After pondering the possible direction this series could take I came to the conclusion that it may be a good idea to add a little balance to the information regarding Australia’s Native Flora & Fauna. So this second post will be an overview of some of our more beautiful and often strange wildlife.
To start the day off properly in the land of Oz it is always good to use the ‘Bushman’s alarm clock’ as the Kookaburra is often known as. It name comes from the indigenous – Wiradjuri gugu barra and even has its own song that Australian children learn as a nursery rhyme in pre-school. It’s laugh is uncannily human and when a flock of kookaburra line up along a fence to have a good cackle of a morning on can feel just a little self-conscious and wonder that maybe, just maybe they’re laughing at us.
Despite their friendly laughter and benign appearance Kookaburra are carnivorous, with their beaks considered to be the sharpest among the avian population worldwide. They are known to eat the young of other birds, mice, snakes, insects and small reptiles and the most social birds will accept handouts from humans and will take meat from barbecues. It is generally not advised to feed Kookaburra meat regularly as it does not include calcium and other nutrients essential to the bird. The Kookaburra are territorial and often live with their young from the previous season. They mark their territory with song and in the more densely populated areas will congregate on clothes lines and veranda rails to have snicker at we humans.
In spring when the Acacia blooms and the sugar cane ripens we’re treated with the site of entire legions of Rosella’s whose colours are so vivid and rich they seem to be painted fresh each day. I’ve seen them chase sugar road trains down the highway and through the streets of Mackay. Each time one stops at a red light another flock descends to pick clean the crystallized sugar that was coated to the trucks from when they were filled.
It always amazes me that these birds seem to know the route taken, as often you will see them waiting on telegraph lines and in trees beside traffic lights and at intersections. Quite an amazing feat of bush telegraph that I doubt we humans could master let alone match their ability to work as a team. On my honeymoon in the Bunya Mountains you could step out of your cabin as it looked over the valley and watch them light up the sunset as they came to rest on the native bushes in a dazzling display of colour that artists have been trying to recreate ever since they were first spotted.
Moving out of the air and into the water let us first stop at what is possible the most curious creature in creation. When examples of it [stuffed or skinned as he was also considered to be the father of taxidermy] were brought to Carl Linnaeus, who developed the Linnaean system of classification, in Europe, he declared it to be an elaborate hoax. The reason for this is it defied every criteria that he had developed to classify and rank animals and the definitions by which they could be metaphorically filed.[go Australia – we do like to have a laugh]
This creature is the Platypus and I will go on to explain just why it bothered so many people at the time. You see it’s a mammal, being warm-blooded but it lays eggs, it can walk on land and has fur but it can live underwater and has a bill. Imagine a beaver, add webbed feet and a duck’s bill and you can see why it was such a conundrum to the scientific body of the day.
Robin Williams famously said that the Platypus was proof that god did drugs or at least has rather unique wit about him. Religious people in this era took it as proof that Darwin’s theory of Evolution was flawed as here was a creature that by the very rules of the science used to prove the concept showed it to be fallible and that therefore this creature was a creation of god. Now I personally wouldn’t go that far but I will admit that I do believe that its existence shows that mother nature has an amazing sense of humour.
Speaking of a sense of humour I think it is fitting to end this post with one of Australia’s best known icons, the Koala. After all who doesn’t like the Koala, so cute it could give you a toothache and resembles a living teddy bear. That is if your teddy bear had severe drinking problems and spent most of their lives in an alcohol induced haze which causes them to smell rather bad and be somewhat grouchy. Many tourist have learned the hard way when they visit some of the wildlife parks here and pose for a picture cuddling a Koala.
These delightful balls of fur and cuteness will grumble and snarl at you like the man being tossed out of a pub at closing time and you also get a reminder that for all their cuteness they do climb trees and to do that they have rather sharp little claws.
I think that is why so many tourist photos show someone smiling gamely but if you look closely you can see the message in their eyes that says, ‘hurry up and take the damn picture so I can get first aid and a shower‘. You see the Eucalyptus leaves that provide these little darlings with food is rich in a concentrated form of alcohol and is very, very strong and an astringent. So much so that it has been harvested and turned into Eucalyptus oil that can sooth sore muscles or clear the sinuses when you have a bad cold. It is even the most effective insect repellent I’ve ever known and the list goes on. [makes you wonder why our government is so keen – or perhaps so greedy – to woodchip the groves, doesn’t it]
Well I think that may be enough balance for today but next time we will look at some of the other truly unique and utterly spectacular creatures you will find in our water. Although I should point out that in the case of some of those the old cliché of ‘if looks could kill’ is not altogether wrong. Beautiful they may be but some are deadly while others are just a tad on the scary side. To keep up with the idea from the first post I’ll end this with the song ‘Sounds of Then – This is Australia’ by the band GANGgajang. Enjoy and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.