- Song of The Billabong
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- About the Author
- Feature Article
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Billabong is a recognized Aboriginal word in our national language, with special connotations. It is, by nature, an alternative course as a waterway in times of heavy flow, when the main riverway overflows. When the rivers dry, these anna branches and waterholes that remain, are most important.
The billabong represents life in the bush; it has a music about it. Just quietly listen to your own voice as you say, and repeat;
'Billabong, Billabong, Billabongbong;
It is like the happiness of a frog echoed across the water.
The billabong changes with the seasons. After the wet, when the water level is high, the grasses on its banks are green and rustle as the heavy seed heads cause them to bow and wave like a sea in motion in the breezes.
The trees blossom and wild flowers bloom. The bees are buzzing in a drone of activity, and dragonflies dance their irregular dance on the wing. Theirs is a flight of ecstasy, never knowing or seeming to care which way to go. Sometimes in tandem, they pursue their gallant frivolity, as they hover over the stillness of the billabong.
Suddenly, the billabong is disturbed as a yellow belly fish takes his lunch. Overhead, the din of birds of all kinds, in a myriad of colours, reaches a crescendo as they arrive from nowhere in great flocks to the billabong, as if on cue; there to socialize and to drink at the water’s edge.
Fat cattle laze in the shade, eyes closed as they blissfully chew their cuds and flick flies absentmindedly with their floppy ears; seemingly oblivious to the world. A sleek tan dingo bitch slithed her way down the opposite bank to lap her satisfaction. Ripples gradually cover the surface and distort what was a mirror image reflection of the world of Billabong. She eyes the cattle with a guarded yellow-eyed stare before once more disappearing into the landscape; until another time.
Billabong goes into the dry season and bides her time. She is the very pulse of her dependents in this vast dry continent; they rely on her for their very survival. If the wet season doesn’t come down and flow into the channels early – she may dawdle, faulter and then grudgingly disappear.
The mud in her belly will crack into mosaics, and then open into chasms. Yabbies will burrow deeper and deeper in order to survive. Scavengers and stilted water birds, themselves aching out a survival, will feast on the remnants, and fish that once jumped with glee will lie wasted, empty eyed and bloated high and dry in the relentless sun.
A perished calf lies, a disheveled crinkled-hide husk of a carcass, in the well-trodden dust near the cattle pad that once led to water. It’s mother, meanwhile, has taken her last draught through a dry cracked muzzle, and now she too lays dead in the hungry bog; trapped and too weak to pull herself free one last time. Her wasted body will sustain the dingoes, feral pigs, crows and hawks. By nature, they will debate pecking order, their time at the table of survival.
Yes, old lady Billabong has many pages in her calendar of seasons. She has the music of ecstacy – the smells of pleasure and nectar, the bird colours of the rainbow, and accommodates the spirit of the bush; the spirit of life, of hope, of anticipation; yet also the cruel emptiness of death all about her in years of prolonged drought. But then, when the rains come, she turns her page and the cycle begins again.
She is indispensable in her own right and has become a National Treasure in our country’s folk lore.
“Once a Jolly Swagman
Camped by a Billabong”
Pelican Waterholes: The huge billabong adjacent to the dry Barcoo in Western Queensland
“The bleating commences to cease as the leaders of thousands upon thousands of sheep seemingly slide out into the billabong, like a rolling head of stout. This is ‘Heaven on the Hoof’ for the drovers who have kept the mob alive and walking through the drought.
Sheep are sheep, but there is a special look on the face of a well-travelled wether as he is drinking his fill, soaking wet up to his belly. The sun is going down and he knows that he wont have to walk another mile on his tired and weary legs today.