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On Saturdays I often wake to the sound of a lyrebird deep in the gully in front of the house, or, if I’m lucky, strutting along the flat area just outside the bedroom. One morning, I surprise a young male in full display, tail shimmering, on the rocky hillside outside the kitchen window. Many years ago J. promised me a rose garden: the lyre bird is a very satisfactory substitute.

We begin the day immersed in our reading. This weekend it’s Bertrand Russell’s History of western philosophy for J. He’s ecstatic because he’s escaped the oppressive throat-slitting world of Pope Gregory and Ulfilus the Hairy, and emerged into the renaissance where people are allowed to think, although there are still those who say “I denounce the telescope.” I’m slow-reading Gisela Kaplan’s Birds, fascinated by the world of bird behaviours so like the human.

Outside the mist has lifted, and the day looks warm and inviting. After a bowl of porridge and leatherwood honey, J. goes outside to smash an old concrete tank stand with crow-bar, block-buster and pulley, to make way for the huge blue tank tethered on its side just outside the window. Rain is predicted later in the week and the tank needs to be inched into place along a narrow path to catch every precious drop.

I go for a walk, in search of a little patch of greenhood orchids. The pittosporum at the front door is pouring out perfume so strong that even my aged nose can smell it. I potter up the bush road, looking for new spring flowerings. Of course there’s a stiff breeze which means  the pink pea-flowers of the indigofera woggle and resist photography. 

Indigofera

I know this track well. I used to roll my eyes when J. said “Let’s go and visit the myrtle in that gully – you know the one”, but I have my own familiars now. I remember a wonga vine wrapped around a stringy bark from last year and I search the roadside bush to find it. It’s in perfect blossom, maroon throats with tiny spots visible even from a distance. The wind has dropped a bit. The photographer only needs to avoid the large blue circle that marks the sun’s intrusion.

Wonga vine

To my left Gulaga mountain looms, without its possum cloak of cloud, clear in the clear morning. The hakeas outside F.’s place are a pink haze of blossom. Despite my preference for indigenous plants, I can’t help being charmed by these invaders. F. died more that a year ago and the new owner is busy scraping back the paint work.

I’m getting close to the place where greenhoods are rumoured to be. A wallaby thumps off into the bush and distracts me briefly. I begin at the mossy guide post and eyeball every patch of dirt, even moving into the bush a bit, on casual alert for snakes.

There are no greenhoods. I suspect my vision, and am ready to be mortified when J. has a look and spots them immediately. However, my camera-eye is caught by elegant coils of grass and the cheeky green eyes of luxuriant purple hardenbergia.

I give up on the greenhood search and move to the seeping bank on the high side of the road where I find treasures: maiden hair fern, trigger plants, more hardenbergia and a blue rock forming a wonderful back-drop to the seed heads of kangaroo grass. Two motorbikes zoom past in a cloud of dust.

By the time I return home, J. has had enough concrete smashing, so we laze the afternoon away. At 4.30 we grab a bottle of wine and head down to the river reserve. J. has cleared it into a pleasant strip of wattles, she-oaks and callistemon. The river flows bank to bank below our chairs and we watch the sun sink. It spears light onto the water like the flares at the tip of sparklers.

At first we can’t hear the rapids because of the wind in the she-oaks. As the wind drops, the rapids and frogs take over and a couple of tractors clatter their way home.

Our desultory conversation settles for a while on Charles Harpur, an early Australian poet who was gold commissioner at Nerrigundah and whose grave is on the hillside above us. J. wants to name the reserve after him. We revisit an old argument. I find him totally unreadable. J. feels as if we should give him a chance.

The light fades to true dusk. We pour another glass of wine. Against hope, I grab the camera and try to catch the fading light on the river ripples. An owl swoops in front of us as we drive home.

Back at the house, there are two text messages from the larger world. K. has just signed a contract to teach at Bamaga on the tip of Cape York for a  year. A. is interested in a job at an international school in Indonesia, but will probably settle for 10 weeks in Abu Dhabi.

About Charles Harpur

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