Water Lily, Anderson Park Botanical Gardens, Townsville, Queensland (© Magi Nams)

Damp, clinging Townsvillian heat swirled around my limbs as I ran one last Australian run in the brightening light before dawn. Paths within the Ross River Parkway lay wet and pasted with flowers and twigs after last evening’s and night’s downpours. A dawn chorus of tropical birds urged and cheered me on – rainbow lorikeets, olive-backed oriole, eastern koels, yellow honeyeaters. Towering clouds hugged the horizon while clear sky gleamed blue overhead. The river ran broad and fuller than it had a week ago, before we travelled to Canberra. Queensland’s early Wet is already making its mark.

As I ran, I thought of my first aborted run in this country almost a year ago, when the unaccustomed, sauna-like heat and humidity robbed me of my breath, weighted my limbs, and sent pains darting through my head. I’ve come a long way since then, breathing easily this morning, although sweating copiously.

That recollection led me to others. When we arrived, we knew no one, yet this evening we’ll attend an Aitkenvale Uniting Church service where we’ll feel welcomed and valued, and last evening we shared a delightful and delicious Christmas party with members of the Townsville Region Bird Observers Club, most of whom I know by name and a few of whom have been graciously generous with their birding expertise and friendship. Boisterous, good-natured teasing and jokes seemed to be the order of the evening, a trademark of Aussies, Vilis and I were told by a Kiwi married to an Aussie. Our Kiwi acquaintance also informed us that New Zealanders have been known to refer to Australians as the ‘Yanks of the Pacific’, a term I can now appreciate after a year of following American news on Australian national radio, as well as having become aware of the close military ties between the two countries.

Vilis and I have spent almost 50 weeks opening ourselves to what this country has to offer – its history, culture, and most of all, its landscapes and wildlife. My birding total for the year stands at a satisfying 281 species, plus a few iffy ones and 2 owls I heard but didn’t see. At least a third of these have become my parkway buddies here in Townsville. Vilis and I have also observed an intriguing array of Australian mammals, reptiles, and butterflies, some of them – like the Ulysses swallowtail – heart-rendingly beautiful, and others – I’m thinking of saltwater crocodiles and eastern brown snakes – good reminders of successful reptilian hunting adaptations and the mortality of humans. We fell in love with the desert near Alice Springs, the Great Barrier Reef, and the cluttered and tangled rainforests next door to us here in North Queensland. We feasted on the sights of palm trees and ghost gums, brilliantly-coloured birds and red desert rock, enduring heat and capricious tropical weather to do so. We leaned on each other, loved each other more deeply, grew fit and shared countless adventures in an exotic land. In short, it’s been good.

On my return to the house, Vilis and I drove to Cotter’s Market in downtown Townsville and perused the vendors’ tables of Queensland pottery, tropical fruits, confections and baking, woodworkings, leatherwork (last time we attended the market, we bought ‘real man’ crocodile skin belts for our sons), and artwork (my family Christmas cards will be photographs of Maria Watson’s exquisite silk paintings of North Queensland flora and fauna).

As we drove home, Castle Hill’s north wall of pink cliffs reared above the city streets, the peak a granite monolith embraced and celebrated by this dry tropics city perched on the north coast of Queensland. As I write this, it occurs to me that I could probably compose a list of birds a visitor to Townsville would be likely to see on that granite peak. For me, that means Townsville truly is a home away from home.

Townsville, Queensland, with Castle Hill in Background (© Magi Nams)

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