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The Birds

Photos of Capital City Trail, Melbourne
This photo of Capital City Trail is courtesy of TripAdvisor

At the risk of sounding like another Tony from the first episode of The Sopranos, I do love it when the ducks come. They are just one of the avian attractions on my 12 minute, twice-daily ride between a duck-egg blue California bungalow in Northcote and my writing studio at the Abbotsford Convent. Like a good novel, the birds know not to give me too much too early. On a square of grass outside the Heidelberg Road Housing Commission, I invariably brake for pigeons. They sense that I’m not a born killer and that to run over one of them would inconvenience my day as well as theirs.

The birdlife hots up on the Merri Trail itself. As I swoop down one of the Clifton hills, magpies and rosellas and smaller black and white birds that aren’t magpies dive and tease and chase one another. Occasionally, I ring my birdwatcher friend Sean Dooley direct from the saddle and ask him to identify a species for me, and we have stilted awkward conversations because he can’t see the bird and I can’t see generally.

I love that this area used to be a tip. I love that the playground over that mound has two maypoles and a cave, and a slide so long that you half expect a carnie to be standing beside it.

I love arriving at Dights Falls and assessing the pace of the river. When it’s rained, it roars and I flash through the sides of puddles, knowing that the only person who will see the wet streak up my back will be Handsome Steve who serves me pies and pots at his House of Refreshment.

We talk about life, the universe and the Geelong Football Club, although after a year of writing my novel, it did occur to me that Handsome Steve might not exist – that he was the Convent equivalent of the bartender in The Shining.

I have a favourite duck. She’s white with orange feet, the sort of central casting duck they draw on Play School. I once stood with her as we watched the police homicide squad dredge the river, just under Dights Falls. An overflowing rubbish catchment had already had a go a little further upstream. I felt like Tony Soprano then too. Not that I have anything to confess. I just stood there with the duck.