In the new light of sunrise, I cycled leisurely in Townsville’s Ross River Parkway, the sky above me nearly clear, only wisps of white-grey cloud marring its blue expanse. A light breeze rustled fringed palm leaves and refreshed my skin in the humidity-laden air already hot by 6 a.m. Here in the tropics, the sun’s ascent is so steep, it’s hydrogen fusion racing up a vertical ladder.

Parkway birds sang their usual morning chorus enlivened by the saucy screeches of rainbow lorikeets and wild cackles of a laughing kookaburra raining mockery down onto the city. I spotted a pair of magpie-larks attending their mud-cup nest on a tree branch, and stately Australian pelicans floating the river. Rowers propelled needle-like sculls over the water’s wind-flecked surface, their bare arms and the backdrop of weeping paperbarks and lush lawn gilded by the sun.

Rowers on Ross River, Townsville (© Magi Nams)

On my return to the house, I plopped into a reclining chair and read about Australian mammals while lorikeets foraged noisily in our neighbour’s flowering tree. The air wafting through open doors was like that of a Nova Scotian late summer day – delicious warmth wrapped around me while a fresher breeze spoke of a different time, another season coming.

A dozen hours later, Vilis and I drove downtown to the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre, a.k.a. ‘The Swamp,’ home of the Townsville MacDonald’s Crocodiles professional men’s basketball team. Tonight the Crocs, suited out in green and gold, faced the Melbourne Tigers, clad in white and red, the action focused on a hardwood floor surrounded by tiers of pastel, multi-coloured seats filled to two-thirds capacity. Vilis and I noticed a lot of Croc green in the crowd, which cheered the home team and booed the visitors, particularly during free throw attempts. An obviously partisan announcer cheerfully egged the crowd on while up-beat ‘go team!’ music spilled over the court and stands. Giddy, chatty teenage girls seated directly in front of Vilis and me spent more time on their cell phones than watching the game.

Yet, the distractions didn’t diminish the skill of the players – the outside gunners, the men who drove to the basket, the rebound warriors, the ball-handling wizards for whom dribbling behind their backs and between their legs was just part of moving the ball down court. I saw one pass go completely wild, but most were crisp and a few were thrilling in their long or clever accuracy. The Crocs dominated the game from start to finish, the team solid with talent. They had it all – the men who hit consistently from the outside for 3-pointers, the inside men with – as the old saying goes – more moves than a belly dancer, the rebound strength, the effective plays and tough floating zone, full-court press, and man-to-man defences. I was impressed with the play, and I had fun – the sound of sneakers squeaking on hardwood and the arcing trajectories of balls in the air so familiar; the Aussie crowd good-natured and entertaining. When the game ended with a score of Crocodiles 94, Tigers 66, kids lined up along the sidelines and a Croc player twice as tall as the kids walked the line, chatting with the youngsters.

Outdoors, where warm wind pushed palm leaves into heaving fringes, and elegant rows of white-flowering frangipanis bordered the convention centre lawns beneath a cloud-screened sky studded with glinting stars, I could still, in my mind, hear the sound of squeaking sneakers.

Today’s birds: olive-backed oriole, rainbow lorikeets, brush cuckoo, eastern koels, magpie-larks, channel-billed cuckoo, blue-faced honeyeaters, yellow-throated miners, house sparrows, peaceful doves, masked lapwings, white-gaped honeyeater, mynas, great bowerbird, brown honeyeaters, Australian magpies, rock doves, welcome swallows, Australian white ibises, figbird, helmeted friarbird, magpie geese, scaly-breasted lorikeets, comb-crested jacanas, laughing kookaburas, spangled drongoes, yellow honeyeater, Australian pelicans, blue-winged kookaburra, Australasian darter, rainbow bee-eaters, nutmeg mannikins, little corellas, white-breasted woodswallows, bush stone-curlews.

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