Scrubfowls are one of my favourite birds. Indeed I belong to a little
women's group called The Scrubfowls, one of whom will be launching my book
'Birds of Palmerston' at Government House, Darwin, on 5th Feb,2013.
For anyone interested in the book here will also be a launch at Palmerston
Library late in January, 2013 (email me early that month for details), and
an exhibition of the artwork from early Jan.
And thanks Bob, for forwarding this piece. I've sent it on to all
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
1/7 Songlark Street,
Bakewell, NT 0832
043 8650 835
On 28/12/12 11:00 AM, "Bob Gosford" <> wrote:
> For those who can't find their way around The Oz paywall, here is the poece.
> Love and war in our own backyard
> - BY:NICOLAS ROTHWELL
> - From:The Australian <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/>
> - December 28, 2012 12:00AM
> - Increase Text Size <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/help/textsize/>
> - Decrease Text Size <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/help/textsize/>
> - Print <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/help/print/>
> [image: Orange-footed scrubfowl]
> The orange-footed scrubfowl, commonly known as the bush chook. Picture:
> Stuart Walmsley *Source:* News Limited
> *IT begins with a screeching, a screaming in the darkness, at once a note
> of triumph and a near-despairing wail. It holds a second, swelling,
> trembling, hanging in the air, then quickens, a cascade of high-pitched
> shrieks pours forth, loud enough and piercing enough to wake the comatose
> and strike an anguished apprehension into all who hear. Another cry, and
> yet another, more stretched out, now, more spacious, reflective almost,
> followed by a final spasm of querulous self-affirmation - until the noise
> fades into chokes and gurgles, and dies slowly away.*
> The orange-footed scrubfowl, lord of all Darwin's suburban blocks and
> shaded parks, has spoken, as it does every night, repeatedly, in its
> imperious fashion, stamping its authority upon the northern capital,
> subjecting the whole cityscape to its jagged wall of sound. Such is the
> territorial cry of Megapodius reinwardt, most outlandish and intemperate of
> all tropical Australia's repertoire of niche-adapted creatures, a bird of
> excess and eccentricities, a species that seems more a product of a
> Hollywood digital effects studio than of natural selection's gradual,
> harmonious grind.
> On first acquaintance, glimpsed skulking in some shaded patch of relict
> rainforest, the scrubfowl strikes the passer-by as merely bizarre: a
> dun-brown, chicken-like thing of distinctly demonic appearance: it has a
> triangular head, a little crestlet, exiguous wings, deep grey feathers the
> colour of a rain-filled cloud on its breast -- but these characteristics
> fail to register: the eye is drawn instantly to the creature's feet:
> strong, stocky, orange-scaled, claw-toed, and almost always in motion,
> scraping away, digging, excavating, ripping up the landscape.
> [image: Digital Pass $1 for first 28
> The bird was first described in the 1820s, in the Indonesian archipelago,
> at the northern frontier of its range, and named in honour of the
> pioneering Dutch botanist Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt, who looked much like
> a scrubfowl himself: strong-nosed, weak-chinned. He also displayed the
> creature's ferocious aptitude for industry: he taught natural philosophy at
> Leiden University in The Netherlands, founded the botanic gardens of Bogor
> in Java and classified a large number of exotic species: but none to rival
> his megapode, with its bustling lifestyle and taste for unending earthworks.
> The scrubfowl is, above all else, a mound-builder: the birds mate for life
> and, that business settled, each pair then devote themselves obsessively to
> the task of raising up, maintaining and improving a special nesting mound.
> This structure can be as much as four metres tall, and 15m across, and hold
> more than 50 tonnes of decomposing organic material: leaves, soil, scrubby
> detritus. You can see them strewn throughout the heart of Darwin, their
> dark ramparts rising in the most inconvenient places: alongside power
> substations and sewage lines, in reserves and cemeteries, close by the
> Cenotaph, just beneath the harbour Esplanade. But well-kept gardens are by
> far the favourite terrain: they are soft, rich of soil, and manicured, and
> simply inviting devastation.
