John Bartlett

Sweet Bird Of Youth

Sweet Bird Of Youth

By on Feb 8, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

We lost a good friend yesterday – the sort of friend that drops by most days, or even several times a day, for a chat and a bite to eat. To be honest perhaps the snacks were the main attraction for the visit.

No, our friend was not a neighbour with an eating problem but a magpie who visited us for more than ten years accompanied sometimes by his  somewhat shyer spouse and each season they brought a couple of baby offspring by for our approval. Our garden often became a sort of nursery where he and the spouse could dump the children for an hour or two while they went off foraging together.

This magpie family became an integral part of our lives. Their warbling was often the first sound we heard on waking, their melodic arias, far outstripping the most renowned opera singers, often cutting through the pre-dawn darkness, commanding us to be up and about and busy like them.

Now our friend has suddenly disappeared, killed we presume by someone in a car, rushing carelessly by, intent on getting to the next important appointment. A vital link with Nature has been severed. We need these small, intimate reminders that we do live in a universe populated with millions of living creatures, birds, animals, mammals, fish; they are part of who we are.

But the evidence all points to a natural world that is gradually shrinking, vanishing bird by bird or even fish by fish, according to a recent SBS documentary ‘The End of the Line’( on the overfishing of our oceans. See also

Daily it seems there is further news of a species on the brink of extinction. Are we being too nonchalant about allowing the natural world and all that sustains us to vanish just to carry on our own special lifestyle?

When we first moved 15 years ago to this country region, west of Geelong in Victoria, Australia, there was nothing but paddocks and sheep along the 20 minutes road trip home. Now the narrow road to Barwon Heads is crowded with developing industrial and housing estates, all competing to be first to concrete over the paddocks and install enormous street lights to block out the stars at night. Principal of these developments is the Armstrong Creek development touted on their website in these glowing terms:

“The Armstrong Creek urban growth area will be developed into a sustainable community that sets new benchmarks in best practice urban development. Natural and cultural features will be protected and enhanced to create a distinct urban character. Armstrong Creek will become a highly sought-after location for living, working and recreation, forming an attractive addition to Geelong.”

Words such as ‘sustainable’, ‘best practice’, ‘benchmarks’ are just weasel words if what we really mean is the destruction of the natural world. It is forecast that this 2,500 hectare development will be home to an extra 65,000 people. Not much room for magpies or any other birds I would imagine.

Groups such as the ‘Lock the Gate Alliance’ ( have also drawn attention to the effects of coal seam gas exploration on Australia’s arable land. ‘Only 10% of Australia’s landmass can be considered as land that is good for agriculture. Most of this is on the coastal fringe of the continent and this is also where there is a high population growth rate. Thus, the agricultural land is coming into conflict with the expansion of the urban areas and the associated rural residential development.’ (

Of course I’m just as much a part of the problem because my current standard of living creates this enormous demand for more space, more resources, more of everything. I want to sustain the pleasant lifestyle I’ve come to expect. It’s a dilemma but I’m no more innocent than the developer in the hard hat.

Meanwhile international astronomers recently announced ( ‘they have found the fourth potentially habitable planet outside our solar system with temperatures that could support water and life about 22 light-years from Earth.’ Maybe it’s time to go and develop another planet now that we’ve stuffed up this one.




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