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The Scrivener: No Place Like Home

Brian Barratt, an enchanting conversationalist and host, shares his Australian home with uninvited, though not unwelcomed, guests.

To read more of Brian’s hospitable columns please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page. For a bout of invigorating mental callisthenics also visit his Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Some things change at an extraordinary rate. My house, for instance. I had to get it valued this month. It's worth 34 times more than I paid for it in 1971.

On the other hand, apart from a couple of added rooms, it's still the same ramshackle little clinker brick abode. An elderly friend came to inspect it when I first bought it. 'Oh Brian', she declared. 'It's YOU. It's so quaint!' A visitor from overseas complained that he couldn't take a decent photo of it, because it's hidden by trees and bushes.

As well as sharing the house with humans from time to time, I've had other company, thanks to those trees. Possums, for instance. Bushy-tails leap onto the roof and gallumph like thunder across the nocturnal tiles. Ringtails creep cautiously along the power lines and make their way more daintily around the premises. One nested in the camellia bush next to my front porch.

I'm quite deaf, so when the bushy-tails started keeping me awake at night, I knew something was going on, as it were. They were not merely on the roof; they were inside the roof. Possums, I'll have you know, have very noisy sex lives. A specialist came to block up the loose flashing which they used as an entrance, and cleared the roof of five of them. They are protected beasties, so had to be released in the same area.

They were back the next night. They'd gnawed their way through the new protective metal flashing. It was replaced with something stronger. They came back. They had come under the house and working their way up through the wall cavities. Strong pig-wire netting was stapled to all access points. They chewed their way through that without a care in the world. The eventual remedy was industrial strength grille of the sort that's used to make supermarket trolleys.

There have always been other two-legged companions, of course. Birds in abundance. The standard issue ravens, magpies, peewees and kookaburras live in the richly arboreal surrounding land. They stay, as do blackbirds, but we see hardly any sparrows and starlings nowadays. Little native birds have pretty well disappeared from the area. We don't see silver-eyes, Eastern spinebills, scrub wrens, spotted pardalotes, and their ilk. Another native bird, the noisy miner, has invaded and purged the area of these lovely smaller birds.
There are brick ledges running the length of my house, beneath the eaves. The one facing north has provided shelter and comfort to several birdie residents. The first to make use of the facility after I moved in were blackbirds, who just seem to like building their immaculate nests as near to humans as possible. Sparrows have built nests there, too, and one family took over the previous year's blackbird nest, making a complete mess of it. Squatters!

A few years ago, tiny white browed scrub wrens built their nest directly above my laundry door. I watched them hithering and thithering with bits of food which they stuffed into two voracious little beaks which emerged from the hole at the end of the horizontal nest. Indeed, they flew so close to me that I could feel the draught from their wings, on my hair.

On two occasions, a scrub wren came indoors. Now a normal bird flies into a panic on such occasions, but not a scrub wren. They are self-confident birdies, full of curiosity. Each one merely flew from place to place, watched me while I made plans to open a door or window, and then obligingly flew out. No fuss, no bother. I reckon they're as intelligent as parrots.
This year, a pair of turtledoves has nested up there, too. We know that doves aren't simply birds of peace and love — they're randy, they're at it all the time. Well, this active couple raised no less than three sets of twins under my eaves, all in one season.

And now a pair of haughty, aggressive Indian mynahs (mynas) has taken up residence for the duration.

Many other feathered friends make use of my trees — rosellas, lorikeets, wattle birds, butcher-birds, currawongs, the lot. Meanwhile, the house has changed. It is worth a lot more and is quainter than ever. So quaint, that it needs major repairs of crumbling walls. But it has stayed the same. It still provides seasonal accommodation for a multitude of our feathered friends.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007


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