> Unsurprisingly, given this penchant for wrecking private property, the bird
> has an image problem. Darwin City Council distributes a tactful little
> pamphlet, "Living with Orange-footed Scrubfowl". It is written by the
> Wildcare charity, and seeks to cast the local avian apocalypse in soothing
> terms. "We are extremely lucky to have such a diverse group of native birds
> living in our back yards," it begins, emolliently, then makes a plea for
> forbearance: since gardens in the tropics resemble the bird's habitat, it's
> only natural that they tend to scratch around in the city's lushest back
> yards, looking for suitable mound sites, digging up young plants,
> disturbing sprinkler systems. What to do? Here we enter the surreal: use
> heavy crushed rock as mulch, place bricks or logs over sprinkler lines,
> cover seedlings with metal mesh, create a sacrificial mound to divert the
> birds. Finally, give up, and accept the inevitable: "deterring mound
> building can be difficult".
> For the mound, of course, is life, both its symbol and its incubator, and
> mound-creation is the scrubfowl's reason for being: it is in this vast,
> steaming tumulus that the mother bird deposits her enormous eggs -- and the
> traffic can be heavy there, and the territorial disputes intense and
> Often several separate breeding pairs make use of a single mound: a
> circumstance you might think could cause confusion when hatching comes --
> but you would be wrong. The eggs once laid, the parents abandon them: the
> baby scrubfowl tunnel their way from the mound's core up to the surface,
> and head out alone on life's journey. Given their defenceless state, and
> the hordes of predators lurking in the immediate surrounds, that journey
> can be rather short: snakes, prowling lizards, cats, dogs and kitehawks
> keep a watch, and keep the numbers down.
> Indeed, the fowl is relatively rare across much of the remote Top End, and
> is regarded with reverence by many groups of traditional Aboriginal people
> there: to the Yolngu of far northeast Arnhem Land the bird is the
> incarnation of a spirit being, a special visitor, a "mokuy" -- it can be
> summoned at certain times with the yidaki, or didgeridoo: its shrieks and
> cries are sure signs that an assembly of the dead is under way at the
> sacred dancing ground of Balambala. Mokuy figures are often carved by
> Yolngu masters, or depicted in bark paintings. Many tales are told of them:
> a scrubfowl in the wild in Arnhem Land is treated with quiet respect.
> Attitudes in mainstream Darwin and its satellite town of Palmerston are
> more ambiguous, though, and they are hardening rapidly as the numbers of
> the local scrubfowl population rise. Primary producers and fruit growers in
> the sprawling rural area that spreads out to the southwest of the city
> cordially dislike the creatures, and tend to be quite open about their
> views. The noise isn't the problem. Strange noises aplenty fill the
> outlying districts: the sound of trailbikes hurtling round backyard tracks;
> canetoad croaks that sound like trailbike engines; the piping cries of
> stone curlew families; the thumping beat of mid-80s vintage rock music --
> all these compete with the shriek of the scrubfowl for pole position as
> chief irritant in outer Darwin's bush paradise of five-acre blocks.
> No: it's not the night-time calling: it's the crop-destroying and the
> irrigation-wrecking that engender real fury, and trigger little outbreaks
> of revenge. There have been a number of suburban cross-bow incidents, in
> which scrubfowl have been slain in silence, and their arrow-pierced bodies
> dumped by the side of a rural road. Further out, things get somewhat
> wilder. In the Darwin River hinterland and on the plains of Marrakai, where
> the mango farms stretch for kilometres on end, justice is summary: "We had
> a plague of them at my place," says one well-known fruit grower: "They were
> terrorising the garden, dragging mulch out on to the road, digging up $100
> plants brought in from Queensland -- so we had to thin them out a bit. We
> got four. They're easy to get rid of. They don't do very well. You only
> have to graze them and they keel over and die. Waste not, want not, so we
> made a light curry out of them." And what's the meat like? "Like chicken,
> but different -- more gamey. An acquired taste, in fact: there's probably
> no commercial option there." Probably not, for the scrubfowl is a protected
> species under the amazingly ill-policed Territory Parks and Wildlife
> Conservation Act.
