Works in the Herald 1934
THESE BUSH PROPHETS: WHEN THE SWALLOWS CAME BACK

Just as if I were a really serious scientist, I find myself wavering for the moment between a sentimental desire to pander to my own emotional preference and a stern determination to deal in nothing but unbiased judgments and meticulously investigated, proven and reproven tests and testimonies which form the essence of all things scientific.

Indeed, if I were a real scientist I should not waver at all, realising that the truth is mighty and must prevail, that preference and prejudice are just other names for poppycock.

But I do waver; and, if I consulted my own feelings, what follows here would never be written. But a passionate urge for exactitude, strange in one so sentimental and ingenuous, eggs me on to make a clean breast of it.

It is all over those unreliable swallows of whom I wrote the other day, crowing rather injudiciously about their seeming triumph over mere human prophets when it came to long-range weather prediction.

I told, it may be remembered, how, days before the official weather seers had any intimation of violent weather, the swallows about my bush domain had downed tools, abandoned all building operations and, gathering on one brilliantly calm and sunny evening, fled from the wintry wrath to some.

I exalted rather much, I am afraid, over this inexplicable prescience, and the unquestionable and immediate obedience to some mystic warning sign which man, with his human limitations, failed to perceive.

Everybody knows how surely winterís wrath did return and remain for days and weeks with fierce gales, storms and floods almost unprecedented. But the wise swallows had escaped it all, and their continued absence in some far fields beyond my ken under a smiling sun, confirmed my convictions that they were possessed of an uncanny knowledge, which proved to the hilt something or other I had been striving to prove. But I had been so busy proving it that I had lost sight entirely of whatever it was I wanted to prove!

Still, I had proved it, and I felt pretty good about it.

And now, my friends the swallows have let me down utterly. I hate to write it, but they have knocked all my pretty theories and aesthetic thimble-rigging into a cocked hat!

One evening last week, between the hours of six and seven, I chanced to be strolling in green fields gloriously lit by an unclouded setting sun of singular promise. Casually glancing aloft, I was amazed to see the soft blue sky literally swarming with swallows! There they soared and wheeled and swooped joyously -- some mere specks against the azure dome, others, circling low, bent to the surface of a still pool and climbed again into the zenith.

And all the while a joyful, gentle, subdued twittering told me unmistakably that glad days were here again and obstinate winterís cohorts had been broken and routed at long last.

The swallows had come home again!

I rushed inside with the joyous news, and the household, whose nerves had been frayed by this maddening sequence of clammy days and inclement nights, joined me in thankful praise of these miraculous birds.

Happening to turn on the wireless later that evening I heard the weather man babble of his isobars and such like. A low, he informed us learnedly, was approaching from the west. It was already over South Australia, and we might expect a return of wind and rain storms. Even flood conditions, he hinted --

To my confidently smiling lips rose the scientific equivalent for "Oh yeah?" How much better informed was I? Had I not, but a few hours since, seen those clustering, heartening swallows?

I laughed a hollow, mocking -- but withal a pitying laugh, and so to bed.

Later in the night I was very rudely awakened by what seemed alarmingly like a cloud-burst on the roof.

In point of fact -- I mean, actually -- well, to be candid it was pretty nearly a cloud-burst. It continued the next day. And a savage wind tore through the forest, rain descended and winter was again with us.

But not a single swallow have I seen since that evening.

Somewhere, I have no doubt, in some dark corner of the bush, subdued and shame-faced, they were hiding their discredited heads and sheltering from rain and ridicule. Their kudos as prophets --

Yet, stay! It may be that they came on that fine evening merely to look things over. Perhaps it was a temporary visit just to be sure --

Dear me! How these unscientific sentiments do cleave to their emotional preferences and simpering prejudice.

"Den"
Herald, 15 November 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2005