an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Jacko, The Broadcasting Kookaburra
Author: Brooke Nicholls
eBook No.: 2301111h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
View our licence and header
Decorated by Dorothy Wall
Part 1 - Jacko’s Early Days ~ Told By Himself
Chapter 1. - My First Adventure
Chapter 2. - I Learn To Laugh
Chapter 3. - My First Mouse
Chapter 4. - Youthful Days
Chapter 5. - My Friends Splinter and Bill
Chapter 6. - I Go Fishing
Chapter 7. - My Encounter With A Hawk
Chapter 8. - My Country Garden
Chapter 9. - Skippy
Chapter 10. - I Make A Gramophone Record And Become An Artist
Part 2 - Jacko’s Travels and Triumphs ~ Told By His Friends
Chapter 11. - Jacko the Caravanner
Chapter 12. - Brisbane Folk Entertained
Chapter 13. - The Bantam of Ballina
Chapter 14. - The Mascot
Chapter 15. - A Helpless Hero
Chapter 16. - More Country Audiences
Chapter 17. - Homeward Bound
Part 3 - Home Once More ~ Told By Jacko
Chapter 18. - After Many Days
SUCH a famous entertainer as Jacko, who has been “on the air” from various broadcasting-stations, and has made a trans-continental tour, should not need much by way of introduction to his fellow Australians. As is the case with all great artists, his admirers will welcome this chance of hearing details of his private life among his human friends and animal companions. It is fortunate that the story of such a happy fellow should be so happily told and so happily illustrated.
Two of Jacko’s accomplishments will make many readers envious. The first is his ability to sleep all night with the following morning’s breakfast in his beak. What a practical way of solving the problem of early meals! The second accomplishment is his willingness and ability to laugh whenever he is asked to do so. Most kookaburras will laugh only in the morning and the evening; many human beings find it difficult to have even one good laugh a day. If only we could catch some of Jacko’s sense of humour, what a happy, laughing place this world would be.
We are told that when the first settlers in Australia heard the kookaburra laugh, they thought the forests were peopled with evil spirits. That was when everything was new and strange to them. Since that time the kookaburra has laughed his way into the hearts of all of us. And what a laugh it is—no mere giggle or throaty snigger, but a side-splitting, body-shaking shout of a laugh that surely could be caused only by the greatest joke in the world. Its very infectiousness could not have failed to produce in Australians something of their faculty of seeing a soul of humour even in things evil.
Like all good fellows, Jacko has the happy knack of making friends wherever he goes, and I am sure that this most interesting book will gain for him many new friends.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you,” says Jacko, or, in the words of our Australian writer, E. S. Emerson:
I am Australia’s genius,
And a message to all I bring—
As the months flit by, keep your head tip high,
Laugh at everything.
Department of Education,
26 July, 1933.
THIS is the true story of Jacko, the Broadcasting; Kookaburra, that so many of his fellow Australians have heard laughing; over the air from the wireless stations of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane; and from the gramophone record which was arranged and produced by Mrs. Harold W, Clapp for the Australian National Travel Association.
The story begins with Jacko’s capture in the bush. It tells of his many adventures and ends with his home-coming after a four thousand-mile caravan journey along the eastern seaboard of Australia.
The illustrations and chapter headings are from drawings made by Miss Dorothy Wall, whose exquisite pen has captured the humorous spirit of the story.
MY parents had their home in a huge gum-tree growing on a hillside overlooking the valley of the Watts River, in Victoria. The falling of a dead branch had left a hollow stump, like the spout of a tea-pot, sticking out from the trunk of the tree. Inside this spout, about as far down as you could reach with your arm, was the nest. It was made by father and mother scuffling in the dry, rotten wood until they had crumbled it to a soft powder, and had hollowed out a shallow basin for the eggs to rest in.
Here the four eggs were laid. They were almost round in shape and white in colour.
Not only kookaburras, but all birds who have their nests in the twilight of hollow branches and in tunnels in creek and river banks, lay white eggs.
The first I can remember is four little birds, lying close together in the nest. We slept most of the time. When awake, all we could see was the round wall of our home, and, over our heads, a patch of blue which was the outside world.
The best thing we knew about that patch of blue was that when it suddenly “went out,” and the nest became quite dark, our parents were coming in to feed us.
I was the first of the family to adventure through the blue patch at the top of the spout. One day, when we were all about three weeks old, it went out. But instead of our parents coming in with some morsels of food that they had found for us in the paddocks, a human hand came groping down.
Two boys, who were fond of roaming about the bush when they had a holiday from school, had seen our parents going in and out of the old hollow branch. They must have been very sharp-eyed boys because kookaburras—indeed, all the birds of the bush—are very shy of going into their nests when there are humans near.
These two boys had built a long ladder of saplings and sticks and had climbed up to our nest.
It happened that while the boy who had climbed to the top of the ladder was looking to see how he could climb the rest of the way up to our hollow branch, a lady, who had seen the boys from a distance, came up to them.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“We are after the Jackies’ nest,” they replied, using the name by which people often call kookaburras. The lady must have been interested, because she did not tell them to go away.
“Be careful you do not fall!” she said; and stood below, looking up, while the boy pulled himself on to a cross-limb and stood up. He was now able to peer down into the darkness of our spout.
“There are young ’uns,” he shouted excitedly.
He reached down to our nest and after fumbling about for a moment took hold of me. I was drawn up, and the patch of blue was a patch no longer. It was the whole world! I was so frightened at the change in my surroundings and at the smell of human hands that I squawked and struggled. I slipped from the boy’s hands. I hadn’t learned to fly, so I fell, flapping and flopping toward the earth below.
Just as I neared the ground two hands were reached up to me and then closed around me. I was still very scared; so I struggled and cried out. One of the hands held me, the other stroked my back; and a soft voice kept making pleasant, soothing noises near my head. I began to think that perhaps there wasn’t so much to be frightened about after all, and became quieter.
Then the boy who had taken me from the nest came down the ladder and I saw that he had my brother in his hands. That was the last that he or I saw of the nest in the old gum-tree. We were carried away.
Everything was new and strange to me. As the ground and the trees and the saplings moved past I kept my eyes wide open, and my ears, too. I have ears under the short feathers at the side of my head. I could not help jumping and squawking and struggling to get away from time to time; because everything was so strange. Each time I struggled I was lifted up, my back was stroked, and I heard those soft noises again, and was calmed.
Before we reached the home of the lady into whose hands I had fallen, the boys became tired of carrying my brother. They gave him to the lady; and he and I were comforted to be with each other. But that was not to last for very long.
AT first I had been very alarmed at the strange noises humans made when they looked at each other. I did not know they were talking and that the noises meant the same to them as the squeaks my brothers and sisters and I used to make to each other in the nest, and the little clucky sounds our parents used to make when they were looking after us. But as time went by I came to understand that; and I even learnt what some of the sounds meant.
Soon after we arrived at the home of the lady who had caught me, my brother and I were placed on a perch and our photographs were taken. That was my first photograph. I have been taken many times since then.
The lady said we were “such quaint, bob-tailed little dears!” I found out that the lady’s name was Thelma and that she belonged to the Big Boss, whom she called to have a look at us.
The Big Boss said there were too many pets about the place and that one of us would have to go.
Thelma did not know which one of us to keep.
“Keep the one you caught,” said the Big Boss.
After hesitating a little while, and looking us over carefully, she chose me.
So my brother was taken away to meet his adventures elsewhere and I remained with Thelma and the Big Boss to meet mine.
I was very lucky to find myself with people who loved all animals and birds and who went to great trouble to keep them healthy and contented. I was fed on scraps of raw beef. This was good. When kookaburras can’t get their natural food raw beef is the only thing on which they will live and keep well.
I soon discovered that if I cried out in a certain way when I was hungry, just as I used to do in the old gum-tree, Thelma knew what I wanted. She would take me on her lap and croon and talk to me while she fed me.
It was early in November that I was taken from the nest. By Christmas-time my stumpy little tail had grown to its full size. It is not a great deal of a tail at any time; but it had grown as long as any other kookaburra’s tail. I was beginning to feel like a bird, and not like a baby.
