Go and Shoot the Cocky

Birds here shout. I’d forgotten. God they’re rude.

They don’t chirp and sing offstage, they stand up in the front row and shout, they throw things into the orchestra pit, abuse the actors, heckle. Cockies, particularly, sit in the tallest trees swearing at the top of their lungs. They flare their yellow crests over their heads like they are raising their eyebrows in horror.

‘RATBAGS! BASTARDS!!’ They yell. ‘TOE RAGS – ALL OF YOU!’

When I was Australian, gun laws were fairly elastic – now you have to show you are a farmer to own a gun. Farmers need guns to cull roos (native) and cockies (native) and foxes (imports). A close relative of mine is a farmer. He didn’t always use the gun. He would chase after fly-blown lambs in the ute (flatbed utility truck) trying to run them over while we kids rolled about in the back with the fencing equipment and the used cartridge shells.

My sister is describing all this to M. ‘You know what they call it? Shooting cockies?’

‘No’ – he flutters eager eyelashes.

She hesitates.

‘Cocky shooting.’

M chooses not to respond to this signally useless piece of information.

‘I COULD BUY AND SELL THE LOT OF YOU!’ barrack the cockies.

The Magpies in Australia are different to the Maggies in the UK. They sound different. They are regarded as among the gentler of the garden birds and a lot of people prefer them to the native Currawong and the friendless Crows, of course. The Maggies are sweet, it’s true, and they have a song like an old lady gargling. It’s a carrolling, conversational call. The Currawongs, though, ring like bells. Heavy bells. It’s a trilling call but rich and chocolatey. They call on the wing too, so there is often a doppler effect. A Currawong’s cry is a landscape.

My friend Megan and I agree that the Magpie appeals to the Australian Royalist and the Currawong to the Republican.

Give me Currawongs, we say quietly and giggle because we are sitting on her verandah in Canberra, the Nation’s Capital.

When he was a boy, my brother-in-law would visit his grandmother on their farm. The Cockies there would strip the trees and the trees would die. So his grandmother would say: ‘Go and shoot the cockies, Tig?’ And off he’d trot with his rifle and shoot a lot of cockies. The short-haired Jack Russell would race up the drive to collect one and bring it back to the house. M thinks that sounds cool. That was a long time ago, we have to tell him.

My cousin in Tasmania has been warring with the European wasp for years, as many Australians do. They are not native, they have no natural predators and the winters are not cold enough to keep their numbers down.

Sounds familiar.

It’s all about getting the balance. More of that later.

In the early (colonial) days, Sydneysiders survived (largely) not by guns, but by planting. In Tassie, the Gun was Law. Until all the different colonies were federated in 1901 Anything Went locally. Some Governors were very liberal – others were (as they say here) bastards.

The cockies go’…AND SO WERE THEIR MOTHERS!! GW’AN! GET ROOTED! PISS OFF!’ It’s true – they are just bloody rude.

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5 thoughts on “Go and Shoot the Cocky

  1. Tash wants you to know she reckons our australian magpies are evil incarnate, especially in spring when her hair is a target for nesting material!

    Hope the trip continues well love M,T,X,R&R

  2. Ignorant Pommie lands in Sydney – Feb 2001

    9.15 a.m. Hyde Park war-memorial. Good. Strange prehistoric birds like giant white coots with chicken feet and long curved black beaks. Park-attendant, hosing the paths, smiles, answers, ‘That’s a ibis.’ (I don’t think Aussies use the word ‘an’ a lot, and their short ‘i’ sound is loveably pinched.)
    It is already hot like midday in Italy. My pen is melting. T-shirts are too heavy to wear. Liz was right. The Aussies are right. Loose cotton is the uniform for a good reason.
    This park smells of flowers but I can’t see any.
    A beggar – tall, handsome, polite. ‘Can you spare a little for a coffee please.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I say, but then feel rotten. He looks like a ‘nice’ man. (Friends had annoyingly told me that I might meet ‘a nice man’ in Oz.)
    Crackly dead leaf sticks to my shoe. Is this a gum tree?
    User-friendly street crossings, which make come-on noises like exotic birds.
    I have rubbed the nose of Il Porcellino and wished, selfishly, for publication. Gave my only coin – one dollar. Should have given it to the beggar.
    Trees full of birdcalls and racket, but I can’t see any of the buggers. Are they kookaburras?

  3. … oh Bobbie. sounds like the flora and fauna were having a god tease of you not showing themselves. And clearly Il Porcellino came good… x

  4. Hadedas fly over our house at night and they yell. They are so big that they cast dark shadows over our lawn. If you look up they can get you smack in the eye. Things are big in hot countries I reckon…
    And doesn’t it make you realise how small, quite and polite England seems to be. Those crows though, they are winter in flight..

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