Speaking of Southern fans, here's an article
fron a fanwriter from the deep, deep, DEEP South! Seriously, we've been corresponding
with Greg Hills for about a year now; the following is a condensation of an article
which will appear in his fanzine Secant later this year.
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For the Birds
by Greg Hills
Heaven may be found twenty-five kilometres north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The YHA (Youth Hostels Association) hostel of 'Bensuta Lodge', at Towlers Bay on Pittwater is probably my single most preferred spot on the continent of Australia. Set high on a tree-clad hillside, in a human enclave in Kuring-gai Chase National Park, it has the air of being isolated on an island far from 'civilisation'. But draw a quarter circle on a map, radius fifty kilometres and with the outer arc curving from south to west, and three million people live within the area of that wedge.
I came to Pittwater as a refugee from Sydney. I had arrived in Australia just three days before and had found it impossible to organise myself in the bustle of Sydney. I had previously spent fourteen months managing a YHA hostel in New Zealand. Te Aroha, located on a hillside, backing on forest and with perhaps fifteen thousand people within a twenty-five kilometre radius, had coaxed me out of love with the big city. Sydney was too much. Pittwater was just enough.
I arrived on a Monday, after the weekend rush had returned to Sydney. Where twenty people had jostled, I and four others sprawled. Our conversations were backed and supported by the sough of wind, the rush of trees, and the cries of birds. At intervals there might be a human shout or the distant putter of an outboard boat, but mostly there was just nature.
Edwin was a Scotsman of middle years, and half-aware that he was growing old. We got on well enough; but then, since we shared a dormitory, we had to. He was full of opinions and willing to share them. I agreed with few of them.
Susan, Sarah, and Anna -- it is hard to think of the three individually, as it was rare to find one alone -- were English, from London. Susan was the easygoing one, open and disarming but feeling, somehow, artificial. Sarah was cynical and often sarcastic, but she held the group together and was always the first to help someone else. Anna was dark where the others were blond, legacy of her half-Indian parents, and her reserve was fierce, but she was naturally friendly and was certainly the most intelligent of the three.
We were all seasoned hostellers, well-versed in the traditions of that curious fandom-like subculture. Yes, fandom-like. Hostellers have clubs, with clubzines. There is an etiquette and a language unique to the hostels. There are no fanzines, travellers not being given to publishing, but the void is filled by the hostel visitors books. (These are not the limp "name, address, three-word-comment" that you may have visualized. The hostel visitor's book is a repository of the thoughts, deeds, and findings of generations of hostellers. Some entries are, indeed, a mere scrawled line, But others can take up pages of tiny writing.) And the whole thing is somewhat reminiscent of a convention, spread out temporally and spatially, with programmirg events and room parties running simultaneously at many different places.
I spent four nights at Pittwater, and came away with memories that seem more like four months. The problem I face in this article is not finding something to talk about, but deciding what not to talk about. If I started to cover everything, I could fill this fanzine from end to end and have material left for the next issue. So, narrow; narrow... ah, there's an image: black wings beating along a green backdrop, and a voice: "Bandits at nine o'clock..."
A wing of magpies came in on a strafing run. "Here they come again," said Anna. The currawong, dropping a raucous cry, took to its tree. The lorikeets, being more interested in pecking indiscriminately at seed and each other, paid no attention; they knew the magpies would not dare bother them.
Edwin, Anna, and I were relaxed in a row on the on the wooden bench, backs against table ard feet propped against veranda railing. I had just been watching a curl of smoke rise above the hillside across the bay. I had also been thinking what a contrast there was between the three sets of legs I could see: the knobby, the chubby, and the shapely (this last thinking I kept quiet about).
"Poor little bugger," said Edwin of the currawong.
We watched it jitter from branch to branch of its sanctuary, white-rimmed mad eye watching the magpies descend voraciously upon the seed-pile that the lorikeets had somehow overlooked.
"Throw the poor beast some seed," said Anna, compassion in her voice.
