Monday, October 14, 2013



Perhaps I haven’t mentioned my Reluctant Travelers sudden revival of interest in our backyard jungle. Neither of us are keen gardeners; in fact decades ago when we first moved here to a bare plot of Australian bush we added to the resident array of gum trees a heap of other bushes and shrubs and yes even more trees that were either given to us or picked up at weekend sales. 

    In other words we planted an unplanned garden with no thought to size, suitability or species and then left them all to their own devices. As a consequence all these bits and pieces either survived or died or in some cases grew to astronomical size and our backyard soon became a sort of jungle interspersed with thriving weeds. Then every couple of years as either the mood or guilt overtook him my Reluctant One took to digging up all those numerous weeds by hand, leaving behind huge patches of bare sand.  Mind you the neighbour’s chooks enjoyed his company or maybe they were just keeping an eye out for freshly dug worms.
   Incidentally those chooks were the most inquisitive little birds I’ve ever come across, even crossing over two neighbour’s yards to pay a house visit. Snakes and dogs didn’t deter them, nor did the absence of a personal invitation.

  Oh! Did I forget to mention our little plot is part of one of Australia’s major sand islands:  Sand that instantly sucks up rain and water in the wet season and in hot weather becomes dry and wind born and thick on the floor.

   Then earlier this year surprise, surprise!  I arrived home from an extended visit to daughter Jen in Ecuador to find little patches of green grass where once had been weed infested sand and overgrown bushes; an  instant oasis after nigh on 30 years of neglect.
   Mind you with the clearing of debris and the lopping of various tall shrubs we now have a direct line of sight to our very dear neighbour Wal’s house. Give it a few years and hopefully the grass will spread and grow tall like the pampas of South America.

   Along with my Reluctant Travelers sudden interest in garden and grass we seem to have attracted even more wildlife, as if that was possible.  The big carpet snake still lives in the front jungle; I know because I found his long, extraordinarily long trail of shedded winter skin curling through the dead leaves under our bedroom window. While in the back jungle the very fat blue tongue lizard appears to have forsaken his bachelor life and acquired a lively young family.

    And birds, a whole clutch of new species and new sounds have made their presence heard.  The other morning in bed as I read my way through first breakfast I was startled by loud distressed birdcall.  It came from the jacaranda tree behind the bedroom.  Along with this almost human sound of anguish was another light hearted trill.  Of course I had to get up and investigate and high up among the purple blooms I sighted a small peewee and a big yellow and white cockatoo.  Peewee was determined to oust the much bigger cockatoo who in turn was calling mournfully for his mother.

   I reckon he was someone's pet bird, escaped from his home base and now finding it hard to get on with the local riff raff, the small peewee who obviously regarded the jacaranda as his own personal larder. 
   Anyway the cockatoo decided to move on and the last I saw he or she was flying high above the bat colony down by the cemetery. Fat chance he’ll find his mum down there.
   Later that afternoon preparing lunch my Reluctant Traveller, who is also my personal cook, cut some choice titbits of meat for a hopeful magpie, spreading the offering along the veranda railing.  Of course the lone black and white visitor gobbled it up as fast as he could and then for the next hour and a quarter entertained with non-stop verbal diarrhoea.  The warbling went on and on with barely a pause for breath until at last the little bird realised there was simply no more meat to be had and he too took off into the wild blue yonder.
   So much for the birds.
   Later that night, much later after we had both sunk into deep sleep we were jolted awake by a clatter somewhere in the house.  The place was locked up, what on earth could be causing the racket?
   Very bravely my cook and bottlewash investigated, could find nothing and came back to bed.  Back to deep snoring sleep.  An hour later, maybe longer, he's asleep but I'm still awake and suddenly there is an absolute frenzy of scratching and scrabbling.  I wait for Stan to spring up, but no he's still fast asleep,  So I grabbed a torch and did a stealthy search, nothing, and then whoosh, a small grey bundle darted by and disappeared beneath a cupboard. 
   I looked at the closed and locked front door, and down on the mat there was a heap of fine wood shards, the frantic efforts of multiple sharp claws.
   Back to bed and next morning when the man of the house finally woke up, I reported the sighting of a bush rat and the suggestion that we invest in a mousetrap...  ‘Manana, tomorrow’, came the reply and that was that...  he will get round to it day.
   Fast forward to the next night and ‘guess who’ has decided on a snack, toast with banana and honey, try it, it's a winning combination.  But he likes his toast well browned and absolutely cold.  So he props it on a plate and comes back to the lounge to watch whatever pre-taped show we happened to be watching on the TV.
   Twenty or so minutes later in he goes to butter the toast, spread the mixture, pour a cup of tea and enjoy.
   A good plan, only trouble is the toast has done a runner. 
   Now I've never heard of bread with feet so I guess it had some help, and the only culprit I can think of is the bush rat. 
    Tomorrow I think we will definitely buy a mouse trap.

Robyn Mortimer©2013-10-13