The Albatross Rules – Chapter 18: Birds of the High Country

18.            Birds of the High Country

Con had woken up late on the Monday before the Dwights Mill game, flipped out of bed into the same pair of board shorts he’d kicked off the night before, and padded into the kitchen. Maureen was sitting at the laminex table staring into a half-full mug. He wasn’t sure but it looked as if she’d been crying. It was the last thing he expected given the lingering euphoria that had followed the Albatross girls win against Mt Logan.

“Are you OK love?” he mumbled, still half asleep.

She looked at him with dagger eyes—Maureen did good dagger eyes. It wasn’t as if he’d seen them that often. She seemed to gather her frustrations inside her then, once every few years—when things got too much—she’d just unleash them on him from between narrowed eyelids.

Usually he saw it coming. He’d have stuffed up somehow; got into some stupid scheme with old team-mates or forgotten to clear the gutters until the hallway flooded or something daft like that. But bloody hell… he thought things had been going so well. “I’ll…I’ll go and get the paper then, eh?”

No answer. What did he expect?

He stumbled off towards Sue-Anne’s, with possible conversations doing circles around his sleepy head. ‘It can’t just be the coffee, love.’ (too dumb) ‘Maybe you’re missing the city.’ (too obvious) ‘Do you wanna talk about it?’ (too meaningless), ‘Maybe it’s hormonal?’ (don’t even think about it) ‘Is it Caz?’ (too hard to contemplate).

Nothing made sense. He walked slowly back with the paper and the milk, dreading getting home. There was nothing he could think of to say.

Con opened the back door with none of his usual gusto. Maureen flung herself at him and tears and words fell in torrents. “I’m sorry, Con… It’s not you… I’ve just been thinking… I just… I just… All those women… talking about… Oh Con… I just needed a good…”


Maureen had given up so much and she’d had so much taken from her. Finally, when her crying had exhausted her, she collapsed back into her chair. The half-full mug of inky instant coffee looked back at her.

“What is it, love? Really? Do you want to go back home? Tell me. We can do whatever you want. We’ll be OK.”

“Oh, Con,” she bellowed, then calmed herself again with a series of deep slow breaths and a sip of the cold brew. “I don’t want to go home. This is home. It’s not that.”

“You sure?”

“Sure, love.” She sipped her cold coffee again. There was a long pause.

“I just wanted a family.”

Con had been so caught up by football things that he’d let that sadness get pushed into the background. But it was always there and now they’d settled into life in Albertville Maur had had time to consider it.

“Nothing’s wrong, Con, that we can change. I hadn’t realised…I thought I’d let it go. I’ll be fine.

“But what about you?” she added. “You never talk about the baby.”

“I’d ’ve been alright… as a dad… wouldn’t I? Yeah, I’d have liked it. It’d have been great. I dunno, love. I can’t imagine it though, like you do. In my head I’m nothing but an aging footballer. I just want you to feel better.”

Maureen looked at him with just a hint of pity. “I know love. I don’t mind you being sad for me, if that’s what you want… but save a bit of sympathy for yourself. You’ll need it one day. One day you’ll wake up and you’ll understand.”

He made more coffee and toast and we sat quietly together until there was a knock at the door just before eleven. “You-hoo, Maurz.” Caz swung through into the kitchen and Maureen’s face brightened.

Caz looked at me quizzically. “You OK, Con?”

“Huh… Oh yeah,” he tried not to look surprised. “What are you girls up to today?”

“Oh, geeze, Caz. I completely forgot. Back in a mo’.” Maureen ran towards the bedroom.

“Got a date with some hippies,” Caz grinned.


“Never you mind, Con. I’ll take good care of ’er.” Caz smiled at Maur who came back into the kitchen, the cheeky grin she usually wore whenever the two got together shining through freshly applied makeup. Something was brewing.

