Richard Yank wrote:
> In reading Forgotten Patriots, a recent book by Jack Cahill on
> the history of Canadian and American rebels transported to
> Australia in 1838-1840, I cam across the following quote from an
> American exile who eventually made his way to a station 150
> miles inland from Melbourne: "Aye, the woods are enchanting,
> with their myriads of bright plumaged birds, and the gaudy
> peacock - which here, in its wild state, far exceeds its
> domesticated kindred in size and proud bearing, and the
> unrivalled brilliancy of its plumes."
> Was the introduced peacock to be found in the "wild state" in
> the bush of Victoria at this time?
> Richard Yank
> Richard Yank
> 46 Gray Crescent
> Baie-d'Urfe, Quebec
> CANADA H9X 3V3
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I doubt very much indeed if there were feral Peafowl in the Victorian
bush c. 1840. But the Lyrebird was often called Native Pheasant and the
name Pheasant Creek on a map indicates Lyrebirds as a rule. The Lyrebird
is a bit like a rather drab large pheasant as it runs through the bush
with its folded tail streaming behind. Some American visitors recently
mistook one crossing the path at a distance for a mammal with a long
ringed (ie banded) tail because it was brown and moved in a rather
bouncy run. The ringtail marks were the alternate brown/whitish marks on
th great lyrate feathers. The bird could be said to resemble a Peacock
trailing his tail, but even in display with his silver tail spread, he
is not gaudy.
But the word gaudy makes me wonder if the printer or copyist dropped a
bit out. The gaudy birds of the Australian bush are the parrots, a very
various lot with several common bright-coloured species.
Perhaps if you could say where your patriot escaped or left from and
exactly where he ended up, we could have a better guess. I have an idea
that the Malleefowl (megapode of arid country such as northern Victoria)
was sometimes misnamed 'Native Peacock' because it has handsome eyelike
wing markings - but no tail to spread- The colours are various fawn and
brown and tan shades. Not gaudy and not as large as it looks either, but
big enough to make a meal.
The Australian Bustard is called 'Bush or Plains Turkey' and is large
and imposing, but again not gaudy. I dont think the 'Brush Turkey'
(megapode of eastern Australia) fits the bill either.
And unfortunately many people throw birdnames around regardless. How
often have I seen claims that travellers in the early days were menaced
by vultures. There are no vultures in Australia and never have been,
though we have plenty of eagles, kites and other enthusiastic carrion
eaters. None dangerous as long as you're not unconscious in the open.
It's an interesting problem.
Anthea Fleming in Melbourne
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