Sunday 28 December 2008

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Christmas Bells

© John Sawyer – December 2008

Tring! Tring! Tring – Tring! Tring!

It’s Christmas Eve. The sound of bells is echoing backwards and forwards. “Tring” from our far right; a deeper throated “Tring, Tring” from the far left; more Trings from the centre. The sound continues like bell ringers at a church,ringing the changes, attempting to provide all the mathematical combinations of various bells from the six or seven ringers on the wall in front of us.

It’s a quite restful and calming, so we decide to stop for a while and listen. I quickly find a comfortable spot and sit facing the wall. My three companions take a little longer. The two dogs pace in a circle, trampling the grass under foot until they drop into their temporary nests. Wendy takes a lot longer. She’s seen two snakes already this summer and the 3LO talkback callers have put the wind up her a bit. [“ABC Local Radio, you twerp!”]

You've probably guessed we’re not in a shopping centre taking a break from retail therapy. The grass and the snake hunting were a good clue. No we're on the banks of the Yarra in Abbotsford around 5Km from the centre of Melbourne. It’s a perfect mid 20’s Melbourne Summer day. We’re facing a sheer cliff on the other side of the river in Kew; a mudstone and sandstone barrier that that kept the Yarra from wandering into the more affluent eastern suburbs and kept floodwaters confined to the  working class and industrial areas on the basalt plains of Collingwood and Richmond.

This cliff and its mainly remnant bush is the home of a small colony of bellbirds which you can hear most days from Victoria Street Bridge to about 100 metres upstream: just before the small flood prone flat where the vineyard sits. From our vantage point I imagine I’m looking at the bush as it was before white settlement. I can somehow ignore the introduced willow and grasses. When I look up I can somehow ignore the houses on the top of the cliff, giving their residents an unimpeded view across towards the city. I can ignore the tennis court with its light tower. I can ignore the architectural wonders with their stilts clinging to the rock face. Can the residents imagine they’re immune from the gloom and doom from the CBD? Maybe they are.

I imagine that I can’t hear the 109 trams racketing across the bridge every four or five minutes. Hurtling down out of the sheer cut in the rock, west to last minute consumerism in the CBD or dashing up the cutting east towards the cheaper rent consumerism at Box Hill Central. The passengers and the car drivers can’t hear the bellbirds ringing through the changes, but the walkers and runners can. They nod greetings to us, envious that we have broken from the busy shopping treadmill. Envious that we have broken from the 40 minutes a day exercise treadmill. The bike riders probably don’t hear the birds, I wonder if they even see the bush. Their treadmill seems to involve rushing to prove that they can get home faster by bike than they can by car or tram.

I wonder why the bellbirds are here? Do they imagine they're in remnant bush before white settlement, do they not mind competing with the sound of cars and traffic, do they like the sound of bike riders ringing for pedestrians to get out of their way. Are they attracted by being at the very edge of four of the older Melbourne Suburbs. Did they choose Kew because it was the only one of the four that didn't have its own VFL team or do they know that the cliff face protects them from marauding cats?

We eventually climb back on our slower moving exercise treadmill and walk upstream. The vineyard has its nets over the fruit and the traditional rosebushes at the end of each row plan to give early warning of mildew. We leave the bike riders clattering across the footbridge to Studley Park and beyond and cross under it to a quieter area opposite another sparser cliff face. While the dogs run free in the no-leash park next to the brewery, I imagine I’m with Frederick McCubbin and his Heidelberg School mates painting Wendy strolling through the bush, oblivious to the poison laden snakes and bull ants.

What a great way to spend Christmas Eve:

                        “Ya wouldn’t be dead for quids, would ya?”

Not Wendy: ‘The Letter’ by Frederick McCubbin – 1884

Hear some brief Bellbird Audio


Deb said...

I swear it was just like being there!Like the images.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that the word twerp is in Wendy's vocabulary.In fact, her response to your fatuous comment about 774 would have been either to ignore it, or respond with the words "you think you're SO funny"

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is right...
    Firstly, I never use words like cretin, dill, drongo, half-wit, idiot, imbecile, moron, retard, stupid, or twerp; even though any of these can be applied equally to the author at times.
    Secondly, I try to ignore his deliberate misnaming of institutions and places: "3LO" instead of "ABC Local Radio"; the "Empire Games" instead of "Commonwealth Games"; "New World Supermarket" for "Coles Supermarket"; "Sale of the Century" for "Temptation"; the list is endless. I swear he sits in his room thinking them up. Although he may be right to continue to call those rustic right wingers the "Country Party" instead of the "National Party".
    Despite this, the story is quite an accurate and vivid description of a pleasant hour or so away from the shopping centre.

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