It had been in the wind for a while. They’d become bored playing little tricks on the Prof. Messing with honour boards and old team photos only got you so far. The dead fish stunt he’d pulled on me or that stuff about switching Caz’s wedding tape—that sort of thing demanded a more spectacular response.

Among the Prof’s most treasured possessions was his beaten up copy of Birds of the High Country, on which he’d kept fastidious field notes and records of sightings. He’d shown it to Maureen after dinner the last time she and Con had visited. As she flicked through it she’d noted that there was just one, extremely rare, species listed in the book that didn’t yet have at least a short scrawled note beside it.

It was with considerable interest then that The Prof read, soon after, in the Mountain Country Standard about goings on in the anti-logging camp nearby. Greenies Abandon Platform to Help Rare Bird read the headline.

Logging protesters have abandoned a tree-top observation platform near Mt Rickety after a rare nesting pair of Golden Lorikeets set up home in the same tree. Spokesperson, Kevin Murdoch said that the pair had moved in last week while the platform had been unattended…

Mt Rickety. It made sense. The right sort of terrain. There’d been a sighting up there in the Eighties. The Prof snatched Birds of the High Country from the shelves and flicked through to the listing. “Twenty years,” he muttered. “Twenty bloody years.” He had to sit down to stop his hands from shaking as he read the entry.

Golden Lorikeet Glossopsitta Flavescens Rare (possibly local vagrant only) Beautiful small terrestrial parrot. Extremely timid. Male predominantly bright yellow. Greenish nape. Bill black. Female green with golden face and wing tips. Size 24cm Voice soft bell-like ‘chip-chip-chip’ in flight. Squeaky chatter when feeding. Sightings rarely seen locally. Reliable reports during 1980s. Last reliable record, Mt Rickety region 1987. May only visit high country during drought years Habitat Forest canopy, usually near water.

At training that night Barry Massey sidled up to Eagle. “You fellas got a place up on Mt Rickety.”

“Not my lot, but I know ‘em, Prof…you saw the article, eh? I haven’t spoken to them but I bet they’re all pretty excited up there. Naturally they won’t want every snap-happy twitcher hanging around…”

The Prof’s face turned distinctly sulky.

“…but seeing as you’ve done the right thing by me…”

“Good onya, lad.” The Prof pulled out a notebook. Eagle told him which road to take, where to park, then scribbled a series of instructions down. “Just keep it to yourself, mate, wont’ya.”

“Too bloody right, boy.”

It took the Humber two hours to wind up into the Mt Rickety wilderness and another forty-five minutes for the Prof to find the abandoned platform. The Golden Lorikeet preferred the canopy of tall eucalypts and the trees up here were tall indeed. Baz scanned the upper branches with his old binoculars. Nothing. He’d have to climb. The Prof had a thing about heights. Didn’t like ‘em. ‘A man’s not a monkey,’ he’d say. Ladders were enough to confound him. Tall buildings, cliffs, things like that, had him shaking like a leaf. He looked suspiciously at the rope ladder suspended from the lower branches of a raking gum tree.

“Bleedin’ heck.” He muttered. He reached up and grasped the rung above his head. “Don’t look down…don’t look down.” He scrambled a few metres… then looked down.

Maur and Caz had spent the afternoon tittering conspiratorially until Con could stand it no longer. “What are you two up to?”

“Nothing, Con. Nothing. You’ve got a suspicious mind. Hey, Maur, he’s got a suspicious mind, your husband.” Maureen was trying hard not to giggle. “C’mon girl. We’re making him uncomfortable. Let’s go down the pub.”

“Yeah let’s.” Maur tittered, scooping up her handbag.

“What, at three o’clock?”

“See what I mean, love. No trust. Geeze loosen up, Con.” The coach looked on stunned as they swung out, clutching at each other like schoolgirls.

The Prof shook like a leaf as his hand finally grasped the relative steadiness of the platform, twenty metres above the forest floor. He could hear the wind getting up in the valley. Only the thought of the Golden Lorikeets kept him moving. It had been a near thing. Three times, on the way up, he’d stopped completely. Twice he’d nearly turned back. The climb had taken fifteen agonising minutes and all his energy.

