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The life and death of spring? (Illustration: Jim Pavlidis)

The life and death of spring? (Illustration: Jim Pavlidis. Source: Canberra Times, Fairfax Media.)

It happened only a week ago. There I was, working away at my desk, when, coming from somewhere at a distance on my right, the east, there was a sudden airy whoosh, two of them, in parallel, blasting past my window, above, high above, then the briefest of silences, a nano-second, before this in the west: one explosion, two explosions.

Down below my office, on the sun-drenched terrace outside the café, young men and women stopped concentrating lazily on their lattes and cappuccinos and looked into the sky.  An authoritative shout went up and the young men and women, helpfully already in uniform and camouflage, got to running, sprinting.

They knew, and so did I, because the sirens made it clear: we were – our country was – under attack, we were being invaded.

Except we weren’t; my imagination was simply getting carried away with itself.  Two jet planes, some kind of fighting machine, did indeed zoom through the sky above my room, but – thank the deity that is yours, or just your lucky stars – there were no explosions; it was nothing more than one of those fly-pasts, celebrating something or other that I didn’t know.

But those young military men and women: they were real enough, they are real enough, because I’m currently spending three months at the Australian Defence Force Academy.  No, it’s not the most bizarre holiday you’ve ever heard, nor am I lurking behind bushes like some kind of spy.  It’s just that, courtesy of the University of New South Wales, my spring is committed to a place I never thought I’d even visit let alone allow myself to become immersed, enthralled, besotted even.

Some – many, most – may consider it odd for a writer to spend spring in a place that, in essence, is teaching people how to invade and maim and kill and destroy, all for the greater good, a kind of lofty, lofty cause, one that isn’t always entirely obvious (or true)…


Keep reading over at The Canberra Times, which commissioned this piece and published it on 11 November 2013.

Two days ago I woke to find a story in The Canberra Times about a mother duck who returns each year to the Australian War Memorial to give birth to a brood of chicks in the Pool of Reflection.  Because the mother duck is such a regular, Memorial staff have made a ramp so the chicks can get out – in the picture above, which shows the family hanging around the Pool’s eternal flame, the little guys are only 24 hours old.  The staff also escort mum when she and the kids make the journey across a series of busy roads down to the nearby Lake Burley Griffin where she’ll do the actual raising.

It is, of course, an image of contrasts.  Delight in a place of heaviness.  A celebration of hope in an institution that remembers extraordinary – and potentially futile – loss.

The Pool of Reflection at the Australian War Memorial - sans duck family.

Yesterday, as I was walking around the lake, I saw coming across the water – yes, it was her…them! – the mother and her brood.  I stopped to watch, as did three female joggers; the female joggers deplugged themselves from their iPods.  The ducklings zipped here and there as if they didn’t have a minute to lose, all the while the mother kept a close, nervous eye on her charges.

Barely a minute later, the surface of the water broke and for a split second the joggers and I saw the mouth of a large carp – the bloody ugly fish was trying to take one of the ducklings. In a flash, the ducklings reformed themselves in a tight group and then the mother quickly escorted them to the relative safety of the shallows.

As I walked away I couldn’t help wondering if the carp had managed to score a duckling and drag it underwater, would the mother duck grieve for her loss?

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The past