There is a small hut on the other side of the Basin, where the tourists disembark from the chairlift; whoever operates the chairlift on that side has a small hut, in which he keeps a collection of feathers and a few smutty pictures of girls cut out from a magazine. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him. It was about 7:30p.m., a summer evening, when I last went by that way. Of course, the chairlift was finished for the day: so many empty seats stranded above the rocks and the lawn and the water, hanging from a thick wire.
I tramped up by the rhododendrons and the manferns, past the empty porch in front of the little café-restaurant where they sell Devonshire tea at a hefty price, and up the steps that lead towards what they call the Eagle Eyrie. I often regret that the nomenclature on this island is more or less complete – how much I would like to have been given some say into the place-names of Tasmania. Eagle Eyrie is fine: but I could do better. So I thought on this evening, anyway.
Sometimes you see wallabies on that pathway. Occasionally, you even come upon an echidna rooting around in the dirt. Tonight, though, there seemed to be no life in the bushes, not even fairy-wrens or silvereyes in the trees. Tangles of wildflowers grew but everything else might as well have been dead, or dying.
Or perhaps that was just the way I was seeing the world. I was in mourning. My aunt – a woman beloved to me – had just passed. Cancer. The funeral had been a few days before. It was lovely, as lovely as a funeral can be, but I still didn’t feel as though I had come upon any type of closure. I didn’t really know what that was supposed to look like, however. I had heard things about the grieving process, or whatever, but this was my first brush with mortality, and more than anything, it was confusing. The days before the funeral had been a busy time of organising and I wondered if there was some kind of design to that.
At the top of the gravel path is a look-out point. Clambering up towards it, I was surprised to find a peacock there. It was probably surprised to see me too. It seemed like a solitary place for a peacock to be, especially during the mating season. What business did it have at the Eagle Eyrie? It was a male, glittering with bright hues (unlike the dowdy brown females), but there wasn’t a potential mate in sight. It had come a long way for no evident purpose.
As I slowly stepped towards the peacock, it shuffled towards the edge of the look-out, squeezing under a small, scrappy fence – erected, I suppose, to stop tourists tumbling off. I worried briefly for the peacock as it gauged the distance to a nearby rock, and then launched towards it. But the peacock landed fine. It was quite a curious sight: this gaudy peacock perched on a rock above the entire Cataract Gorge, with the dark green northern-hemisphere pines clashing against the grey palette of native bush, and the shimmering electric-blue of the pool and an equally brilliant grass of the lawn. The basin itself had turned silver in the gathering twilight. The peacock gave out a few shrill calls, bending its ropy neck beneath the weight of each shout, as if it was buckling beneath the pressure. I continued watching it, sitting down slowly. Now the peacock gave a honk, like a grandmother at a family reunion letting out a surprised belch. The calls – ree-yor, ree-yor – set off a chain reaction. After each call, a kookaburra would be stirred into its laugh. Then, a dog, cooped up in the yard of one of those houses along the northern rim of the Gorge, would begin to bark. And down on the lawn, by the pool, it seemed that the playful screaming of some girls was a response to the dog’s noises too.
I had a thermos of peppermint tea with me. Not taking my eyes of the peacock, I unscrewed the lid and began to let it cool down. I was trying to remember my auntie. But the bird in front of me was a distraction, and I studied its strange fashion, the clashing colours, the shapes of its tail feathers (eyes and fish-tails), the brown-and-cream design of its flanks, its ugly legs and feet, the blue brainy mess on its scalp.
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