-snippers and trail bikes and giant sheds to keep their stuff in. And they will demand flushing toilets no doubt. Will they be allowed to have all these things?”
I replied, “If they want those things then I believe they will be free to bring them here. Everyone is different and likes different things. Many might choose not to have any of those things and instead, keep the land as it is and only plant indigenous or Australian trees and shrubs. And they might build modest out-buildings and not be collectors of stuff.”
A very deep voice suddenly sounded from across the dam. It was the Grey Box speaking.
“What in your opinion, should we residents do that will help us survive?”
“Ideally, something should be done to overturn any decision that rezones the area to Rural Living and the land should be amalgamated with the adjoining government controlled forest. If that could be arranged then your problems would be over – at least for the present. How you do it I do not know.”
“We have a mythological comic-hero called Doctor Who, who protects this planet from invading aliens. When things go really wrong and the aliens close in, the Doctor has a plan B strategy which is ‘Run’. My only advice to all of you who can, is simple. ‘Run’.”
“You know that very few of us can ‘run’ as you put it. And even those of us who can fly will have trouble moving into areas already populated by our kind.” said the owl. “You must surely have another scenario hidden away?”
“Well, it doesn’t help you now but in the longer term, humans are really up against it. They have so abused nature that now nature is fighting back, initially with changed weather conditions and in the future, other disasters relating to the availability of water and food and also in reduced health and the onset of social conflict as resources dwindle. Hundreds of thousands of humans are already affected and on the move. We call them refugees.
People do not change easily and will only make life adjustments when forced to. Nature will force us to change at a huge cost to our existing life style. The good news for you is that when our lot falls off its perch – sorry, no offence intended – all the other creatures still alive on the planet – or what is left of it – will return to repopulate the earth. So there you are. You do have something to look forward to don’t you?”
A long silence followed so I took the opportunity to add a hopeful note.
“So, summing up; the only previous example of someone providing an emergency service anything like what you need was a bloke named Noah. I will put out messages on the internet to see if I can track him down.
Mulch, mulch, mulch and mulch some more. That is the Country Notebook message this month. You might also review your watering plans and work out how to reduce the amount of water you will need to keep the garden alive. This is good practice even when not faced with a drought. And you could consider the visitors to your garden. The birds will appreciate a water bowl placed where a cat or dog cannot get to it. If you don’t have one with sloping sides, place a rock or brick in the middle as a landing pad. And if you are a dog and cat-free household, a shallow bowl on the ground for lizards and other ground dwellers is good. A problem with drinking vessels on the ground is their easy access for cats and dogs. Fairy wrens seem to be the most vulnerable. They spend a lot of time on the ground and a cat will position itself near the bowl to take advantage.
Richard Lee would like it known that he supports appropriate housing development.
Note: Koalas are quite rare in our region but are sighted close to Maldon a couple of times in most years.
Country Notebook articles are written by Richard Lee for his monthly newspaper column of the same name.