Tony Birch’s ‘The Tern’



In 2009, in Issue 5 of the Brow, we published a short story by Tony Birch titled ‘The Tern’.

This week The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas republishes the story on its website, as part of Weather Stations, a global project that places literature and storytelling at the heart of the conversations around climate change.

As The Wheeler Centre writes:

When it comes to environmental change, can good storytelling play a role in shifting behaviour and mindsets? In Tony Birch’s ‘The Tern’, the migratory patterns of the Arctic Tern play a part in a deeply human story.

Birch encourages others to place themselves within the narrative, photographing the sky above their houses to capture footage of the tern flying above them. “If you walk out your door one day and suddenly notice there are no birds in the sky, then you will know it,” Birch says. “We always know something once it has been lost.”


The Tern

by Tony Birch

We had walked for maybe a half hour when Jack left the beach and headed into the grass. He walked about thirty metres and then stopped. He nodded in the direction of a shallow depression in the ground.

‘There it is.’ He pointed to the spot we were both staring at, although I had no idea what I should be looking for.

Jack’s eyes widened. ‘Well, what do you think?’

I again looked at the flattened bed of grass. ‘What do I think about what, Jack?’

If he’d heard my question he ignored it.

‘Every summer, they come. Have been since I’ve had my place. And thousands of years before that, I’d reckon.’

‘Who comes, Jack?’

‘Not who, son. What. The Tern.’

Read the rest of this story.