Little Corellas announced their presence with excited squawks, hundreds of them. Pink and grey Galahs cursorily glanced at their cousins. A Brown Treecreeper went silently about its incessant searching. Red-rumped Grass Parrots with their blue-green heads and bright yellow breasts played from limb to limb. The dreaming of the Wangkumara people says that Cooper Creek came from the Pelican Spirit; and there she was, one lone coastal pelican effortlessly sailing her domain.
The Cooper is held to be the only creek in the world formed by two rivers. The mockery lingers because it is also as far from the sea and life that you can imagine, and yet here it is thriving in the desert. I wet a line looking for a fish, just one would do, then settled back with a cup of tea.
As always in the Australian Outback, the sky is blue, sun warm, and today the air carries a chill of a flawless winter. It’s perfect, unaltered for millennia.
The coolabah trees lining the creek haven’t changed in centuries either. One in particular passes the same message. Dig. She is a gnarly 250 year old beauty, and 154 years ago her blaze implored explorers Burke and Wills to survive. Their lives were doomed, however, without comprehension of the Wangkumara and the Pelican Spirit. They fished where I was standing, and hoped to be rescued, but didn’t understand the Aboriginal ways and bush tucker, so slowly died.
Today the Dig Tree is an Australian pilgrimage as we urge a tired old coolabah to share her memories of adventure and exploration. Burke and Wills are now primary in national history as heroic tragedies the result of bad luck, error, and misjudgement.
Here I am fishing the same waters, shaded by the very coolabahs that the actual explorers touched. The same corellas, galahs, treecreepers, and pretty parrots playing overhead. I could be either Burke or Wills, because the scene is the same.
Listen to the songs, because they teach us the same lessons now as then. Learn from those who came before, and we too can sail the domain.