Third Time Lucky

Our area of Australia is in the throes of a twenty-two month drought. Country people and native animals have their own ways of coping with these hard times.

Birds have  promised rain for months. Currowongs, with their sad, “I’ll wait forever” call, have been visitors far longer than their usual stop- over.  The flock vanished for a month after a light shower, but has returned for another optimistic stint.

The rain bird, a migrant from the north, has given up.  After months of monotonous, unmelodic promises, day and  night, it has vanished, daunted in his endeavor to find a mate. A slight relief for the shift workers who made dire threats, as they tried catch their ZZZs in the heat.

A bower bird torments us  with a realistic rendition of  rain on a tin roof, then mews like my cat to activate dogs from their sleep in the shade.  The cat, of course, has her own comfort zone and won’t appear until the sun goes down, or she hears me mix her milk.

This morning, Saturday, is my slack day and I’d planned to relax, write my response to the exercise and catch up on my emails.

The dogs had other ideas. Their barking alerted me to a change in our routine.  I investigate as horses neighed, a quad bike raced down the street and a herd of pitifully thin cattle appeared in view.  Rival dogs excited ours.

Under drovers’ supervision the cattle ambled along, grazing on the meagre dry offerings our vacant blocks offered.  Another farmer seeking an alternative to culling his stock.

It was good we could still offer the poor animals something in this twenty-two month drought, although kangaroos have had the best of the pickings.

They come in after dusk, and in the cool they browse from juicy plants. The thumps as they hop through our yards, and their distinctive harsh cough, barely disturb our pets.  It still surprises me, how privileged I feel when they come prune my garden.

The cattle cavalcade vanished towards the golf green, leaving behind a touch of nostalgia mingled with manure.   Old Australian customs revived in times of crisis.

Black cockatoos call, an eerie cry in the distance.  “Bushies” say the number of cockatoos predict how many days until rain will come. And – would you believe – the rain bird is back for a third try?

I hope the signs work better than our weather forecasts, but I still wait for the mock-orange to bloom.  It never lies.


Pothole was a young ringer
working his way out west
eradicating the prickly pear,
an imported cacti pest.


The cactoblastis grubs,
introduced to eat the pear,
became a bigger problem –
sugar cane its favourite fare.


To stop the devastation
of important cash crop earners
the cane toad was suggested
by scientific slow learners.


Cane toads over-run our state
from coast to western border,
ugly poisonous interloper
defying our natural order.


The cactoblastis has now gone,
prickly pear’s an exotic fruit,
soon Pothole’s prodigy will send
our toads to China for lots ‘a loot.
By Frances McKay

Copyright © – Frances Mackay 17-03-10

Road Cleaners

Crows are loudest now,
with season’s change,
diligently pursuing
their allotted province.

Anthracite voices
wake us pre dawn,
caa-ing a pressing need
to do business.

Hot afternoons see
these dedicated cleaners,
obsidian eyes alert,
spark blue-black life in the sun
while other birds rest.

Assured of steady trade
this drought year,
nature’s undertakers
dice with traffic,
a feather’s width from death.

Barely bothering to move
they plough the air,
cumbersome with health,
sated on road-kill –
kangaroos seeking fresh shoots.

They resume their positions
with panache and,
dressed in immaculate mourning,
share food crumbs
with their lower helpers.

Adroit and opportunistic,
rarely prey,
these bush survivors flourish,
unaware they carry
my admiration with them.
By Frances McKay


Copyright © – Frances Mackay 2004

Phoenix of the Forest

Phoenix-like, your birth
begins in flame,
shaped by the earth
from which you burst.

Tall soldiers and glossy foliage
of the river-lands,
smooth trunks painted
Designer pastels.

Hardy, tortured, species
clothe inland ranges,
as black-barked bloodwoods
struggle dustily skyward.

Dollar leaves of blue gums
rustle over plains,
wafting eucalyptus westward,
summer shelter for emus.

Your oil colours our air –
misty, smoky, blue,
gathers on distant hills,
captured in hidden gullies.

Savage flames prune detritus,
reviving youth,
luminous growth celebrates
successful rebirth.
By Frances McKay


Copyright © – Frances Mackay 2004

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Today I saw a picture
of a passenger pigeon.
Stuffed, it was,
dead to this world for
over a century.

Five billion – forty percent
of North America’s birds –
extinct in
short decades.
The earth wept.

Ignorance, greed, vanity,
contributed to
its demise,
though technology
assisted the carnage.

Cannon blasted flocks
three hundred miles long –
no skill required –
birds wiped
from skies and trees.

For plumage, prized
by fashion’s
momentary vanity
of frills and furbelows,
our heritage was stolen.

That picture
of a stuffed bird
brought this tragedy
home to me.
Today I wept.
By Frances McKay

Copyright © – Frances Mackay 2004