My wing was clipped to prevent me flying away. I am not sure that I would have flown away if I could. I suppose the Big Boss and Thelma were not sure, either; and that is why they made certain that I couldn’t!
I was very contented. I had the run of the house and the garden. My favourite seat was an old chopping-block sunk into the ground not far from the back door. Here I would sit sunning myself most of the day: and every now and then Thelma would come out to see that I was all right. She was very fond of me and was always on the watch, because she feared that a stray cat or dog would attack me. I was very fond of her. One very good reason for that was that she fed me whenever I was hungry. Another reason was that she always handled me very gently.
One day Thelma was entertaining the people next door. While they were talking in the house, the Little Girl Next Door came into the backyard to play with me. She had a funny idea of how to play with a kookaburra. She picked up the tomahawk, which was used for splitting kindling, and before I knew what was happening, she had cut my tail off. Goodness knows how much more of me she would have cut off; but at that moment, Thelma dashed out of the back door —and I was saved!
“Whatever have you been doing to poor Jacko, child?” said Thelma. The Little Girl Next Door burst into tears.
“I cu-cu-cut his tail off, bu-bu-but I didn’t mean to!”
“Goodness gracious! Whatever made you do that?”
But the Little Girl Next Door cried into her dress and couldn’t say anything.
“Well, it was a good job you didn’t cut the other end of him off!”
And there was I standing on the chopping-block feeling very light behind and hard put to keep my balance.
The Little Girl was taken indoors and given a piece of cake to stop her crying.
I notice that when she comes to visit us nowadays no one ever mentions the time she chopped my tail off. It is known as a painful subject.
I had a very awkward time, because I had become used to my tail. It took me six weeks to grow another one.
In those days I did not like to be away from Thelma for very long at one time. When she was sweeping the mats on the veranda I would hop on to them.
“You’re a perfect little nuisance! always getting in the way!” she would say, crossly. And would push me away with the broom.
I would go to my box, feeling very hurt; and would peep around the corner of it to watch what was going on.
I was very inquisitive when I was a young bird, so I am told.
My curiosity led me into bad habits. I liked to go to the front gate; not knowing that there was a danger of some four-legged passer-by worrying me with teeth or claw, or of some two-legged passer-by stealing me. I liked to add my squawk when the children came shouting out of the school across the road. The carts rattling past interested me very much. I soon came to know the different tradesmen who called at our place: the milko, the baker, and the butcher. I knew the last one very well!
When there was nothing of great interest happening at the front gate I used to go poking and prying into every nook and corner of the flower-beds and outhouses. I am sure that I knew more about the sheds and the garden than either the Big Boss or Thelma because I used to get into all sorts of odd places where they couldn’t go. I could go exploring in the green world among the stems of the plants; while humans could only look down on the top of the garden.
There was only one thing I was afraid of: and that was the lawn-mower. Whenever it was brought out of the tool-shed, or if I heard the Big Boss cutting the lawn, I would go and hide myself. I was very scared of it!
The Big Boss and Thelma soon found out that if the lawn-mower was left out in the front of the house, the sight of it standing there would prevent me going to the gate. Sometimes, when I had gone under the house to have a look round and refused to come out in answer to Thelma’s call, she would run the mower noisily along the side path. That was more than I could stand. I would go hopping and squawking out into the garden.
There came a day when I got over being frightened of the lawn-mower. I noticed that if the Big Boss left it standing anywhere it did not move by itself. It never did anything unless someone pushed it. I hopped up on the handle, and although I was a bit timid for a while, nothing happened.
Nowadays the handle of the mower is one of my favourite perches. It is low enough for me to watch and listen for grubs and crickets moving in the earth under the grass; but too high for the grubs and crickets to know that I am about. When the Big Boss is cutting the lawn I like to hop along behind him. There is always the chance of picking up a juicy beetle or a grasshopper.
Many kookaburras will not laugh in captivity. Some will only laugh at the rising and the setting of the sun. I think I am the only one that will laugh whenever I am wanted to. That is the reason for my success in wireless broadcasts and in record-making; and why I am known to so many people.
Thelma taught me to laugh by imitating the notes of my parents. She must have been very clever and very patient, because it was many weeks before I had the least idea of what it was she was trying to get me to do.
I remember the first laughing noise I made. I was standing on the top rail of a chair-back. Thelma had been making that strange noise that, somehow, I felt I should understand, but which I couldn’t understand at all. I felt something moving in my throat. I was almost afraid of it, I felt that something should move in my throat, and then, again, I felt that something was wrong, when it did move! Suddenly the feathers of my throat swelled out in spite of me; I opened my beak and a chuckle came out.
Thelma says I was so surprised that I squawked and nearly fell off the chair.
My first laugh was, for me, no laughing matter at all. Once the first difficulty was over, I learnt very quickly. Now I will stretch out my body and send out a real kookaburra laugh at any hour of the day or night; just whenever I am asked. Sometimes I have a laugh without being asked. A kookaburra’s laugh is just his way of telling himself how happy he feels.
It is now a long while since the days when Thelma used to stand in front of me and say:
‘‘Say Whoo! Whoo! Jacko!”
And all I could say was: “Quack!” There is a cry that all very young kookaburras make when they need food; and I am happy that she learnt my meaning quicker than I learnt hers.
I WAS pampered quite a lot in my younger days. When the Big Boss and Thelma had visitors I would be taken indoors and shown to the callers. Then I would be asked to laugh. After I had done so, quite a fuss would be made over me, I had my full plumage by then and had grown to be a handsome bird, in the quaint manner of my tribe. My general colouring is a soft brown. My vest is white, so, also, is the crown of my head and the collar that encircles my neck.
Running over the back of my head is a black smear that looks as if someone had stained my feathers there with a brush. The thick part of my wings is faintly laced with a double line of grey, and the long feathers are touched with metallic blue. The ends of my tail-feathers are tipped with white.
Thelma used often to take me with her when she called on neighbours or went shopping. I sat on her wrist while she made her rounds. I liked those outings very much, and, through them, came to be known to a large number of people—and animals.
I came to know Ginger; the cat at the studio where I had my first photograph taken. From Ginger I got the first mouse that I ever ate. I have eaten a good number since. The lady who owned the studio was a great bird-lover and had trained Ginger never to harm anything that had wings. At the back of the studio was a little garden and grass-plot. Here Ginger and I loved to sun ourselves; he on the grass and I on the trellis. I dozed a good deal. But, often, that was only pretence. Many a time I have dropped like a stone from that trellis and then hopped back on to it with a fat white grub in my beak.
One day Ginger caught a mouse. He did not kill it at once but pounced around, playing with it on the grass. I sat on the trellis looking down at him with my head on one side. Playing with anything good to eat was a thing I couldn’t understand. I never played with grubs or grasshoppers after I had caught them. Without stopping to think what I was doing I flopped down in front of Ginger, picked up the mouse, and hurried back on to the trellis. Ginger looked round in a surprised way; then up at me. He licked his chops but did nothing further. Then he stretched himself on the grass as if he didn’t care to make a fuss over a little thing like a mouse. I killed the mouse by swinging my head and hitting him hard on the trellis, Then I turned him head-first in my beak, tilted up my head, gave a wriggle with my throat, and he was gone.
I am very fond of a mouse. When I catch one the first thing I do is to laugh—while I am still holding him in my beak. And, having caught one, I won’t let anyone take it away from me. The Big Boss tried to take one from me once; but I gripped it hard with the gapped edges of my bill. The Big Boss would have had to pull my head off before he’d have got it away from me.
If I kill a mouse late at night, when I am not hungry, I sleep with it held in my beak; when I wake up I have it for my breakfast.
THERE is one thing that Thelma did not have to teach me and which I am very careful about: that is the care of my body. Although I never drink water, I have a shower-bath every day in the year, and during the summer I enjoy standing for hours under the sprinkler of the garden-hose.
I stay under the water until my feathers are soaked right through. As the drops trickle down the slope of my beak and collect along the lower edges of my upper bill I shake them off by jerking my head from side to side as hard as I can, and by snapping my bills together like a pair of clappers.
