Kookaburras laughing; koalas grunting. Magpie song.
Snippet of white underwing as a dollar bird flaps across the creek, settling on a high branch, there to watch, hawk-eyed, for dinner on the wing. Dragonfly dinner.
Sharp, twittering bursts of colour as small groups of double-bar finches flit in perfectly synchronised unison from seedy grass clump to wattle blossom to seedy grass clump. Squeaking. Whistling. Invisible in an instant.
Brilliant flash of blue-green kingfisher, darting; hunting. Splash.
A flock of cockatoos, arriving suddenly, flies screeching along the watercourse, weaving and dodging amongst the trees, flying off in an hysterical white cloud; leaving behind them for a short while, a startled silence.
An occasional ‘plop’ as a yellow-belly breaches and disappears again into brown water, leaving only telltale, silent, evolving rings.
A sudden scurrying sound and then splash! as a water dragon takes fright, panicking that his camouflage is not good enough (but really, it is); then a chain of rings surrounding lizard head zooms across the creek to lap the other side, abandoned in panic as the lizard rushes up the far bank and disappears into the long, yellow grass. A faint pathway of disturbed air and waving grass settles in his wake.
The hollow clank of the windmill provides intermittent background noise as its sails drift their open blades to find the face of the breeze to turn the mill pump, which will lift water from the creek up to the tank near the chooks’ yard – garden water.
A light breeze ruffles leaves and blossoms way up high; way, way up in the tops of the giant river gums. Gum blossoms drifting, drifting; gum leaves spinning, gum nuts falling, gliding, falling soundless, onto the elastic surface of the dappled brown water where they sit, held up by the surface tension. Not even the gum nuts with their sharp little points can break through this faintly-wobbling jelly-skin, not til they become waterlogged and then slowly sink, twisting down in a bubbling spiral, soon out of sight in the brown depths.
Blossoms, leaves, nuts, sit like icing on a cake, rising and falling on the tiny, imperceptible wavelets as the gentle breeze scuds along at water level and riffles the surface of the Oakey Creek.
The smells of marsupial, mud, clean brown water, gum blossoms, eucalypt leaves, and smoke from our little fire, spin on the breeze. They drift up from the ground and down from the giant trees above and across the top of the water and weave themselves together into a delicious familiar smell that says ‘home’ and ‘comfort’ and ‘fun’.
It says ‘down at the creek’.
Filtered sunlight bathes our eager little faces as we hop from tree root to tree root over the edge of the water, gently tugging at pieces of string suspended amongst them to see if they give promise of a hungry yabbie attached to the piece of flap tied to the other end.
Now and then a shout of ‘Hey, got one! Got a big one! Ooooooh nooooooo – he got away’ as a flash of blue exoskeleton and the thwack of a swift tail on the surface of the water tell the same story. Then another semi-circle of rings wobbles off to the middle of the creek, its other half breaking in tiny wavelets against the bank and yabbie holes below the enormous roots under our muddy, splayed, tough little feet.
Johnny’s mum sits in her house dress on a towel spread over the bare black earth, in a spot in the shade which has been scrupulously cleared of prickles and inflammable dry grass, higher up the bank. She watches and listens over us as our discreet little fire burns under a billycan of boiling water waiting for a fat yabbie to cook and eat on the spot.
‘Hey, let’s go down to the rapids! Hey mum, can we go down to the rapids? Will you come too – come on mum! It’s just around the corner. Come on!’ And along we race over logs, jumping over huge washout divots in the lee of the giant trees, skipping across dirt and clumps of grass, dry twigs crackling underfoot and the occasional ‘ouch, wait for meee!’ as the pointy end of a gumnut or a prickle broaches the tough skin underfoot, requiring a hasty removal; down to the place under the huge dirt cliff where the ‘rapids’ run twinkling like diamonds over a bed of coarse sand and pebbles. A faint whoosh as pebbles turn over in the ankle-deep water. Large freshwater mussels quickly shut themselves up and slide into the gritty pebbles when they feel our vibrations. We cool our feet in the rapids while the yabbies take heart from the quietness around our strings of meat up the creek, under the big gum trees, and come out of their holes again to feast. And be caught. And catch them we do, by the bucket-full.
This is home. This is my childhood world – the Oakey Creek, Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia, circa 1960.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au