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James and the four eggs

  • 05 December 2018


My country cousin lives in a straw-bale house. She and her husband built it themselves at the foot of rolling hills outside a regional centre of Victoria. They wait for me on the station platform, still in their gardening and sheep-wrangling clothes, which as my cousin says are their pretty much all-the-time clothes.

She waves with a cheerful eagerness that recalls the ironic self-description of our family of origin. Someone has declared we have 'hearts-too-soon-made-glad' and we know it's true. She and I often speak in pigeon-Jane-Austen. As we heave my bags into the boot of the sedan, we rejoice in our easy proximity to their home-made house, an edifice 'by no means lacking in windows'.

The long dirt driveway up to the house delivers us at balcony level where we can look across the native garden, out to the acres of re-forested farmland and beyond, to mountain ranges in the distance.

The next morning I sit on the balcony in the early morning sunshine. The garden near to the house is filled with large, flowering, bird-attracting shrubs. A single long-limbed, creamy-barked eucalypt also stands close. Numerous swallows, babblers and parrots dart between the deck, the tree and the tall shrubs in the garden below. The red-rumped parrots and a pair of yellow rosellas inhabit three wooden nesting boxes attached to the vertical steel poles on the deck. The boxes are fashioned from hollow branches with natural holes which the parrots squeeze into — with a deft shrug of the shoulders — to tend their eggs.

From the tops of tall trees in the middle distance, sulphur crested cockatoos take long swooping glides with their solid-looking wings — feathers with heft. The brilliant white of the cockies slices the blue sweep of the sky. As they come closer, landing momentarily in the eucalypt, they flick and duck their crests, crowns of lurid lemony yellow — they are not called cocky for nothing. Higher still, ravens and birds of prey make their slow easeful surveys of the ground far below.

In the early afternoon my cousin and I are drinking tea, when a motor bike appears. 'Oh, that will be James,' she says, 'He likes to call by.' She tells me her husband first met him when, as a young adult, James arrived at the maths coaching business in the centre of town. We can hear James saying my cousin's name and her husband directs him