Song in the Dark: Turning My Climate Anxiety into Action

Rainbird – A Climate Change Protest Song

Summer came to town too early

We’re all tired of talking about why

It’s like we know, but we just wanna sleep

We curse the heat and throw our windows high

In November 2017, a new bird arrived in our street. We noticed it because it sang all night, and the nights were unseasonably hot, so our windows were open. Our neighbours asked “did you hear that bloody bird?”

Every night you get to weeping

Ko-el ko-el ko-el!

And the neighbours complain

Say you’ll drive us all insane

That bloody bird, we found out, was an Eastern Koel, aka Rainbird or Black Cuckoo, and it was a long way south of its migratory range, usually Asia to Nowra NSW or thereabouts.

Blame the bird, that’s a good idea

So far south, this time of year

I lay awake to its two-note Ko-el, as worried about climate change as I have ever been since a teacher told me about it at school in 1990. Here it was, singing outside my window.

As someone said online after a Great Barrier Reef bleaching, this shit just got real. This was the moment when climate change got real for me, moving from a belief based on science, to a lived experience with the emotional hook that comes with it.

Now, I’m not sure the Koel coming to town can be entirely attributed to climate change, but lying awake on that hot November night with months of hot nights ahead of us, I actually didn’t care.

What I cared about was that it was late 2017 and still our response to climate change was woefully inadequate. Woe was the word for it, my climate anxiety begun in 1990 and carried through my youth into midlife was rising up in me. How was I going to get some sleep? What could I do?

The next night the musician in me noticed the bird’s call was a C sharp and an E, and I found myself thinking of the chords that would go with it. The song Rainbird began then, as I played with the lyrical symbolism of the bird we need to stay awake and alive, like the canary in the coal mine.

Rainbird don’t cry

Don’t wake the baby, that won’t do

I think maybe you’re an angel dark and true, black cuckoo

Sent to tell us

Something we don’t want to hear

So far south this time of year

I recorded a voice memo of the song on my phone as my family slept, and emailed it to a mate who’s an ecologist. He loved it.

Being a busy dad and doctor it’s taken two summers of Koel calls to find the time to record the song properly with my backyard band Mount Disappointment Light Opera Company. Last month I played a sparse mix to a mate who’s a professional musician. He loved it too.

Then a friend from the sustainability sector had a listen and said the song hit the nail on the head. Some of that climate anxiety in me was beginning to ease – could this be something I could tell my grandkids I did in these dark times for science and reason?

Now we’re in the midst of what the Australian Conservation Foundation and others are calling the Climate Election. I don’t want to have to tell my grandkids (or anyone else’s, if I don’t get to have my own) that at this time all I did was compost and vote. That’s not bad, but for me it’s not enough.

I don’t know that Rainbird is enough either, but I feel better having made it. I thank that bloody bird that kept me awake these last two summers.

Because of the Rainbird I sleep a bit better now.

Want to sleep better too? We hope you’ll like our song and its story, and share it widely.
It won’t fix climate change, but it might help connect us climate worriers and help us all sleep a bit better.
A good night’s sleep will keep our morale up for the long haul of addressing this threat to our world.
That link again:

Follow our band


By Mount Disappointment Light Opera Company

Words and Music (c) M Roberts 2019

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