I tossed a handful of seed in the general dlrection of the tree. The currawong eyed it greedify but remained in the branches. If it dropped to pick seeds from the ground, the magpies would chase it back into the tree. It had learned.
Suddenly magpies and lorikeets alike deserted the piles, scattering away into the trees. "Oh, see, it's a kookaburra," said Anna, and she was right. It landed on the railing a couple of yards from us and turned an expectant eye our way. Behind it, the currawong fluttered from its tree amd began hastily -- and not without many a fearful glance -- picking seed out of the grass.
The currawong is a large black bird, something like a slim raven. The only touch of colour about it is the circle of white around the pupil of its eyes. The bird is ubiquitous to Austraiia, and has a fondness in the cities for squatting atop a telephone pole and carrying at intervals. It is a born coward, despite its size, and is often beat up on by magpies, which are smaller but more vicious.
The lorikeets mentioned above are Australia's famous Rainbow Lorikeets -- the technicolour parrot. Electric blue heads, brilliant green backs, scarlet-and-canary chests, and more blue on the bellies. Red beaks, red eyes, and grey legs complete the body. Clownish ragamuffin antics do not stop the observer noticing the resprect with which they are treated by the apparently more formidable magpie. The beak is very strong. Do I need to explain magpies? Black and white cousins to rooks and crows.
And my favourite Australian bird, the kookaburra, is the largest member of the kingfisher family. The Australian version is often better-known as the 'laughing' kookaburra, and I doubt I need to explain why. The kookaburras at Pittwater are very tame; they will not climb onto your hand, but they will feed from your fingers. Scorning seed, they prefer food containing meat. Their skill at removing food from between fingers without touching the fingers is impressive. You approach, morsel dangling between thumb and forefinger. The kookaburra watches you until you are within reach then orients on the food like a gun settling on a target. A blur, a slight tug, and the morsel has been transferred to the kookaburra's beak. It bangs it on the railing (just to make quite sure it's dead), tosses back its head, and swallows.
Pittwater boasts of more than birds. Wallabies and the occasional wombat wander across the lawn beside the currawong's tree. A goanna lives in the rocks in back of the hostel (if only you knew how close I came to titling this article 'Goanna Round Out Back' -- you were saved only because Pittwater, being this side of the Blue Mountains, doesn't qualify as being in the Outback). And by night, opossums wander down from the trees to seek out food scraps on the veranda and open doors into the kitchen. The Australian opossum (no relation to North America's 'possum') is a pest in New Zealand, where it was introduced many years ago because of its fine coat-usable fur. To drive down a road in New Zealand is to pass a succession of very dead pedestrian opossums (losers in the game of road crossing). Many people make a living hunting the nuisances in New Zealand. Meanwhile, here in Australia where they're native, they are protected zealously. When I moved over here and first learned this, it made for a mild case of culture shock.
Sarah and Susan came out of their dormitory and joined us on the veranda. A wallaby came by, cropping the lawn and pausing periodically to scratch its flanks furiously. Wallabies fook like small kangaroos, and what this inspired we five watchers to say of A.A. Milne's mother and baby characters is best left in the place where it was said. Sarah had always felt that Kanga and Baby Roo were somewhat idealised, and had never been convinced by the scene in which Kanga attempted to bathe Piglet. "True," I said, "but Kanga knew Piglet wasn't Roo, so it could all have been a big act." This was mulled over in silence before the subject suffered a sea-change. I can't understand why; it made perfect sense to me.
The wallaby scratched itself out of sight, and Edwin followed, muttering about finding the hostel's rowboat and going for a paddle round the headland -- did anyone want to come along? (No volunteers.) He vanished down the track and the Trio blurred into action; through their dormitory and out the other door, towels in hand. Down onto the lawn and strip to catch the sun.
And, as three examples of Yourg English Womanhood lie topless on the grass, scratching at the first bite of the fleas left behind by the wallaby, watched by a nervous currawong from its tree, I'll take the opportunity to show you the way out of this brief tale. S'long...
All illustrations by Charlie Williams