Not long before Ashley and Julia’s wedding, Jim encounters a bird he’s never seen before. Excited, he brings Miss Harcourt the following day to the place where he spotted the mysterious new arrival. After waiting in relative silence for some time, they finally spot the creature again. Miss Harcourt informs Jim that this bird is a Dunlin. “They used to come in thousands back home, all along the shore and in the marshes,” she explains. “Common as starlings.” Jim eyes the bird through his binoculars and repeats the name as if it’s some magnificent new word. Both of them are perplexed as to why this Dunlin has flown to Australia, and is now “moving easily about and quite unconscious that it had broken some barrier that might have been laid down a million years ago.”
The Dunlin’s arrival in Australia is extraordinary to Jim and Miss Harcourt because it suggests that the bird has traversed many “barriers” in order to arrive in this unlikely place. The migratory patterns of birds have been established long ago, meaning that this Dunlin has strayed from history in order to end up on Ashley Crowther’s property. In other words, this bird has taken an unprecedented journey—something that resonates with the idea of Australian soldiers signing up for the military and going to fight a historically monumental war on foreign soil.
“Where does it come from?” Jim asks, still looking at the Dunlin through binoculars. “Sweden,” replies Miss Harcourt. “The Baltic. Iceland. Looks like another refugee.” By this point, Jim has learned the word “Sweden.” Since he first heard of it in August, Sweden has become a common word, something that appears daily in the newspapers. Jim decides that he and Miss Harcourt should photograph the Dunlin the following day, overjoyed to think that this might be the first time this kind of bird has ever been to Australia. As such, Miss Harcourt lugs her equipment to the same spot the next day. As she sets it up, Jim says, “Miss Harcourt, we’ve discovered something!” Of course, this discovery is, for her, a “rediscover[y],” but she says nothing. “The most ordinary thing in the world,” she thinks.
In this moment, Jim and Miss Harcourt look at the same bird with different perspectives. For Jim, the Dunlin is rare and exciting, a thrilling new discovery. For Miss Harcourt, it is common and unremarkable except for the fact that it has suddenly reappeared in her life in an unlikely environment. As a result, she feels as if she has “rediscover[ed]” it, but she doesn’t say anything to Jim about this; what is ordinary to her, she knows, can be a dazzling “discovery” for Jim. Indeed, this is a time of transformation for Jim, as he slowly learns about the outside world by hearing people talk about Sweden and, in this moment, by laying eyes on a foreign bird.