After the bath comes the toilet. I stand in the sun and shake myself like a dog; then I puff my body out until the feathers stand out from each other. I take each feather separately and run it between the tips of my bill and preen it until it is quite dry and glossy. I dry my head with the shoulder edges of my wings, using each wing in turn, brushing and rubbing until all the moisture is gone. A kookaburra’s toilet is a very careful and serious thing. I like to be by myself and to have no interruptions while I am going through with it.
After all that, I get up on my box and give my bill a little care. I polish it by rubbing it against my perch until it is quite clean and sharp. Then I am ready for a nice sleep in the sun. Not that I ever sleep very deeply! A little noise such as the crackling of a twig or the distant barking of a dog will cause me to open my eyes and to listen. I like always to know what is going on around me.
Sometimes, when I have nothing else to do, I have a game with an old bone knife-handle which I found one day in the garden. I take it in my beak and hop up the eight steps to the veranda. There, I bang the knife-handle about on the boards just as if it were a mouse or a lizard that I was killing. When I am tired of the game I take the knife-handle down the steps and hide it under the lowest one. That piece of smooth bone is the only thing that is really mine; so I always hide it in the same place: where I can find it when I feel inclined for a game.
When I was about a year old a little black-coated Yorkshire terrier came to live at our place. He came on the train; and all the family except myself went to meet him. I remember that when they brought him home he had a railway-ticket about twice his own length tied to his neck with a piece of blue ribbon.
Soon after he arrived we were introduced. His name was Splinter. He didn’t know much about kookaburras. He tried to lick my face and climb all over me, I gave him a sharp peck on the nose, and he ran away crying and yelping. Of course he ran to Thelma. She picked him up and made a fuss over him; and she scolded me.
“You little brat!” she said.
She petted the puppy and crooned to him:
“Did the naughty Jacko peck his little nose? Well the naughty Jacko shall be put to bed at once!”
She picked me up, and although I squawked and flapped my wings to let her see that I objected, she sat me on the rail of the chair-back and made me stay there. I thought I had been very badly treated; so I looked down at Splinter and said “Quark!” every time I saw him looking up at me.
For several days after Splinter came to live with us I bore him a grudge and would have nothing to do with him. If he came near me I hopped away, scolding and squawking angrily.
One day he was being fed, and, feeling a little hungry, I hopped up close to him to see if something would be given to me. I got a titbit for my trouble; and Splinter did not seem to mind. After that we got to understand each other better, and in a little while we became friends. If ever Splinter showed signs of forgetting that I was a kookaburra and not a Yorkshire terrier, I had only to show him my beak and say “Quark,” and he would remember himself.
The memory of that peck on his nose seemed to stay with him a long time.
Not long after Splinter came to live with us the Little Girl Next Door had her holidays. She came in to our place to play school with me and Splinter. My perching-box and a stool for Splinter were carried to a sunny place in the garden, and there we had our lessons. I was a good scholar; although I was scolded sometimes for laughing. Splinter was not a very good scholar. I don’t think he enjoyed school very much. He sat on his stool all hunched up, with a dunce’s cap on his head. The best part for him was when school was let out. The cap was then taken off his head and he was free to jump off the stool and run around the garden barking.
One day the Little Girl Next Door told us a story instead of giving us lessons. She told us the story of how the kookaburra got his laugh.
“Many years ago,” she said, “all the birds of Australia met in council to decide what should be done about the kookaburra. The other birds thought that he was ugly and rough and that his feathers had no bright colours. Also he looked clumsy and could sing no pretty songs like the other birds. Altogether he was a most unfinished creature.
“The birds of the bush decided that they could do nothing to improve him and that he would have to be an outcast. This grieved the kookaburra very much. He felt that he had not deserved such treatment. Finding that the other birds would have nothing to do with him he flew away and lived by himself.
“One bright day he was sitting on a bough of a gum-tree, looking down at the ground and thinking of his sad fate. A snake and a goanna travelling through the bush in search of food came along. The goanna passed by on one side of the foot of the gum-tree at the same time that the snake passed by on the other side. The snake saw the goanna’s tail at the same moment that the goanna saw the snake’s. Both thought that they had found something to eat, so they began to swallow each other’s tail.
“They swallowed and swallowed.
“The kookaburra, sitting up in the branches, could see that they were swallowing each other, and he began to chuckle. It was so funny that by the time the snake and the goanna had choked themselves to death the kookaburra was laughing at the very top of his voice. The other birds all came to see what was the matter. They looked at their old enemies down at the foot of the tree, and they wanted to laugh, too. They couldn’t! That made the kookaburra laugh all the more,
“He laughs now whenever he thinks of it. So, when next you hear his merry voice and look up to see him shaking from beak to tail, you will know what it is that amuses him.”
The Little Girl Next Door said that all this happened many years ago; but that the old kookaburras tell the young ones the story and that is why the kookaburras laugh to-day, I had not heard the story. No doubt I would have, had I not been taken from the nest in the old gum-tree when I was very young.
I HAD my troubles with Splinter. As he grew bigger and older he got over his fear of my beak. He decided that I was just a bird and that he could do what he liked with me. One of his tricks was to creep up when I was having my meals and steal my meat. I flapped my wings at him and hopped about; but he was more than I could manage.
One day, being unable to bear with him any longer, I squawked as loudly as I could. That brought Thelma to my help.
“Splinter, you are a little bully!” she cried, “Haven’t I told you not to tease Jacko and not to steal his meat?”
Splinter looked very much ashamed of himself. He put his stump of a tail down and slunk away under the house.
Thelma stood petting me and talking to me while I finished my meal. Splinter was very jealous. He watched us from under the house; but turned his head away quickly if Thelma glanced at him.
In a little while he came crawling out. She fed us together; and we were soon quite friendly again.
I don’t suppose that Splinter meant to be unkind, but he had another trick that used to upset me very much. I liked, sometimes, after my bath, to sun myself on the veranda steps. Quite often, if he were in a hurry to get outside to meet a dog in the street, he would rush down the steps, taking me unawares. Of course, if I opened my mouth at him he would skip to one side, which was not so bad. But sometimes he would jump right over me. I hated that more than anything in the world. All birds know that their enemies pounce on them from above. Even if I have lived all my life in a country garden I have many of the thoughts and memories that belong to the kookaburra tribe and that pass down from old to young. Every time Splinter jumped over me I had a cold shiver down my back and was nervous for a while afterwards.
I think the happiest time of Splinter’s life was when a lot of men came to dig our road up and flatten it out again. Another lot of men came to take our telegraph-poles down and put new ones in their place. Splinter was outside the gate all day long. He personally supervised the taking down and putting up of every pole in the street. I used to watch him from the front steps. What with looking after the traffic, and running from here to there, he was the busiest and noisiest dog in Australia.
Splinter got himself into disgrace one day. It happened soon after Bill, the fox-terrier, came to live with us. Thelma was going visiting, and because Splinter used to bully Bill, she left Bill at home with me and took Splinter with her.
Thelma and her friend were sitting talking, when they heard a fowl squawking outside.
“There’s something wrong with that fowl,” said Thelma’s friend. “Perhaps Splinter has got hold of it.”
“Oh! you needn’t worry about Splinter,” said Thelma. “He never touches fowls!”
They went on talking—and the fowl went on squawking.
At last they got up and went outside to make inquiries. They found Splinter in the yard. He was holding down a Leghorn hen with his paws and pulling its feathers out with his teeth.
I tell you these things about him so that you will understand that a kookaburra who shares a home with a Yorkshire terrier can never feel quite secure.
One day a swarm of bees settled on a bush in the garden. Splinter investigated them with his nose. I wouldn’t have done that. There are lots of bees in the bush and a kookaburra knows enough to let them alone. The bees stung poor Splinter on the nose. He howled and rushed under the house, where he always goes when he is in trouble. Thelma called him and coaxed him, but he refused to come out. He stayed there all day and all night.
A few days after Splinter’s adventure with the swarm of bees I, also, had a little adventure. I escaped from the garden through a hole in the fence, I found myself in an orchard. For a kookaburra who had spent all his life in a garden to suddenly find himself at liberty and in a new world was very thrilling. I hopped along, going from here to there and stopping sometimes to look around me. It was all very strange and interesting.
