My place. Wednesay, 9am
Sometimes the prettiest sounds mask a horrible reality.
Here at my shack under the cliffs, bellbirds chime. The Australian bellbird (Manorina melanophrys) has invaded the bush around my shack. The birds arrived here a month ago, with little warning, and now, as the Australian poet Henry Kendall wrote,
… softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bellbirds are running and ringing.
The ringing never stops. It is the first sound in the morning, running till dark. Sweeter than singing, yes, but deadly. Bellbirds kill forests. It’s not a song. It’s the sounding of the knell, and it is for the bush the bellbird tolls.
It’s a bit like French. I have always loved the sound of French language. To me, as a young fella, French sounded smooth and sexy, all cigarettes and wine, with its throaty ‘r’s and nasal tones.
At my school in Gympie, I learned French from a Christian Brother who had no French but whose Latin and his students’ ignorance qualified him to teach the language. His pronunciational handicaps were compensated, in part, by his enthusiasm for French chanteuses, especially Edith Piaf (Non, je ne regrette rien – No, I regret nothing) and Juliette Greco (Je suis comme je suis – I am how I am). Brother Paul would play these records and glide about the classroom, eyes closed, hand on heart, high on the pretty sound.
At the time it was confusing. Now it all makes sense. Brother Paul was… how he was.
Still, I learned French. It was sophisticated, civilised. At uni, I smoked Gitanes. In France, I drank Beaujolais at lunch.
But, like the bellbird’s call, the pretty French sound masks a horrible reality.
The French government is bombing Syria. The French are adding to the misery of people ravaged by seven years of civil war. I’m disappointed. Like Santa Claus and Jesus Christ, the French illusion is shattered.
Sure, the Americans and the British are involved too, but that is to be expected. Of course, Australia condones the bombing. We’re a warmongering nation, so no surprise there. (Short nation syndrome.) We like war. We’re spending half a billion dollars on extensions to our national war museum. (The museum will still not include the only war Australians ever fought against invasion – against the British.)
Bellbirds, when out of control in disrupted environments, as they now are in much of northern NSW, cause dieback. It’s called Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD) and it’s destroying our forests. The bellbirds chase all other birds from the area, resulting in sap-eating insects, called psyllids, remaining uneaten and growing in numbers, killing their tree hosts. Already, some birds who have hung near my shack for years have packed their swags and moved away from the constant bellbird harassment.
Most Syrians cannot move away. The French have been hassling them for a hundred years, since Syria was forced to became a mandate of France in 1918. In 1925 the Syrians revolted, but the French retaliated using troops from its African colonies and shelling Damascus in 1927.
The Syrians finally got independence in 1946. Things got friendly for a while. Bashar al-Assad visited France in 2008, attending the Bastille Day parade as a guest of honour. He speaks French, and enjoys a French wine with lunch.
But governments, all governments, are fickle, so the French – the cool, civilised, sophisticated French – are bombing Syrian people again.
It’s confusing – the tolling of the bellbird, a Christian brother dancing to Edith Piaf, Australia spending $500 million on a temple to war. It sounds so harmless.
Yes, the call of the bellbird is sweet; the sound of French is attractive; and patriotic oration is beguiling. But sometimes the prettiest sounds mask a horrible reality.