The osprey sees all. High above the town on a metal wire bowl, atop a mobile phone tower. From her crookedly pile of driftwood nest, she surveys the scene. A scattering of fibro shacks, low blocky brick apartment buildings, squat lowset brick houses, clustered near the shore of the silver expanse of estuary. A few wingbeats (to her) from the wide straight beach with the crashing waves, and that dense wet forest behind the dunes that she often flies past, but rarely enters. As the stars wheel over at night. When the grey sodden clouds bring the drenching drizzle. On summer mornings when the sun is already hot, relentless, at 9 o’clock.
At night the fuzzy osprey chicks murmur and dream, surrounded by the comforting odour of fishbones and bird vomit, clouds streaming by darkly against the glitter of stars. Below them the mobile tower spews its multitude of static human urges: a jitter of text messages, a jumble of mobile conversations, snapchat selfies, facebook tittering, flickering Netflix images, Foxtel sports roaring, and a pink blur of pornography. All through the night, in the estuary, and the sea, fish cluster and dart within a dark watery nightmare. Trying to avoid the sudden nameless shapes, barely sensed in the gloom, with open maws, and snatching, gnashing teeth.
By day, people wander about below, going about their business. Walking to the shops to get the bread. Driving large gleaming four-wheel-drives to end up on a boat somewhere, sticks akimbo, their form of fishing. Kids riding small bikes to school, hats on. Most do not notice her, do not think of her, high above, watching them.
But then, she isn’t always there. Most of the day she’s somewhere along the coast, somewhere in the estuary. Sitting watching from another perch. Fishing, often fishing. For she is a more faithful and skilful fisher than all the men with bloated bellies in their tinnies, or the bigger bright-white boats. Or even the ones in the sturdy, diesel-driven vessels with the large tree-like arms that extend out on both sides, and drop the snares that enmesh all. They chug out of the harbour at dusk, crowned with bright lights.
She doesn’t need boats or rods or sharp hooks, or plastic transparent lines that cut and tangle and strangle all. Just her eyes and her wings and her strong feet with their hooked talons. Did you know that she dives bodily into the water after the fish – and is submerged momentarily, like a tern or cormorant or penguin? Before flying away, somehow twisting in midair to shake off the saltwater, a fish writhing below. She doesn’t just prissily try to grab the fish with her feet, like the proud white bellied sea-eagle (who likes to keep his belly white – and dry).
Sometimes she sits in the cypress pines on the rock wall that protects the harbour, and the net-bounded human-swimming place, only lifting off when the Iluka-Yamba ferry steams past, full of stout, white elderly people. These humans shuffle slowly along behind walkers and then plop down gratefully on the lower-deck seats. Easy to catch if they were fish, the osprey thinks. But she’s never seen a slow, fat fish in the ocean or river – it’s an impossibility. Just like a fat osprey would be a folly. For to get too large would mean to lose the ability to fly. And then to die.
She drifts along above and a bit to the seaward side of the headland, then fast, past the dunes. Sometimes she isn’t looking for anything in particular. Just is swept along, carried by the wind, with a belly full of fish.
Near Yamba she will sometimes perch on the mast of one of the yachts moored close to shore. Far enough away from the tourist parks clamouring with children, where more pale humans emerge from boxy identical cabins, or enormous white capsules with wheels, towed by more big shiny four-wheel-drives. Here she is also far enough away from the loud rattle and hiss of the coffee machines in the cafes frequented by the seniors, cyclists and arty writers alike. The tackle shops peddling another million ways to kill a fish. The emporiums that mingle cheap chinese trinkets, with those things they called homewares, with the more honest efforts of local artisans. Homewares… she wonders… Looking at the pile of sticks where she rears her young.
And then she rises once more into the boundless sky, with brown wings spread. Over the glistening wide waters where the river meets the ocean. And the clouds weave their changing weather dramas over the distant seas.