On the other side of the orchard I found a paddock full of tall grass and well stocked with all sorts of fat, juicy insects, I must have been out a long time and have travelled a long way. I had no thought of going back. I would have been content to live in that nice big paddock all the rest of my life. No doubt when the feathers of my cut wing grew I should have flown back to the wild bush to which I belonged—that is, supposing that I was not caught and killed by a cat or a strange dog in the meantime.
I was standing still near a little bush when I heard Thelma calling for me. She had missed me from the garden and had been searching for me for a long time.
“Whoo! Whoo! Jacko!” she called,
I was quite glad to hear her voice; and before I knew what I was doing, I called out: “Whoo! Whoo!” Then I saw her coming toward me across the paddock. She picked me up; scolded me and petted me and stroked my back—and carried me back to the garden.
Bill, the fox-terrier, belongs to the Big Boss, and to no one else. He goes to work every day. While the Big Boss is having his breakfast Bill waits outside for him and greets him with a happy bark as soon as he comes out.
He is very excited and noisy when they go out through the front gate together. He loves to bark and scamper round and round as they go down the hill to the store. But he will come to heel when he is called. He would not do so for anyone except the Big Boss. He thinks that the Big Boss belongs to him and that Thelma belongs to Splinter, who always stays near home.
When they reach the store Bill makes straight for the stable where the rats live. He keeps himself busy for a good part of the day sniffing and snuffing through the straw and behind the bags of chaff.
Sometimes he goes with the boy down to the river paddock where the horses feed. He likes that because he can have a wonderful time scratching at the mouths of the rabbit-burrows, growling and whining to himself. If he sees a rabbit, there is a yelp and a wild chase until the rabbit is safe down its hole.
Sometimes the Big Boss goes riding. Bill yaps and barks and dances about; then springs up toward the saddle, higher and higher, until the Big Boss catches him by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Throughout the journey Bill sits on the front of the saddle like a dog in a circus.
When Bill gets back at night Splinter is always waiting for him at the front gate. He makes a great fuss over Bill, licking his face, slobbering all over him, and asking if he has had any fun with the rats or the rabbits.
IF there is one thing that a kookaburra likes better than anything else it is a freshly caught freshwater fish. A full-grown kookaburra can swallow whole a fish up to about six inches long. To see him do it is a sight worth while. I suppose our taste for fresh fish is one that has come down with us from the days when kookaburras, like all the tribes of the Kingfisher nation to which we belong, lived along the margins of lagoons and rivers.
The kookaburras left the watercourses. They learned to live without drinking. They spread into the mountains and across the plains; so that their laugh is as well known to the people who live in the far Inland as it is to those who live by the sea.
We went fishing one day at Toolangi, high up in the ranges. We went in the car. The Big Boss and Thelma were in front. Splinter sat with them. His hind-legs were on the seat, his forelegs rested on the lower rim of the wind-screen, and his little black eyes stared at the world rushing past. Bill rode behind, and I perched on the back of the front seat with the Big Boss’s head on one side of me and Thelma’s on the other.
Splinter and Bill know a fishing-rod as well as anyone else. As soon as they saw the car and the rods they whined and barked and shook their stumpy tails and ran about in great excitement. But it was all very new to me. When we were ready to start they were the first into the car, and when we gat to Toolangi I noticed that they were the first to jump out.
I sat quietly on my perch during the journey, but Splinter and Bill could hardly contain themselves. Bill kept jumping down from the seat and up again, panting and whining. Sometimes he stood on the floor, and, putting his front paws on the top of the back seat where I was perching, looked over at Splinter. I think he thought Splinter was getting special treatment, and he was jealous.
He made me nervous with all his pouncing about. Several times I had to open my beak at him and give him a warning “Quark!” to remind him that I was there. A bouncy fox-terrier would knock a bird over without knowing that he was doing so.
Bill saw a rabbit while we were travelling along. He forgot that he was in the car, and jumped out through the open window. Thelma screamed and the Big Boss stopped the car so suddenly that I almost fell off my perch. Bill wasn’t hurt; he tumbled over and over in the dust and then got to his feet and raced away after the rabbit. The Big Boss had to get out and whistle him back.
Thelma was angry with him because he had frightened her.
“Box his ears if he doesn’t behave!” she said.
“Oh, Bill’s all right!” said the Big Boss after they had got back into the car, and Bill was sitting on his knees.
“You’re a good dog, aren’t you, Bill?” He patted him a while, then pushed him over into the seat again. Bill lay there with his tongue hanging out, panting and happy. And off we went once more.
Splinter couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted most to look out through the wind-screen and think about the good time he was going to have, or whether he wanted to listen to Thelma and the Big Boss talking together or fussing about with Bill. His sharp little ears were twitching all the time; first to the front and then to the rear; then one forward and the other backward. They were never still. His long, shaggy eyebrows rose and fell as he blinked and peered ahead. His grey whiskers and the hairs on his head were all aquiver. From time to time he turned round to yelp with delight; and Bill answered him.
As we climbed the range we got into the real bush, and I began to feel something moving inside me. The air was cool; there were big trees, and there was the smell of gums and dogwood. If the car had been standing still I would have stretched out and laughed. As it was, I did manage a chuckle or two. Bill and Splinter were sniffing and whining. I suppose the smell of the real bush reminds them of things they thought they had forgotten; just as it reminds me.
We did not get any fish when we stopped for lunch because trout do not bite well at midday; but it was very nice to be still for a little while and to have a look round about. Where we lunched, a little, not-very-much-travelled bush road crosses the Yea River. The ford is wide and shallow and the water is as clear as the air; except where it bubbles white over the stones. There were trout hiding in the shadows of the creek-banks and the big stones, waiting for insects and flies carried along by the waters.
The Big Boss did not unpack his rods, but Bill and Splinter did a little fishing for themselves. Bill went into the water and started the trout moving, while Splinter ran up and down the bank watching the water. Splinter was supposed to jump in and catch a fish if he saw one. He must have seen plenty, but he was content to run about and bark or else lie down and stare into the water, quivering from head to tail. They didn’t catch anything. After they had made themselves tired they came back to where the Big Boss and Thelma were resting on the grass and told them all about it.
I had a nice time standing on the stump of a fallen tree looking about me. I saw birds moving about in the thick scrub. I found some tasty grubs under a piece of bark. I laughed a couple of times and, as the sound died away, I was answered by some wild kookaburras away off in the hills. After we had rested for a while we all packed into the car and moved off again.
The sun was going down when we came to an open grassy space in the forest along the banks of the Yarra River. The Big Boss stopped the car under the trees and we all got out. There was a piece of grass like a lawn; all clipped short by rabbits. There was a stretch of tussocky grass with clumps of blackberry bushes and patches of bracken. There were tall, white gums trailing ropes of bark in the stream; and along the banks there were a lot of dark-leaved silver wattles. All about there was a nice smell of damp earth and grass and green leaves.
The dogs went down to the river for a drink. The Big Boss began fitting his rod together. I hopped about on the grass, with Thelma watching me. I never get far away from her eye when we are out. She is afraid that I might be attacked by a house cat that has “gone bush,” or be pounced on by some bird bigger than myself; and she is afraid that if I were to hop away into the scrub, I might not come back.
There were plenty of rabbit-burrows in the bracken and under the edges of the blackberry bushes. After Bill and Splinter had had a drink they disappeared on a hunting-trip. But it takes a very clever dog to catch a rabbit in his own country. The rabbit, sitting quietly on the grass, sees the dog as soon as the dog sees him, and he never has very far to go to his burrow. Once he is down there, in the ground, all the dog can do is to scratch and whine and sniff the rabbitty smell at the entrance and say what he would have done to the rabbit had he caught him. In any case, the rabbit mostly has two entrances to his burrow and could go out the back way if he needed to.
The Big Boss soon had his rod together. Thelma and I went with him to the river’s edge. It was not long before he landed a seven-inch blackfish. It flopped about on the grass, all silvery in the dusk. The Big Boss killed it and cleaned it to make sure that there were no fish-hooks inside it; and then it was given to me.
