This morning, for the first time ever while listening to the morning chorus, I did not hear a kookaburra. Normally they announce the day. I hear their cry from somewhere off in the bush so distant as to almost only be imagined, but approaching, rising up around us, calling in the light. It is only when they are done their caterwauling that the whipbirds, the lewin’s honeyeaters, the thornbills and the pigeons start their conversations.
Perhaps the kookaburras were away this morning. On holiday in France or Turkey. Taken a cheap flight to Tasmania or New Zealand for a break. I hope it is so. I read, recently, that the kookaburra is in decline across eastern Australia. To be honest I didn’t read the whole article because I didn’t want to know. Habitat loss or some such thing which, I assumed, didn’t apply to me here, where I live next to the rainforest, although that wasn’t the reason I didn’t pursue the subject, it was more that I couldn’t bear the thought of a world without their call.
Habitat loss was the reason that I gave over several years to creating a corridor of trees that follows the main watercourse up here on the Range where I live. I’d seen the aerial photographs of what the place had looked like from the thirties through to the seventies, when the land-clearing was at its peak, when there was hardly a stick left standing across the whole rolling expanse. At that time there were, no doubt, still forests further afield, but here, in the prime dairy country, the trees had gone; they’d been cut and milled for timber or simply burned. The stumps dug out. It seemed to me that now, when those wider forests too were cut, as the existence of a landscape in which other species than humans could survive was becoming more threatened, that it would be a good idea to try to create links between the remaining habitats, even to create new ones where old ones had been.
One of the extraordinary things to me about the natural world is the way the things that live in it manage to do so. That this tree, this shrub, this grass, this lizard, bird, marsupial mouse, somehow all manage to eke out a life without the benefit of a supermarket down the road, or a social services system, without, indeed, any help from anyone else. They each and every one every day manage to scrape out a living. I understand, of course, that it is the vast complexity, the tens of thousands of beings from microbes up to mammals all living cheek by jowl, in conjunction with the weather (rain, sunshine, wind) which is, in fact, the social services network that provides the means for them to live. But it is not, it seems to me, unreasonable to notice that I could not manage what they do myself. I do not think that it is romantic of me to think like this. I think it is practical, pragmatic, essential.
I want the kookaburras and their support network to continue to survive, not because they give me anything (other than the pleasure of their early morning or late evening noise) but because I think they have an intrinsic right to do so without members of my species depriving them of that ability in order to be able to have one more piece of disposable crap they didn’t even really want in the first place. I’m not sure that such a desire is really so unusual, or so primitive an ideal.
What struck me as strange as I went about the business of creating that small wildlife corridor – two kilometres long by forty metres wide – accessing funding, then rights to the land, partners and co-workers to undertake the project, was the fierceness of the opposition of my fellow men and women. The extraordinary lengths they went to in order to try and stop me. The land was needed, they said, for sport, or golf, or horses. They even came up with pseudo science intended to demonstrate that the creek banks would be better off without trees, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Their cause, their aim – as intelligent, affluent westerners who must be as aware of habitat loss as I am (residents in the same wider ecosystem) – was a mystery I have not solved yet, nor resolved within myself. In the end it all became too hard for me, the politics of it, not the planting and weeding, the fence-building and nurturing. I gave it over to others who, thankfully, kept the program going and eventually completed it.
Perhaps, though, it is time to shake off my reluctance and once again consider taking up the baton. The original need remains: today, in the morning chorus of birds, I did not hear a kookaburra. I do so much hope it was an aberration.