> But there are some Darwin-dwellers who have a fondness for the birds, and
> admire their tenacity and industry, and even love them, in a half-ironic,
> Top End kind of way. Artists, in particular -- themselves the ultimate
> threatened species in the demotic North.
> Consider Merran Sierakowski, one of the best-known print-makers of the
> Territory, a long-timer at atelier Basil Hall Editions and a draftsman and
> sculptor who likes to slip a little touch of whimsy into her work. An
> exhibition of Sierakowski's newest pieces has just gone on view at Nomad
> Art in Parap Village, a scrubfowl stronghold in the inner suburbs, and it
> includes not only her flyscreen mesh soft sculptures of the birds, each one
> wearing its own construction site hard hat, but also her woodblock prints
> of breeding pairs.
> This enthusiasm was born of tolerance, and experience: some years ago
> Sierakowski moved into a large house in Rapid Creek, another scrubfowl
> citadel, boggy, leafy, full of tempting backyards to vandalise, and there,
> on the boundary fence, indeed, encasing the boundary fence, was a vast
> mound. It had been there for 40 years: it was dark, and tall, and thick
> with crenellations, and constantly under reconstruction. It seemed much
> like an analogue of the unending tasks and routines of the artistic life.
> The birds stayed on. They fitted in well with the property, they know their
> place. They're not allowed in the front yard: in the back, they have free
> rein, to fight, and squawk, and display their varied personalities.
> "I really like them," says Sierakowski. "I like to watch them running and
> scampering across the road, or negotiating with the dogs and cats, or
> fighting with outsider scrubfowl when they turn up. Over time I've come to
> feel they're lovely creatures, in their way: the male and female devote a
> great deal of time to looking after each other."
> Unusual theories about the birds and their habits abound in Darwin's
> Bohemia, where the scrubfowl have taken on a semi-totemic status. Artist
> Peter Quinn is keen on them, and makes metal versions of them.
> Master-framer and cultural impresario Don Whyte spends long hours studying
> them: he admires their capacity to cross roads and wait on median strips
> when traffic threatens.
> Ultra-long-term Darwin locals, particularly the Darwin-born, seem
> especially susceptible to the charms of the creatures: they smile upon
> them, and half-pity them, and view them as originals, survivors, emblems of
> the city's rough, unbroken character. A hard view, at first, to share --
> but over time, hatred and loathing for the birds, hideous as they are,
> ungainly and disputatious, seem to fade and be replaced, at first by a kind
> of indifferent acceptance, ultimately by a wary, disabused affection.
> If Darwin is the end of the line, then the scrubfowl is its emblem bird.
> Walk through the Botanic Gardens in the build-up season. Nothing moves in
> the shadow of the overhanging rain-trees: nothing. The leaves droop. The
> air pours down its humid sweat. Then, amid the dank piles of fallen leaves,
> a triangular shadow stirs: bobbing, scratching, scurrying, its partner at
> its side -- and then another pair comes into view, and another: the whole
> decaying landscape is alive with scrubfowl, excavating, disordering,
> uprooting; an army of scrubfowl, caught on life's long treadmill, much like
> we who watch them, digging away.
> On 27 December 2012 18:25, Con Boekel <> wrote:
>> Good read alert: There is a full page article by Nicholas Rothwell in
>> today's *The Australian*: 'Love and War in our own backyard'. It
>> describes affectionately the social context for a Top End issue of interest.
>> I would swap Canberra's Peacockery for Darwin's Scrubfowlery any day of
>> the week.
To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)