It was my first fish; but I knew what to do with it. The memory of its coolness and fresh, fishy smell, came back to me from somewhere. With Thelma and the Big Boss watching to see what I did, I took it head-first in my bill, tipped my head up as high as it would go and worked the muscles of my throat until my feathers stood out like a frill, and the fish disappeared. I think Thelma and the Big Boss expected me then to set up a laugh, but I was too full of blackfish.
We drove home through the darkness and were all much more quiet than when we had driven away from home in the morning. I was on my old perch, half asleep, except when a lurch of the car made me open my eyes. Splinter and Bill dozed contentedly on the back seat.
I WAS attacked by a large, brown hawk. It happened one morning, not long after I had eaten my breakfast. I had been standing quietly in a corner of the kitchen having a long think—as I am fond of doing from time to time. The house was very still. Bill was away with the Big Boss; Splinter had gone out somewhere; and Thelma was busy in the front part of the house. I knew that she would not want me around her feet, so I decided to go outdoors and see what I could find to do.
I hopped through the back door; across the veranda, and down the steps into the sunshine of the garden. Then I went down the back path, stopping now and again to look around me.
It was a busy, tuneful morning. The bees were buzzing around the blue morning-glories and the wistaria blossoms. Magpies were carolling from across the river. Small birds were twittering and hopping about the shrubs. There were some starlings chattering on the roof of the shed; and I heard the wheels of a cart rattling down the hill.
I began to exercise myself by stretching my wings as far out as I could reach—first one and then the other, and then both together.
If I had not been doing that I am sure I would have seen the hawk coming; for I have very sharp eyes. I can see a hawk when it is so high in the sky that it looks no bigger than a tiny black speck.
Like all birds which are preyed upon by hawks and eagles, it is not often I forget the dangers that lurk above my head.
I saw a black shadow on the ground in front of me, I heard a swift swish of wings, and the hawk was on me! His wings beat the ground on each side of me; he reached for my body with his long claws and struck at my head with his hooked beak.
With a frightened “Quark!” I turned and fought back at him; beating the ground with my wings and striking with my bill. A kookaburra is a poor match for a brown hawk, but I managed to fight myself clear of him for a few seconds. He rose, flapping, and poised above me ready to drop again, I turned my head up at him and squawked as fiercely as I could to let him know that I’d fight him when he came down at me. But really I did not know what to do. I was not like the wild kookaburra, who has a hollow gum-tree to hide in and two good wings to carry him to safety. I was caught in the open.
The hawk dropped again; and again I was beaten by his wings and clawed by his talons. I squawked and drove at him with my beak. We scuffled, and I managed to keep clear of his grasping claws. He went into the air once more and hovered over me. I had been tumbled on the hard ground; I was breathless with fear and struggle; and I knew that when he came down again he would get me. I flopped about looking up at him and not noticing where I was going.
By good luck I got among the bean plants; and there I stood, looking up at him through the leaves and squawking my hardest. I could see him moving about, looking to make sure of my exact position before swooping down on me again.
Just then I heard footsteps running toward us down the path. I had forgotten about Thelma. I had forgotten about everything except myself and the hawk.
I heard Thelma call out. The hawk gave a cry of disappointment. He rose in the air and sailed away. Then two hands, which I knew very well, came down through the bean leaves, and I was picked up and carried indoors.
I stayed inside the house all the rest of that day, following Thelma from room to room. When the Big Boss came home that evening she spoke to him about my fight with the hawk, and how I had kept close to her afterward.
“The poor little fellow was quite unnerved,” she told him.
I would not like it to be thought that kookaburras have no courage. We have plenty. But a bird of prey as big as a brown hawk is too much.
Twice I have had battles with chicken-hawks. Each time I was attacked Splinter happened to be at home and came to my rescue.
Sometimes I have trouble with the wild kookaburras. My learning to laugh let them know that I was in the garden. I was very young at that time and for a while I was not ill-treated. In fact, there was one old mother kookaburra who must have been robbed of her young ones. She tried to adopt me. She brought me grubs and wood beetles; and was very distressed because she could not get me to follow her when she flew away.
But as I grew older the wild kookaburras began to take a dislike to me. Perhaps they thought that I was not really one of themselves. They began attacking me. I would not have minded if they had come at me one at a time; but they came in pairs and in threes. On one occasion there was an even greater number than that.
It was my laugh that drew them.
Sometimes they came because my laugh answered their laugh, and sometimes they came because I had laughed and they had heard me. If I had had more sense and less courage I would not have answered them when I heard them laughing away off in the trees on the other side of the paddock. But although I feared the wild kookaburras I could not help joining in when I heard them. I am the sort of kookaburra who must laugh or die.
One day I was hopping about on the lawn, picking up a grasshopper or two, when I heard one of my wild tribesmen laughing far away across the river. I flattened out my body, pointed my beak in the direction from which the sound came, and listened.
The call came again, very faint and distant. It made me feel uneasy; but I couldn’t help myself. My tail gave a quiver and I threw up my head and answered the challenge.
The kookaburra whose call I had replied to came to see me about it and brought four of his wild mates with him. They flew on to the fence that runs along the side of the garden. From there, the five swooped down on me. We had a terrific rough-and-tumble fight up and down the lawn and across the flower-beds. Our squawking brought Thelma running; and again I was saved from harm by her. After my fight with the five wild kookaburras it was decided that I must have some sort of protection at times when Thelma could not come quickly to my aid.
The Big Boss made a coop of wire-netting; and under it I had to spend my time when Thelma was busy indoors or resting. She put me under the coop also when she had to go to town.
It was not very nice to have to spend so much time shut up when I had been used to wandering wherever I liked; but I soon learned that the wild kookaburras could not get at me through the wire.
When my laugh brought a couple of them on to the fence I tipped my head back and had another laugh.
I DON’T spend all my time fighting hawks and wild kookaburras. Sometimes Thelma and I have a lazy morning.
The other morning, after breakfast, I missed her. I went through the house, hopping from room to room; then I saw that the door was open. I hopped out on to the wide veranda; and there she was, sitting at the head of the steps looking out over the garden and the valley. She said:
So I hopped over to her and stood beside her, helping her look at the scene.
Our hill slopes downward so quickly that you cannot see the little town nestling at the foot of it; but you know that it is there, and that makes it good company. The mountains on the other side of the valley lift a spur of the Great Divide, with dark Monda and St Leonard’s flanking each end of the range. Dead sticks of timber run all along the crest of the ridge, looking like the broken teeth of an old saw. The thickly wooded foothills of the range slope gently down to the river valley.
Our valley is not always filled with sunshine. Sometimes all but the tops of the hills are lost under a rolling white mist; and as the valley changes with the movement of the seasons so does our garden.
When the valley floor sparkles with a white frost and the range stands clear-cut in the crisp air, the garden-beds are gay with nodding Iceland poppies. Daffodils stand thickly in the moist, sheltered places, and the borders are bright with heavy-scented stocks.
In the springtime, when the river bends are green and gold with willow and wattle, and the range is half lost behind a thin blue curtain, the garden is rich with the massed pink and white blossoms of cherry-plums, peaches, and nectarines. The veranda, screened with blooming wistaria and starry white clematis, is a lovely bower. About it the air is heavy with the incense of hyacinths, boronia, daphne, and jonquils.
In summer, when brown, when the smell of burning gum-leaves is in the air, and ridge and paddocks drowse under a veil of bush-fire smoke, the garden glows with many coloured zinnias and asters. Small beds are bright with pansies, delphiniums, and white, ox-eyed daisies.
When the late summer rains come, quenching the bush-fires and restoring the soft greens to the valley, tall dahlias make a brave show. Roses in their second blooming cluster about the arbours, trailing long sprays of red, white, and gold. There are long-tubed, brick-red tecomas, beloved by the bees. Grapes, green and purple, hang from the trellis, and the maidenhair reaches its fullest growth in the shady tree-fern retreat. The bottom of the garden is then a wild tangle, where smooth, pale marrows, and pumpkins, like squatting sultans, are half-hidden by their own broad-leaved vines. The tall dry grass under the fruit-trees hides the new green shoots and the fallen plums and peaches.
