Last Leaves from Dunk Island, by E. J. Banfield

The Wonderful Season

If Gilbert White of Selborne were living to-day, and among us, he would deem it a duty to record every characteristic and incident of this wonderful season — its winds and calms, its rains and mists and drizzles, its temperatures; the growth of its vegetation; the condition and conduct of domestic animals; the moods of its birds, the activities of its insects, baleful as well as beautiful — and draw just conclusions therefrom for the edification of his day and for generations to come. Possibly he would have referred to it as ANNUS MIRABILIS, not because of bewildering disasters, such as plagues and fires and floods, and falling stars, but because of its genialities, its uniform and, so far, persistent beneficences, and its charms.

Bold in the assurance that no cruel comparisons can be made between the records of a man of genius who delights hosts of readers all over the world and the crude, thin observations of a loving disciple, an attempt herein is made to register, as Gilbert White would have wished, some of the everyday facts which have been noted since the beginning of the year. It is understood, of course, that merely local conditions are to be mentioned, though it is apparent that similar experiences have been the fortunate lot of the North, whether along the coastal strip or in the big, open spaces where conditions are generally quite dissimilar.

What could be more agreeable to the needs, or more in consonance with the hopes, of those of us who live in direct touch with the goodwill of Mother Earth than the lasting, artistically modulated wet season, with naught of excess and but one attempt on the part of unruly winds to fly in the face of a serene barometer? The sum of the first three months being much below the average did, it has to be confessed, seem to signify a shortage of rain throughout the year; but, just when one was inclined to give way to doubt, came a series of genial showers, followed by nearly two months of mist and drizzle, with warm, clear, radiantly blue days. These restored confidence and that good-humour which is never far below the surface in the mind of a man who loves land and expects it to respond to his trivial ticklings. And so the season progresses, without a single note of disapprobation, save on the part of the confirmed pessimist who declares it to be too good to last, while the little creeks babble with assurance, and most of the trees and plants revel and indicate well-being by the exhibition of glossy leafage and abundant flower.

There are singular exceptions, however, to the general appearance of vegetation impudent with fat living, and certain birds have been wholly misled. The umbrella-trees quite forgot to flower, and the big tea-trees made but a poor attempt. Both produce nectar in excess, and expectant birds must have been driven to less prolific and less tasteful fountains. Two species of birds seem to regulate their migratory flights in accordance with food-supplies — nutmeg pigeons and metallic starlings, and, as has been recorded, (CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER”) the blacks were wont to foretell their coming by three trees in particular, one of the palms, the coral-tree, and the nutmeg. The latter was always specially associated with the pigeons, but since it and the coral-tree manifest (the one with fruit, the other with flowers) the advance of the season, the blacks accepted them as calendars. When the leaves fell, and red flowers began to decorate the leafless branches of the coral-tree, the blacks knew of the coming of the pigeons.

This year (1920) the coral-tree has been unusually dilatory, and it would seem that the theory of the blacks in respect of its association with the pigeons is established. Records of nigh upon a quarter of a century show that the pigeons arrive about the 7th of August, the starlings having preceded them by two or three days. This season the starlings arrived on the 10th, announcing themselves, as they invariably do, with the whir of rapid wings, and acidulous exclamations. Not until the 20th were the first pigeons seen — a small flock that seemed to be weary and spent with travel. When it is said that the local coral-trees have still to bloom, and that the nutmegs are scarcely edible, from the pigeons point of appreciation, it will be admitted that the season has its contradictions, and the birds were in the right in delaying their arrival.

It has been noted, too, that some of the orchids are later than usual, and that certain culinary vegetables have been exasperatingly slow in development. Reports from the immediate neighbourhood tell of the tardiness of the orange bloom, while the mango-trees have flowered off and on during the last three months without establishing hope of fruit, and without that excess of foliage which often registers a mild and encouraging season. It is said that sugar-cane is making the heart of the farmer rejoice over the next year’s prospects, that new lands are being cleared and planted, and that the cultivation of the banana in the North is about to be revived on a scale worthy of the fruit and the clime.

See, therefore, the elasticity of the mind of man under the pull of the weather. Not that in ordinary seasons there is much to complain about as far as the coastal tract is concerned; but when all conditions are favourable the stimulus becomes irresistible. Timely rains, naught of excess in temperature, bright and cloudy days ideally alternated, wholesome mists which have swathed mountains and hills in a dripping blanket of grey — under such influences hope springs eternal in the breast of that portion of humanity which gaily gambles with the weather for livelihood.

And that brawny breast, does it not expand with this vitalizing, tepid air that folk from the chill South hasten to share with the fortunate North Queenslander? And is he not proud of his country? And does he not chuckle over the juvenile inconsistencies of those who cry, tremulously, for a White Australia, while declaring out of their ignorance or prejudice that the most richly endowed part of it is fit only for blacks?

Ah! we know-do we not? — the riddling and the quibbling of theorists on what they term “climatology,” and how they apply their theories. We know. too, that we have the only part of Australia in which certain articles of food can be produced to the best advantage in quality, quantity, and in the shortest space of time, and that we enjoy a monopoly — bestowed by climate, and therefore permanent and superior to the manipulations of the envious — over other products essential to the well-being of the Commonwealth. When we do trouble ourselves to ponder affectionately over the catalogue of our industries, present, prospective and possible, we ought to be the most contented of Australians.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32