Mutton-birds again

Subject: Mutton-birds again
From: brian fleming <>
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 14:59:03 +1000
I can remember a local fish-monger whitewashing MUTTONBIRDS on his window, when he could get them. That was in my schooldays more than 40 years ago. My father told me that he had smelt them cooking, and that was quite enough for him. Patsy Adam Smith has written about muttonbirders on the islands in some of her books, including "There was a ship". A dangerous trade because of the risk of finding a huge black tiger-snake in the burrow. As far as I recall, she mentioned that the way islanders prepared them was to 'dizz' them - ie fry them in their own fat. Others say that before cooking they must have every trace of the fat removed.

Before we get too indignant, let's remember that if the birds did not provide an important commercial harvest, many more of the islands of Bass Strait would have been cleared for farming, and stock would have trampled the nests and consolidated the soil. And many fewer Shearwaters now. A.J.Campbell's "Nests and Eggs" gives an account (with photographs) of how people by hundreds used to descend on Phillip Island to rob the nests for the eggs - a clear proof, people said, of the benevolence of Providence that the eggs were available just at the right time for people to get the Christmas baking out of the way. (Or did I read it in an early issue of 'The Emu'? Now I can't be sure! )

Anthea Fleming

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