As sunset reddens the range at that season, the darting swifts hawk high. As twilight comes and the lights of the farms in the valley prick the dusk the bats come to flit on eerie wing.
The swifts leave us in the autumn, before the coming of the chrysanthemums. They go from the valley on their long flight to Siberia and Japan.
I was very glad when Thelma got up, and we went for a walk round the garden; that was much more fun than sitting. I like going round the garden on a sunny morning. I flapped my wings and hopped along from place to place.
After we had enjoyed a walk we went to have a look at the new ducklings belonging to a hen.
It was wet weather when the ducklings were hatched; and it was so hard to look after them down at the end of the garden that they were brought up on the back veranda. The veranda is where I sit on the old chair-back on wet days. Thelma knew that I ate mice and fish, and she was afraid, at first, that I might eat the ducklings.
When they came out to get the pollard spread on a piece of cardboard, she stood by looking at me anxiously. I hopped down from my perch and watched them. I had never seen ducklings before. I gave one or two little chuckles just to let everyone know that I wasn’t going to do anything wrong. Very soon two of them mistook me for the hen and sat down under me. Another one pulled my leg-feathers with his little bill.
When we had seen the ducklings we went up the back path and indoors. During the morning I followed Thelma about the house. Sometimes I do that.
I missed her very much when she was sick in hospital. I fretted and went off my food. The Big Boss tried to feed me, but that only made me feel more lonely and more miserable. He said that if I didn’t eat something I would have to be taken to the hospital, too. It was a very unhappy time. Sometimes I went into the garden. But I spent more time standing still in one place than in hopping about.
One day I heard Thelma’s voice again. It sounded from inside the house. I went in through the kitchen as fast as I could. Some people tried to stop me going along the hall, but I squawked and pecked at them, and flapped my wings. At last I got past them. I found her in bed. She said:
I stretched out and sent up a laugh that filled the house. They tried to put me out then, but I flopped from here to there and squawked at them. At last they left me alone.
After that, when I found the bedroom door closed, I flapped my way up the wall and through the open window. Thelma allowed me to sit on the bed with her.
Everyone has his funny little ways—and I have mine. I like my evening meal at a regular hour. One evening, just as the crickets were starting to sing, I hopped inside looking for my tea. Thelma was out. The Big Boss had come home and was seated in his easy-chair in the lounge. I squawked at him to let him know I wanted my evening meal. He took no notice; so I hopped around the room, looking at things, and squawking every once in a while to attract his notice. At last he laid aside his paper. He put out his hand and I hopped on to it; then he put me on the cross-piece beneath the writing-table. He expected me to wait there patiently until Thelma came home.
At night I always roost on the chair-back in the kitchen, and because of that these people always put me to roost on something when they want me to be quiet. I sat on the cross-piece under the writing-table while I gave the matter a moment’s thought; then I jumped down and hopped about the room again, squawking. The Big Boss put out his hand again. When I hopped on it he put me on the arm of his chair. That was better than being under the table, so I decided to keep quiet until Thelma came home.
The Big Boss called me a “pernickety little cuss,” and said that I had been waited on too much.
Perhaps the Big Boss was right in calling me a “pernickety little cuss.” But people who take a kookaburra from his natural wild haunts to live in captivity should remember that they have made life hard for him. There are so many things that I feel the need of doing and can’t; and so many things that I am trained to do that I would not do if I were living among the kookaburras in the bush, that it is no wonder my nature gets all mixed up.
One of the things that trouble me very much is the way the wild kookaburras all want to attack me. When I am on the veranda and I see them sitting on the fence looking at me, I get into a troubled state. I am afraid of them and angry with them and troubled inside me about things I can’t understand. I fly at the veranda-posts and peck them and squawk to relieve my feelings. That is all I can do about it. When I have worked myself up into a rage, I hop inside and follow Thelma about the house.
I MADE friends with a wild kookaburra.
One day I looked up on hearing a swish of wings, and there was a single wild kookaburra sitting 0n the fence, looking at me. I looked back at him—and that was all that happened until he flew away again.
He came back on the following day and each day after. I was very glad to see him, and after the first day or two greeted him with a burst of laughter. He used to sit on the fence and watch me being fed. After I had been fed I would stretch out and laugh. Then he would laugh, too.
One day, when Thelma was in a hurry, she did not stop to give me my beef piece by piece, but put it on the grass beside me and hurried indoors. While I was eating it, my friend flew down from the fence and joined me in my meal. After that he made my meal-time his visiting-hour. Thelma began to notice him. She put some pieces of beef out where he could get them without having to come too close to her. He was soon picking them up.
It was not long until, instead of waiting on the fence, he would come and sit alongside me until feeding-time; and then, after a little coaxing, he took the meat from Thelma’s hand. He learned even to follow me into the kitchen.
One day, Thelma had to go to Melbourne. She had put me under my coop. When my friend arrived he sat on the fence looking at me for a long time before he would venture near me. At last he flew on to the lawn. When Thelma returned, late in the evening, he was still with me, waiting for his food.
On a day in late springtime, instead of eating the piece of beef that Thelma gave him, he took it in his beak and flew away with it. He came back in a few minutes’ time, and being given another piece of beef, flew away with it as before. This happened four times. But he ate the fifth piece, as well as some more that was given him.
Thelma thought she knew what he was doing, so, on the next day, she watched his coming and going. She found that when he was given his piece of beef and flew away with it, he made a bee-line for an old gum-tree growing in a paddock about half a mile away from the garden. Thelma and the Big Boss went that evening to look at the gum-tree, and saw in it, high up, a hole such as might be the way in to a kookaburra’s nest. While they were looking up a kookaburra flew into the branches of the tree. He waited a while after he saw them as if he was afraid of letting them know that he had a nest near by; but at length he entered the hole and disappeared.
For about three weeks he kept up his habit of flying away each day with the first few pieces of meat given him; then, one morning when Thelma came outdoors she was surprised to see him and his wife and three young birds. They were sitting in a row along the top of the fence; he at one end and the mother bird at the other. As soon as he saw Thelma he began to make the noise that kookaburras make when they want something to eat. His family joined in his cries,
“This is too much of a good thing!” said Thelma. She did not mind my having a visitor, but “there’s a limit to hospitality.”
For a week the wild kookaburra and his family were fed. They came for breakfast and they stayed for tea. Thelma and the Big Boss had a talk to see what should be done. I was not the first kookaburra they had owned; and they did not intend that I should be the last. The reason they were attached to me more than to any of the other kookaburras they had had, was that I was the only one they had been able to train to laugh whenever the signal was given. All the others had laughed only at sunrise and at sunset. They did not know how long a kookaburra lives (no one knows that) and they thought of the time when I would get old and die. They said they would have one more try at training a tame kookaburra.
Then next day, when the wild birds came for their breakfast, the Big Boss caught the biggest and best plumaged of the young ones.
His wing was clipped and he was put in the garden to keep me company. The wild family were given their last meal. When they came at tea-time Thelma was hard-hearted and took no notice of them. After a few days they came no more.
The new kookaburra was called Skippy. I was very glad to have him with me. He was very young and didn’t know much, but I taught him all I could. We hopped about the garden and caught grubs together; and I let him sleep with me at night on the back of the chair in the kitchen.
He is a good mate, but in some ways he has been a disappointment. He had his laughing lessons, as I had, but he hasn’t learnt to laugh. Thelma put the two of us on our perch, and chuckled and gurgled just as she used to do when she was teaching me.
Skippy never opens his beak. Thelma gets me to laugh in the hope that Skippy will join in. I laugh my best, but Skippy just sits and stares. He doesn’t as much as say “Quark!” He has only two laughs a day—at morning and at evening.
Skippy likes best to sit in the shade of the peach-tree at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes he will go there first thing in the morning and stay there all day. When that mood is on him he won’t come to the house for meals; his breakfast and tea have to be taken to him. He squats down until the white breast feathers open and his feet are hidden. Now and then he turns his head to follow the flight of a butterfly, or looks up intently when a white-eye or a sparrow settles in the branches above him.
