The next person who tells me my home town of Brisbane has no seasons should wake before dawn, which, although they may not have noticed, is an hour earlier than it was a couple of months back. They ought to listen to the pied butcherbird that starts around 4am in the top of a big tree in our front yard, seeking a mate through a gorgeous song “under the cover of dark” – he stops with the sun. Then there are the noisy miners, more noisy than minor at the moment. And the kookaburras, seeking a village to raise their chicks, evicted from everywhere by the over-populating miners. And soon, the brash parrots, chattering about their own chicks in the trees, and all the other birds that put spring in our spring.

Those seasonal naysayers should get on a bike and ride to the city gardens where they’ll be dive-bombed by magpies protecting their young, or watch scrub turkeys, crazed in every season but manic now when they must finish building their huge mounds or lose the chance of a family this year.

Brisbane definitely has seasons but perhaps it’s not surprising some visitors don’t notice. I checked out a couple of internet sites. The first said we get most of our rain in the winter. We do? The other did make the point that Brisbane “has got the four usual seasons” (and the unusual ones?). Instead of looking at the internet, the doubters ought to take a walk in my neighbourhood where native wisteria, callistemon and silky oak are raucous with colour. And hello, it’s hard to miss the jacarandas, which were green two months ago and are now purple.

I know they’re not native, but jacarandas signify late spring in Brisbane almost as surely as the temperature of the sea increasing by three degrees signifies the coming summer. Our most famous jacaranda, painted by Godfrey Rivers, was the first in Australia, the seed from South America planted in the botanic gardens by the canny Scottish horticulturalist Walter Hill in 1864, surviving until a 1979 cyclone. Ask anyone who grew up in Brisbane and they’ll have a story involving a jacaranda, whether it’s trashing their uni exams that one year, visits to New Farm park with a grandparent, or spending hours in a childhood treehouse. I’m glad Hill though to plant the non-native. If there’s a more beautiful sight than a jacaranda and silky oak in bloom side by side in the late afternoon skewed spring sunshine, I don’t know what it is.

I spent a cold winter in Canada a few years back. We saw few creatures other than humans during those long monochrome days and nights. In the spring, our friends took us birdwatching. We saw some wonderful birds and the stories of their long journeys to reach us were astounding. But we stood around in the cold for a long time before we saw those few birds, and their calls, while lovely, were muted, nothing like the pure unbridled joy of the chorus that wakes me every morning at this time of year.


But if I could play the season doubters just one bird’s song that tells me spring is here, it probably wouldn’t be a local. Instead, I’d listen out for that herald of summer, a migrant himself as it happens, arriving at this time every year from New Guinea. The jet black koel is the bird you hear early morning and late afternoon, a call full of feeling, often prescient of a summer storm, a heartfelt “ko-el” over and over that some people hate. He’s already telling us what’s ahead, a long hot summer where the earth will bake, the grass will need cutting every week and there will be plenty of passion in the sky.

I love spring. Our sleeping jungle wakes suddenly and finds the world in love with itself. I know our trees don’t lose their leaves, and our winter hardly deserves the name, but the seasons are still different from each other, and all more recklessly alive than in other places. Spring is the most lively of them all. Bring on summer, it says. Bring it on.



Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 19 October 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!

Road rage, ride rage and the case for more kindness


I met a Canadian cyclist this week while waiting for traffic lights to change near the riverside bikeway. I’d just decided not to cross  on the flashing DON’T WALK, a good choice as it turned out, as the light against me turned green. “This is such a good city for cycling,” the Canadian said, pointing to the bikeway opposite us. “Except for your bikers. They’re so full of rage. Why is that?” It’s a good question. I blame cars.

I took up cycling again as an adult because I hate driving, or at least I hate waiting in traffic. I can get almost everywhere my work takes me – the city, the State Library, three bookstores and half a dozen coffee shops – more quickly on my bike than in a car, most of it on that pleasant riverside path. But forced at times to use the roads, I quickly learned that some drivers disregard cyclists, ignorantly or even maliciously cutting you off, travelling too close or yelling abuse. Last year I got knocked by a car that was pulling out of a parking spot– it took months for my back and shoulder to work properly again –  and the driver seemed more concerned I might sue than about anything else.  While I realised car drivers might not like bike riders, I always thought other bikers would be my chums. I was wrong.

I meet a writing buddy for coffee once a week. We have a range of cafes north and south of the river. My buddy walks, I bike. But at this time of year, two of our cafes become untraversable because of the cyclists, mostly male, who descend like plagues of lycra, their backs advertising toothpaste companies, financial institutions or restaurants, their shoes – socks on the outside – clattering on the cobbles as they join the queue. They carry coins in small ziploc bags which their gloved fingers have trouble opening. When they sit down, having ordered their complicated coffees, they talk about bicycle parts. If you smile at them, they don’t smile back.

They’re in teams, and I know feeling part of a team can be rewarding, but when they’re riding, their teams turn into packs, which is not so good. I’m not in a pack. I don’t wear lycra. Until a few months ago, my bike was a 1987 Trek. I don’t cycle fast and perhaps that makes me a target, the Piggy of the Lord of the Flies biking world. When I see one of those packs coming towards me in the opposite direction on the bikeway and I hear that now familiar chorus of “Bike! Bike! Bike!” shouted down the line like “Brace! Brace! Brace!” in a plane, I panic. They pull in at the last minute, sometimes yelling something I won’t repeat here. Yes, they frighten me, especially once my son was old enough to come along on rides. He’d totter into the wrong lane just before a flying giant would almost collect him, with more of those words I won’t repeat. But they are afraid too, and well they might be.


When I feel like meeting their cycling aggression with aggression, I remember the worst case of ride rage I ever saw. I was on foot one hot day at Brisbane’s suburban Milton near a busy fiveways. I watched a cyclist pedal hard to catch up with a car stopped at a red light, drop his bike on the footpath, wrench open the back door of the car and proceed to encourage a passenger to engage in fisticuffs. The light changed to green not a moment too soon and the car sped off, the door still open, the cyclist only then beginning to shake uncontrollably, sinking to the ground near me, starting to cry. His rage spent, he looked completely deflated, although people were still giving him a wide berth. The car had nearly hit him, he told me in between sobs, and the boys in the back had laughed. I stayed with him until he’d stopped crying.

No matter how aggressive they are, cyclists are more vulnerable to cars than car drivers are to bicycles. For this reason if no other, the weight and mass differential, those who drive cars ought to be the kinder and more patient of the two. 


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 28 September 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!