Late in the afternoon, we were on a beach on the southern side of the Murray River. The sky was that shocking blue you get in the inland and the day was still hot. The river was flowing north-east, which means the beach was on one of those bends that doubles back on itself, a billion-year-old fluke of nature.
The water was silent and deadly. You could see the current out towards the middle; fast busy wrinkles that would have you downstream in a flash. The boys waded to a small island near the shore that was just mud with an ancient gum tree growing in it. The gum was bent and its lower limbs dragged in the flowing water and it looked like an old fisherman trying to hold a net. No wonder the aborigines saw spirits in everything; the quality of light and the depth of the shadows out here makes figures of everything.
They practised going along in the softer current close to shore. I stood downstream a little and showed them how to swim towards the bank with the flow, and not against it. The current turbo-charged their strokes and they came out of the water at the top of the bend laughing for the joy of speed. On the bank Alexandra was sitting on the bank by her mother, scratching the sand as if looking for something.
Then the noise started. Shreds of white, like torn paper, started appearing on the trees lining the bank downstream. Thousands of them. They were straggles of white cockatoos lighting for the night in the arms of the gums. The screech was deafening.