If I go near him when he is in one of his lonely moods, he will get quite angry. He flicks his tail up and down and raises the feathers on the back of his head. He seems to want only his own company.
We always feed together, and I will share anything with him except a mouse. To tease me the Big Boss gave him a mouse one day. I opened my wings and my beak and flew at Skippy. He was glad to let me have the mouse for the sake of peace. He is a very quiet fellow. I can’t even start a game with him. Sometimes, at night, when we are sitting side by side on the chair-back I will let out a squawk and nip his ear. Instead of snapping back, like a lively kookaburra should, he just gives a little cry and tries to pull away.
The thing he enjoys best with me is his bath. The first time the hose was turned on him he did not know what to make of it, and quickly hopped out of the way. But the second time, after watching me, he saw that he was missing something good. Now we have a great time together; wriggling and shuffling; ruffling our feathers; spreading our wings and shaking our tails under the spray. That is one of the few occasions when Skippy’s voice is heard. He shakes himself and gives little squawks of delight.
A favourite place for our bath is on the back veranda steps. Here we stand and clap our bills and whet them against the edges of the wooden treads. If Thelma moves the hose a little so that the water does not fall on us, we edge along until we are again under the spray.
For an hour afterwards we stand and preen and brush ourselves in the sunshine.
Although Skippy is as big as I am he is not yet quite grown up. His bill is still soft; as well as shorter and blunter and more rounded than mine. His is still a baby bill; not as good for digging out grubs as the hard, high-ridged, dagger-like bills of older kookaburras. We both have three brown bands of feathers running back from our beaks. One runs over the tops of our heads and there is one on each side running back past our eyes. My bands are separated by tracts of small silvery-white feathers. In Skippy the bands meet in front, forming a sort of brown forehead. His eyes are a dull, smoky amber; while mine are light brown with a yellow iris. The grey-white feathers of our bodies are threaded with a thin line of brown.
Skippy gives a lot of trouble because he will not answer when he is called. If he is not in his usual place under the peach-tree he has to be searched for. Thelma fears that the hawks have got him; and she has a bad time until he is found. He is continually finding new hiding-places. He decided that the space under the house was a pleasant place in which to spend a few hours. To make sure that he was there, Splinter had to be sent under to look for him. Although Splinter awaited the command to fetch Skippy with eagerness, he did his work with great gentleness. There was a squawk or two, and then Skippy trotted out from under the boards, with Splinter following, looking very pleased with himself.
YOU have not heard about the Doctor.
He and Barbara often come up from Melbourne in ther car to stay with us during the week-ends. Like the Big Boss and Thelma, they are very fond of animals and gardens and valleys and mountains. The Doctor is a naturalist. As often as he can he goes down to the sea-shore, or into the bush, and studies the habits of the wild creatures. He knows why porpoises are so fond of swimming in front of boats; why some lizards have blue tongues; why certain birds disappear at some seasons of the year; and where they go. Barbara is also a naturalist. The Doctor says that she is a better one than he is. During their visits to us I came to know them very well.
One day an idea came to the Doctor that my laughter should be put on a gramophone record. No kookaburra’s voice had ever been recorded. The Doctor said that if the idea proved to be a good one, it would be the means of allowing the laugh of the Australian kookaburra to be heard in every country in the world, This came to pass. It is very strange to think, now, that it all began to happen in the days when Thelma set herself so patiently to coax me into laughter in the garden of our home in Healesville. That laugh has been heard in America, England, France, Japan, and other countries. The Big Boss, Thelma, the Doctor, and Barbara are all very proud to think that it is their Jacko, and no other, that has lifted up his voice for the kookaburra tribe.
The Doctor made arrangements with the gramophone company and there came a day when I was taken to Melbourne to have my voice tried out. Thelma drove in the car and I travelled on the seat beside her, in a box. I won’t say that I enjoyed being in the box very much. There was nothing to see; and the only thing I had to cheer me up was the sight of Thelma close by. I was glad when we reached Melbourne.
We went first to the Doctor’s. I was not quite sure of myself when I was let out of my box. Everything was very strange. I felt more comfortable when I found that the Doctor had a garden not unlike the one at home. There were lawns and trees and flowers; and, best of all, there was the sawn-off stump of an old Moreton Bay fig-tree. I sat on that stump while the company had tea on the lawn. I saw the blue sky above me, and found a grub or two in the grass. I stretched my wings and opened and shut my bill, and decided that I was still myself even if strange sights were around me.
We went to the gramophone studio. The Doctor, Thelma, and Barbara were afraid that I might suffer from fright when it came time to make the record. But I didn’t. I perched on Thelma’s wrist and when she gave me the signal to laugh I stretched my body, tipped my head up, and let them have it. All the people (including myself) were very pleased. Of course, I didn’t know why Thelma had asked me to laugh.
In a few minutes the trial record was ready. Everyone was very anxious to hear it, because it sometimes happens that a voice does not record as well as it sounds to the ear. Indeed, some voices are quite unsuited for making gramophone records.
It was feared that mine might be one of them.
The trial record was brought in and put on the machine. I was watching the man moving about. When the record started, I heard the first scrapy little bit, and then I heard a kookaburra laugh. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him! For a little while I did nothing; then I stretched out and laughed with him. At that, everyone else laughed. The louder the kookaburra in the box laughed the louder I laughed—until he couldn’t be heard, and I had to be taken from the room! Everyone was very pleased with the trial record.
“We have something new!” they said. “We have the voice of the bush on a gramophone record!”
Soon after the trial record was made, work was started on the real record. As well as my laugh we had to have some talk, so that people in distant countries would know something about the Australian Laughing Kookaburra besides hearing his voice.
The Doctor wrote the words which were to be said, and Thelma and the man at the studio each learnt the parts they were to say. I had to be sure to start laughing when my “cue” was given; but there was not much fear of failure on my part because I had done so well on the day of the trial,
The record was made. It opened with a good long laugh from me.
After I had given my first laugh the studio man began to speak his part. He had to pretend to know nothing about kookaburras:
“Well,” he said, “so this is the Australian Laughing Kookaburra that I’ve heard so much about! I must confess that I did not believe there was such a creature, until I saw him and heard him. How very extraordinary! It’s amazing! He seems to understand every word you say! Just one whisper from you and he bursts into laughter! How long have you had him?”
Then Thelma said her piece:
“I’ve had him about seven years. I got him in the bush when he was quite a baby! I had to teach him to laugh. For weeks I coaxed him and chuckled to him. When he gave his first little laugh he was so astounded that he nearly fell off the chair! Now he will laugh for me at any hour of the day or night. Won’t you, Jacko?”
That was my signal, and off I went again.
As my voice died away the studio man cried, “Bravo!” Then he went on to ask Thelma a lot of questions about me; and she had to answer in the right places. He admired the soft colouring of my body plumage and the bright blue of my wings. The signal for my last laugh was when he said:
“I am struck by his poise. When he finishes a laugh he fixes his eyes on an object and is so still that one would think he was a stuffed bird!”
Stuffed bird! Well, I did laugh! And that ended the record.
We went back to Healesville after being in Melbourne a week. Much as I had come to like the Doctor’s garden, with its old Moreton Bay fig-tree stump, I was very pleased to find myself again among the scenes that I knew so well. Splinter wagged his tail when he saw us come in the gate. Skippy had got used to being by himself. He squawked and was not at all pleased with our return. The Big Boss was delighted to see us again and had to be told all about our adventures. I think he was very proud that I had done so well.
I would have been very well content to have spent the rest of my days in the garden overlooking the valley. But the Doctor had other ideas. He said I was only at the beginning of my professional career.
As well as going into the bush to study the lives of all the wild creatures and writing about them, the Doctor makes moving-pictures of them. He has one moving-picture called Turtle Island, another called The Life of a Platypus, and another The Stone-age Men of Central Australia. Nothing would do but that he must make a picture of me. That did not cause much upset, because it was done at home.
