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.
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.
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.