The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
A Bedouin Garden
From the white silence of the dunes which Sprawled over the desert like Silurian monsters, we came to the place of our dreams. A long ride across barren country, with nothing to break its monotonous greyness till the sand hills thrust in from seaward, had wearied both camels and riders. And now we saw the Mediterranean tranquil in sunshine, a boundless vision of blue water, fringed with foam along shore.
"Halt!" The crisp command reached eager ears, and every man sat loosely in the saddle and gazed with delight on the sea. Months in the desert had made us hungry for the sea change, and it was pleasant to think that golden days lay before us, and the dreary ones behind. The camels, aware that rest awaited them there, trotted down the track to the beach.
Off saddling in record time, we formed camp, and then raced to the water's edge. Within five minutes the shallows were thronged with happy soldiers. It was better than Coogee or Bondi, better than Manly even, and we could not have enough of surfing that afternoon. Next morning, however after an hour in the sea, I dressed scantily and wandered away behind the small dunes that crown like a rampart the shelving beach. My quest was for birds and flowers. In a hollow scooped by the wind. I discovered a clump of white sea lilies. Though wilted, the blossoms were fragrant still. Scent strangely opens the chambers of memory, and that of the lilies won me a vision of a garden in Australia, where violets grow thickly in the shade of a lilac bush, and thrushes hunt for early worms on a lawn pearled with dew.
A swallow, whose wings had been brushed with sky colour skimmed by. I followed the gleam and found a forsaken garden. In a sunlight space, almost a valley, it lay, and one could trace the lines of old cactus hedges, now ragged and broken, that once enclosed it. An acre perhaps was dotted with leafless fig-trees; a lone palm stood in the midst of these, mournfully swaying its withered fronds. Where the Bedouin home had been grew pomegranites and a Lebbeck tree. Nothing remained of the dwelling, but fragments of red pottery were scattered near a camel's skull, and a scrap of blue cloth fluttered from a low branch. Arab folk had tended this garden before the red tide of war swept over Palestine. Now, only the song of a small brown bird broke silence where once the laughter of children sounded, and wrinkled old men gossiped at ease in the shade.
The garden truly was forsaken by man, but not by Nature. On a low mound grew a bush, veiled in purple flowers, which rang with the joyous murmur of bees. Hawk moths hovered before the blossoms, sharing in the harvest of nectar, and dragon flies, clad in crimson and sapphire mail, clung to the leaves here and there. Lizards basked close to the bush; jerbils had burrows deep down among its roots, and tracks of the sacred scarab patterned the sand all around.
I knew that the bush sheltered birds; but for long they sang unseen, creeping softly in the shadow of leaves. Patience at length won me a glimpse of the hidden songsters, little brown warblers, more like elves than birds. The nightingale doubtless comes here in Spring and sings from the heart of the bush on the mound.
Presently, while I stood watching the bees and the moths and listening to the minstrelsy of these elusive warblers, a blue throat flew to the bush and dived into its cool green shelter. Luscinia, with its flake of azure, and winsome ways, is the gem of Palestine's birds. It visits us in the desert, flitting from bivvy to bivvy, a messenger of good cheer.
Strolling back to the beach, I flushed a quail from a tussock of wiry grass, and startled from its perch in a fig tree some bird of prey. White wagtails gleamed in sheltered spots; and as I went by the lonely palm I heard the soft cooing of doves. The sea wind came surging over the dunes, bearing the song of the surf. The boys were bathing still, and hailed me from afar. Behind lay the garden forsaken, with its purple flowers, and the birds and bees. But I did not return to it; the call of the sea was too strong.