“Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh
What fun your life must be”
Bill Mitchell left Australia as a very young man. He lived all his adult life in the great cities and universities of the world. His work concerned city design and some have said that he was one of the great urban theorists of our time. But I knew another Bill Mitchell, one with his roots firmly planted in the Victorian bush towns of his childhood. Every year Bill returned to Australia at least once. Typically he then embarked on a drive through several hundred kilometers of bush country that must have mystified many others. He loved it.
When in Boston or New York or Los Angeles he encountered a friend or relative from Australia it was easy to see a small thrill go right through his body. Quickly, the talk would be about the latest Australian novel or film. Then it would turn to Australian politics and the quick wit would set in and the jokes commenced. Soon he would be back again directing one of the Architecture Reviews of his undergraduate days in Melbourne and revelling in its silliness. The laughter was infectious. And then, very quickly, he would be back in the small bush towns of his boyhood. Perhaps he was exploring the gold town mullock heaps and deserted mine shafts with his sister and dog. Perhaps it was his mother’s reaction to finding that the noise coming from under his bed was emanating from tadpoles which were becoming frogs in their glass container. Then as the Australian red flowed, the corrugated iron roofs of Ararat became even hotter in the summertime and the crackelling frosts even heavier. The gravelled roads became dustier and the great eucalypts even more fragrant. Jokes and stories and ideas competed for space as they tumbled out. Usually the jokes won and the laughter dominated all. Then, truly, “Merry, merry king of the bush was he”. And, in his company, even on the busy streets of some great city, just for an hour or so, so were we.
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh.