A REVIEWER described the latest phase of Bob Dylan’s career as a bit like bird-watching. You spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen, but if you’re lucky you experience an occasional moment of true magic.
It was like killing two birds with one stone, a birdwatcher marking time before the Melbourne leg of Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour 2014, and seeing a kookaburra spear a hapless sparrow on the St Kilda Waterfront. A simple twist of fate.
Until reading the review I would not have dreamed of putting Dylan and birds into the same context – however indirect – but all the same I got to thinking how two worlds represented by both could magically come together during my latest trip to Melbourne, and points further north.
This trip, I might add, had absolutely nothing to do with birdwatching at the outset. It was about seeing Dylan at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre and my wife seeing an exhibition on women’s underwear in Bendigo, her own magical moment in the world of corsets and brassiere.
The trip to Victoria had a portent of what was to come, however. Our flight was initially delayed and the frustration of being stuck out at the airport for most of the day was relieved by the sight of the first welcome swallows of spring hawking insects through the scattered eucalypts decorating the airport car park.
Next day, during the afternoon before the concert, I had visited Cook’s Cottage in the grounds of Fitzroy Gardens and delighted in seeing birds absent from Tasmania, like magpie-larks, red wattlebirds and little ravens.
This was not about birds, as I have said, but all the same these species still gave my ramblings an added dimension, made my trip just that little bit special. That’s the beauty of birds, they inform about time and place. No two cities, not just in Australia but anywhere in the wild, have exactly the same birds, and the experienced birder can tell you exactly where they are, and at what time of the year, not just by the sight of different birds but the sounds they make.
I didn’t expect magic on this trip – after all I was not venturing to Melbourne’s most famous birding attraction, the Werribee wetlands – but all the same I felt that magic was always just around the corner.
A butcherbird in Albert Park and galahs fluttering across a grass verge in St Kilda might not have provided that magic as such but it was interesting to note that the galahs I saw in Melbourne were truly wild and native, and not the introduced ones that I see virtually every day on the grass verges of the Tasman Highway leaving the Hobart CBD.
During the train journey to Bendigo I was confident I’d see more galahs from the carriage window, but in this regard I was to be disappointed. The sight of crested pigeons – another species not found in Tasmania – was more than enough compensation, along with a pied stilt on a farm dam somewhere between the stations of Castlemaine and Kangaroo Flat.
The Bendigo Museum was hosting a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, titled “Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion”, and it was something my wife especially wanted to see. Some might find Queen Victoria’s bloomers magical but I was pleased eventually to be sitting on the steps of the museum, admiring an ancient gum tree along the leafy thoroughfare on which the museum is situated.
And then my own moment of magic. A twittering from the gum’s highest branches and I strained to look. A small parrot with turquoise head, bright green body and pastel-yellow breast: a red-rumped parrot, a species I had never seen before.
The night previously Bob Dylan, with a swagger under the tilt of his wide-brimmed sombrero cordobes hat, had sung A Simple Twist of Fate – my favourite Dylan song – and now another occasional moment of true magic was blowing in the wind.