Richards and Jagger had not started their song-writing partnership at that time, and chose instead to interpret past standards. I always felt this was made as an honour to the singers and songwriters who had come before them; a homage, in a way. A salute to the those who ploughed the furrow into which The Stones would drop the seeds of their own success.
But I digress.
Dog-walking, not R&B, is the subject of this musing. I walked our two dogs this morning, 15th December 2013, in the Bob Gordon Reserve located in the Perth suburb of Bull Creek, Western Australia. It was still dark when we arrived, the two dogs in the back of the Honda CRV. They know the place well, as we visit it each day at approximately the same time. This morning, Rex, a one-year-old Blue Heeler/Alsatian cross, lept over the car’s back guard, so eager was he to get started. The more sedate, Hallie, a grande-dame Staffie/Mastif cross of 10 years, with a lovely brindle coat, followed him after I had opened the car’s rear gate.
Orion and his belt welcomed us from the north-west. Venus, the brightest light in the sky, untwinkling, sat to Orion’s right. The Southern Cross hung in the opposite quadrant. They don’t change, thank goodness, and thereby reassure us that while ultimately all must turn to dust, at least it will be a good while coming. You have to bear in mind, of course, that everything is history - as are the lights of the night sky.
The Bob Gordon Reserve is a well-managed open space within the local authority of Melville, that reckons it is a ‘City’. It is mainly grassed which is mown frequently during the summer, and less so in the cooler, wet months. Ancient, sentinel paper barks and a variety of eucalypts are scattered about. Most years Melville council will plant young versions of existing varieties to extend the tree cover. These saplings are generally set out in some orderly pattern, so the Reserve grows to look like a municipal park, which it is.
Within its centre, a rather small area of bush has been preserved, untended, unmanaged, where nature has been permitted to thrive, or at least to strive as it will. Of course, grasses predominate but native wild-flowers have secured a foothold, and a couple of months ago they bloomed in the shy way that Australian flora seem to do: perhaps, wisely, to avoid the heat of the sun.
Some beautiful, delicate flowers with white petals positioned above one another on the stalk, like miniature gladioli, stuck their heads out of the surrounding vegetation, and for a couple of weeks were a welcome each morning, till they suddenly wilted and drooped. Some yellow flowers, tall like poppies, spread amongst the grasses and waved languidly in the timid breeze of early spring. Confident daisies flowered above sturdy stalks and green base-leaves, brightly yellow. They are deeper-rooted and remain still.
This morning we arrived before 4.00am, but the imminent dawn was already lifting the night sky upwards from the tops of nearby trees and houses. The southern summer solstice is a week away, when the night will be at its shortest. A week after Christmas Day the dark hours for sleeping will inch their way back.
As I completed my circuit around the bush area, and came to face directly eastwards I was presented with the perfect early morning vista. There are some very old trees in the Reserve. You can tell from the diameter of their trunks, from the solid, twisted branches that hang and stretch outwards, that these fellas have been around for a good while. I look through those branches at the cloudless, lightening sky. Every one of them, every twig, every sprouting piece of foliage is set in infinite detail against the whiteness of an early dawn.
But wait. Those dogs are at it again. They are 9 years apart, yet behave together like close siblings. Rex is a relentless teaser. He will find a stick or a tennis ball that some dog-walker has left on the ground, and he will hold it between his teeth and push it towards Hallie to tempt her to take it. She never succeeds because this youngster is too quick. Moreover, he has an intelligence that belies his youth. He manoeuvers, he turns away from Hallie’s probing jaw and elludes all her advances. He pesters her to try again, coming back to her, placing a paw on her head to cajole her. Perhaps he will thrust the stick or ball towards her, actually pushing it against her jowls, as if to say, ‘Here it is, why don’t you take it?’.
Eventually, Hallie will succomb to frustration and will start barking in some half-hearted entreaty to Rex for comfort. That is my signal to walk away from the neighbouring bungalows and houses that straddle the Reserve. It’s not yet 4.30am, and I won’t be flavour of the month if the locals are roused from their beds on account of my noisy dogs.
So we travel down alongside the BMX cycle park that occupies a portion of the Reserve, straddling the main road through Bull Creek, away from the houses and back gardens. Rex is a true Blue Heeler, and carries the bulk of an Alsatian. The pure breed was reared in Queensland during the early colonial days to herd cattle. They are clever, loyal (thus ‘Heelers’) and will run and run all day.
Owning a Blue Heeler is no easy job. Intelligence results in the undoing of all sorts of restraints or obstacles put in Rex’s way to keep him orderly, and his energy means he needs constant attention. Pity any person who owns a Blue Heeler without at least 10 acres of land for it to run across. I confess we don’t own so large a spread (a mere 800 sq metre suburban lot), but I now have the time to keep the two dogs occupied so long as weather permits.
There’s one thing I have failed to mention about our morning walk. That is the birdlife. The birds of Western Australia are a fairly sociable brood, and once one of them has woken and announces its presence, the others are not far behind. But on arrival, we have preceded their dawn chorus. This morning, only a pair of jabbering Kookaburras disturb the night air from a half-kilometre away. They are often seen in pairs and their territory is wide, so you only rarely hear more than a single pair. They often call throughout the night hours, and especially shortly before dawn. During the day they tend to be silent but often settle on telegraph lines or poles to survey their domain.
The Magpies occupy the swollen, arthritic branches of the old paper-barks, often hidden by the tangled, primitive foliage. During the night it is not uncommon to hear the warble of an insomniac Magpie. Its lilting call, the most complex of any bird, gently rides the night air reminding all listeners of its presence, the length of occupation of its territory, perhaps its name and its intention to remain for many a year. At dawn the Magpies will take to the ground to feed on seeds and grubs amongst the grass. When approached, they stand with head erect, defying my trespass, until their will falters and they fly up into a tree’s safety, squawking defiance.
Even before them, a pair or trio of wild Ducks may circle the reserve, flying at tree-height and appearing to be in a great hurry. They sometimes come back for a second pass, as if they haven’t decided where to land. Occasionally, a mating pair will drop down within the Reserve to feed on the watered grass.
Before long, a brightly coloured Lesser Holland Honey-Eater will chirp up. Then will come the shrill carping of a Wattle Bird that pierces the early morning air. During the nesting season one of the parent birds will fly sorties against any living creature in the Reserve that approaches where their eggs sit. Neither humans nor other birds, no matter their size, are spared - especially dogs, whom the Wattle Birds regard as prime targets, swooping to within centimetres of the animal’s head. Hallie, now accustomed by age to these attacks, trots on unhurried and unstirred. Rex, ever the young adventurer, will give chase across the Reserve as he is lured away from the Wattle Bird’s nest.
Then appear the pairs of tiny green-necked parrots, that are not native to WA and are often vilified for occupying the nesting holes of indigenous varieties. As a newcomer, I love them - such brilliant plumage of red, black, yellow and green. I still haven’t got used to seeing parrots flying free in the wild - they should be in a cage. They fly at a hectic pace, squawking as they go, usually in pairs, one closely at the tail of the other. Then the gallas appear. Not so much in a flock as in a lazy mob, like sleepy kangaroos of the air. They are delightful birds, gregarious, noisy, and such relaxed flyers, if somewhat lopsided at times.
I went sailing on the Swan River later in the day, and saw a sea eagle and a bi-plane passing across the sky together. Lovely sight. That’s why I live in Perth - for it all.
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