Just a couple more rungs. Baz took a deep breath. Steadying himself on the branches that formed the cradle for the platform he hauled himself up and collapsed, panting.

After a minute or two he became confident enough in the structure to start to look around, careful not to direct his gaze ground-wards. He couldn’t see a nest of any description. ‘Probably hidden in the foliage’, he thought. He sat still, listening for ‘pips’ or ‘squeaky chatter’. No sound came to him except the whistling of the wind across the treetops. His platform was beginning to sway a little.

A movement in a branch behind him made him swing round. A kookaburra, which had just landed nearby, cocked his head back and laughed raucously. Baz waited. The lorikeet’s description was repeating in his head. ‘Extremely timid’…He tried not to move or make a sound. The pair would have heard him clambering up to his perch. They’d probably retreated a safe distance. He glanced around at his surroundings. The platform was sturdy enough and quite spacious, made of split logs so that the surface was reasonably flat. There was nothing else to remark upon other than a lot of graffiti slogans carved into it and an old army surplus ammo box nailed on to it at one corner.

Baz waited.

In the bar of the Grand Caz and Maur were sharing a laugh with Boof and Eagle.

The kookaburra, which had been quietly watching for a while, broke into its mocking song again. Baz eyed the ammo box suspiciously. He edged over towards it.

Not knowing what to expect he tried the lid. It swung up easily. There was nothing inside except a child’s stuffed toy that had seen better days and a neatly folded piece of paper. Thinking nothing about the dirty yellow toy bird he reached for the paper. The lines written on it as he unfolded it looked like poetry. He swore under his breath and started reading…

Birds of the High Country

The kingfisher’s a cheeky bird

It swoops to catch its meal.

A careless angler might attest

Its capacity to steal

So don’t keep fish upon your hook

too long, the warm breeze fanning,

You’ll loose it to the kingfisher.

Never leave a dead fish hanging

The lyrebird’s a clever chap

He has a thousand voices

For showing off to randy hens

Attracted by his choices

But songs might also call to birds

of prey, intent on slaughter

The lyrebird should never choose

A song it shouldn’t oughtta


“What the bloody hell…” He looked suspiciously at the toy. Surely not. Baz was in a complete funk. This could not be the golden lorikeet he’d risked life and limb for. And yet the poem…it seemed to be talking directly to him. It even had the same title as his trusted bird guide.

Caz and Maureen had just finished off a counter meal when the Prof wheeled through the pub door, ashen faced. Maur nudged Caz and they watched, from the safety of their corner table.

“Baz, you look like shit… what’s up?” Boof had been chatting with some of the old blokes about the club’s upcoming pie-night. He stopped and stood a fresh beer on the bar for the club president.

“Oh geeze, ta Boof. Oh Crikey. Got into a spot of bother up in the hills,” the Prof panted, pushing past Pete Inglis. He grasped the pot and downed it in a gulp. He still hadn’t been able to make sense of anything that had occurred that afternoon, least of all the ditty that remained un-decoded in his pocket. He had a nagging feeling that he’d been well and truly set up; but why, and by whom? And where were the gloaters he should have expected if it had been just some weird joke? No…it had just been a common-or-garden wild goose chase, that’s all. Nothing out of the ordinary. The stuff in the box though…who could have known… ?

Caz motioned and the two girls rose to leave. As they passed by the scene at the bar Caz tapped the Prof on his shoulder. “Geeze, Baz. You look like crap. You’ve been working too hard. Take it easy, eh.”

“Oh, yeah…um…Caz…um…How are…” but the girls had already reached the door.

“Seeya Prof,” Maur pipped cheerfully behind her as they swung out into the street. Before they’d reached the front of Sue-Anne’s store they’d collapsed into each other’s arms, tears of delight streaming down their cheeks and vindication in their hearts.

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