(MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)
Have you ever seen a bird fall out of the sky? I have. Once. And it was here in Alice Springs. Happens fast. A thud – and the thing that was hovering up high in the corner of your eye now lies still on the road. Some sort of hawkish bird in a mid-air, mid-flight crash tackle had felled a crested pigeon. Once I moved on it swooped down and arched back up with the pigeon between its claws amid a screeching cacophony from terrified avian witnesses.
Since arriving in Alice Springs I have had a field guide to Australian Birds out on constant loan from the library. Sometimes I like to read the calling descriptions, caw-caw-caw-tucka-tucka-tucka-tucka-tucka-tuk, wokka-wokka-chokka-chokka-chooka-chooka. I find this quite amusing!
I have never noticed so many birds before. I’ve identified a few, that crested pigeon, magpie larks and yellow-throated minors. The latter a sugar fiend commonly found pinching sugar sachets from outdoor café tables. All these thoughts about birds led me to thinking about the transient nature of Alice Springs. A lot of the people I have met have a similar story to my own, thought I would come for a visit and so far … have stayed.
Two very good friends of mine are leaving Alice Springs this week. They gave my cat Kalua and I a spot to park when I first pulled into town and they link me back to my previous incarnation as a Sydney city cat. Helping them pack and clean up, I thought that old Bessie Smith song, ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down ‘n’ Out’ could have just as easily been called ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Moving House’.
We took a walk along the train tracks the other day, heading north. We didn’t get very far or even get out of town but I saw the Ghan and the excited passengers disembarking and I saw the bored impatience of the drivers of the cars banked up at the railway crossing.
I thought about these types living their lives, working, on their way home to their lives of families and friends and wondered how long for? How long have they been here? How deeply do their roots in this place run? Or are we all more like migratory birds that move about on currents propelled by the strong and strange pull of transience. The word transience is so often coupled with Alice Springs and it’s little wonder really with so many thousands of people coming and going every year.
A few weeks ago returning from a walk I noticed a perfect little brown bird, maybe a spotted nightjar dead in the middle of the track I was sure it hadn’t been there when I first went by. According to my field guide they are possibly winter migrants. I wondered what all these sky-fallen birds were trying to tell me? Something ominous or just purely strange in a kind of eerie beautiful way. I’ve noticed that at times I have a new fluttering shadow hovering about me. I imagined that maybe with my good mates going back to Sydney this black and white willy wagtail has decided to take on their watch over me.