November 14 2014
We were sitting on the back deck late in the day last Saturday with a farmer from Victoria, the father of one of our neighbours. We’d been discussing birds – he’d noticed a yellow-breasted whistler; I’d noticed my favourite bird, the leaden flycatcher, back in the garden on its migratory round, and I’d gone to get the bird book (a massive edition of Cayley) to show him approximately what it looks like – when Martin said, What’s that bird in the tree? and followed me inside to get the binoculars.
It turned out not to be a bird at all. It was a koala, in the exact tree that I had heard a sound from weeks ago when we were weeding by the creek, less than 100 metres from the house. We took turns with the binoculars, watching it climb higher, out onto branches that looked far too thin, making the branch shudder as it reached out for leaves. It climbed around the tree as dusk fell darker. I watched it turn towards us, giving me a full koala stare with its round face and fluffy ears. A kookaburra landed on the ground below it, and we only needed a wallaby (or an echidna perhaps) to wander past to create a complete Australiana diorama. We laughed, but our laughter was for our fortune, of being granted such a magnificent boon.
It was nowhere to be seen when we went down to look at the tree last night at dusk. We wandered around, cricking our necks, my ears yearning for the grunt or snort that would give it away. The bush creaked and sighed, but with bird sounds, late-evening chirps that sounded as muted as the sky. Just as we were leaving a sound came from further up the hill, in a stand of similar eucalypts – one tell-tale bellow.