The Doctor set his camera up on the lawn. Skippy and I were taken shaking our tails and clapping our bills under the garden sprinkler; and we were taken making our toilets, afterwards. I was taken catching pieces of beef which the Big Boss threw to me from a distance; and I was taken in the act of laughing.
After a little time had passed the Doctor made arrangements for my laugh to be broadcast from one of the wireless stations.
Again we went to Melbourne. I am afraid that I did not behave as well at the wireless studio as I had done at the gramophone studio; because, as well as laughing when I was told, I laughed at everything and everybody.
They couldn’t stop me.
Little Miss Kookaburra, the lady who conducts the children’s hour, was present. She is a mimic. After I had done my solo we put over a duet. I started first. When she joined in I stopped short and looked at her. It was the first time I had heard a human laugh really like a kookaburra. Then I joined in again and laughed my hardest. We cackled and gurgled and chuckled together. Our voices blended perfectly.
If Miss Kookaburra had not been a really good mimic, I would not have joined in with her. I once heard a lyre-bird broadcast his imitation of my laugh. I took no notice of it.
There were big things yet to take place. The Doctor decided that Thelma and I must appear at the theatre.
Once again we left our quiet home at Healesville and journeyed to Melbourne. I never got to like the box in which I travelled; but I learned that when I was put into it something strange was soon about to happen. They used it when I was taken to the studios for record-making and broadcasting.
The night that I appeared at the theatre the house was packed; there were faces right up to the ceiling. We came on half-way through the programme. I must have looked a very small bird on that immense stage. First of all the Doctor spoke. He told them about kookaburras, and got them all thinking about the times they had been out in the bush and had heard us laugh. While he was talking I sat on Thelma’s wrist. I looked at the people and they looked at me. I know that Thelma was nervous. It was the first time I had been asked to face a big crowd. She was afraid lest the strange surroundings should upset me and make me forget my laugh.
But I have never been bluffed.
Just at the right moment the Doctor finished his talk about me and my tribe. He turned toward Thelma:
“And,” he said, “our little friend, Jacko, will laugh whenever he is asked!”
That was the signal. Thelma lowered her head and whistled softly to me. The theatre was as still as the bush is sometimes. I stretched, dropped my tail, and tipped my head. Then I let them have it! It was the first time a kookaburra’s laugh had been heard inside a theatre. Every trill and chuckle rang out clearly and filled the whole place. There was silence until the last note and the last quiver of my tail-feathers finished together. Then the applause brought the house down.
We were a great success.
After that, we appeared many times at the theatres and were regularly on the air. I have filled two engagements a night: one at the theatre and one at the broadcasting-studio.
The Doctor used me when he gave an exhibition of his moving-pictures. Thelma and I were behind a screen. When we came to the part of the picture which showed me laughing in the garden at home, Thelma gave me the signal and I gave my laugh. There were no talkies then, so the audience was always very surprised at hearing me. The Doctor says we can claim that ours was the first sound “synchronized’’ film to he heard in Australia—and perhaps in the world. The biggest surprise for the audience came at half-time, when the lights of the theatre were turned up and Thelma and I were discovered in front of the screen. The Doctor then gave a little talk and I gave my laugh again. Quite often the audience joined in.
We played for many nights and were so popular that the “house-full” sign had to be hung in the entrance.
After we had played at the theatres in the city, the Doctor made us pack up and go with him all over the country. We went to Ballarat, and lots of towns in the bush. The Doctor got a native bear called Blinky Bill. He had to climb up a little gum-tree and eat leaves while I gave my laugh. He looked very nice swinging on a slender branch. At one of the larger places the boys and girls shouted so much for Jacko and Blinky Bill that the Doctor had to take us on the stage before the films could be shown.
Then came the day when the Doctor said we could go home. And very nice it was to get back to our own quiet place among the hills. Winter was coming on. There was a nip in the air in the mornings and evenings. The swifts had long gone from the valley, and the prize chrysanthemums which Thelma and the Big Boss are so proud of were all in bloom. I was very content. It was nice in the daytime to follow the sunshine around the garden, and at night, to sleep feather to feather with Skippy on the chair in the kitchen. We were glad to have that kitchen—all cosy and warm with the day’s cooking.
End Of Part One
JACKO was not to enjoy the peace and seclusion of his garden-home for very long. The Doctor planned further adventures.
One week-end he and Barbara visited Thelma and the Big Boss, at Healesville. They had a great scheme for a caravan trip right up the coast to Queensland. They would get a special motor caravan so that they could travel in comfort. On the way north they would make arrangements at the schools and the picture-theatres to give a showing on the return journey, Jacko’s name and fame had spread. There were people who had heard him over the air and had read in the newspapers of his appearance at the theatres. They wanted to see him.
Thelma and the Big Boss thought the idea was a good one.
The project was talked about for a number of evenings, sitting in front of the fire. They got maps and studied them, tracing out the roads they would travel and the small towns at which they would stay. The Big Boss joined in all the talk—but he wouldn’t be able to go, because he had to stay and look after the store. It would have been much nicer had he been able to make one of the party.
There came a day when we drove away from Melbourne on our long journey. We had a well-fitted caravan, with wardrobes, a table, and seats. A tent gave us the extra sleeping room we needed. There were five of us: the Doctor, the driver, Barbara, Thelma, and Jacko.
Jacko travelled inside the caravan. He got all the jogging as we travelled along and couldn’t see much of the scenery. But that was partly made up to him by the pleasure he had on being released when we stopped for lunch and when we drew into camp each evening. He soon came to know that when the rumbling and shaking ceased the caravan was at rest. We could hear him pecking at the wooden partition behind the driving-seat, to remind us that he wished to be let out.
Our first camp was at Stratford-on-Avon. In the gathering twilight we pulled in beside a belt of trees on the edge of a small plain, and lit the first of many fires that were to twinkle beside our caravan on the long journey north. Near by, we could hear the river purling over its rocky bed.
The drive had made everyone except Jacko very drowsy. His bedroom, at night, was in the driving-cabin; which was enclosed with glass at front and sides. Knowing the early waking hours of kookaburras, Thelma, before going to bed, covered the wind-screen and side windows with waterproof coats and mackintoshes. She hoped that dawn would come without Jacko knowing anything about it, and that we would be able to have an extra hour in the blankets.
Jacko was not so easily deceived. Although in complete darkness he knew when dawn broke. Perhaps he could feel the world beginning to stir, and stirred with it. Promptly to time, he went off like an alarm-clock. His laughter, though a trifled muffled, woke the camp. As the last chuckle died away, groans came from within the caravan and grumbles from the tent.
That morning the ground sparkled with a white frost under a bright sun. The Doctor remarked that winter caravaning wasn’t going to be all bananas and bath-buns, However, it was not long until a fire of gum-sticks was leaping up and a hot breakfast was under way. While it was preparing, Jacko hopped about the grass looking for titbits. He now had Barbara as well as Thelma to see that he did not get into trouble.
Just before we were ready to start his laughter brought a family of wild kookaburras over the tree-tops to have a look at him. They sat in the branches of a nearby gum-tree, staring down at him. He flattened out and stared up at them. They started to laugh and so did he. The Doctor, who was seated near by, writing his notes, looked up at hearing the choral rivalry. Suddenly one of the birds flew down at Jacko. He was not afraid of them, singly. They grappled beak to beak, wrestling and flopping and squawking around the camp. The Doctor hurried to separate them. He had to force their bills apart; and the wild bird had to be driven away.
Lunch-time found us on the high sandstone cliffs at Kalimna, overlooking the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. It was Jacko’s first smell of the salty breath of the ocean. He was alert to the change in his surroundings and spent some time in giving attention to the scene. But what interested him more than the smell of the sea, and the sound of the breakers on the ocean beach, were the rabbits we had for dinner.
We had bought two from a farmer’s boy along the road. We had them curried; and the kidneys and slices of liver fell to his share. He may have been reminded of home. At Healesville he knew the call of the rabbit-o man, and always greeted him with a burst of hearty laughter.
At Orbost we ran into the tall timber. From there to well beyond the New South Wales border, our road wound through the mountains, under towering gums and stringy barks. On the ground beneath the trees was spread a feast of colour. Where the bush-fires had been the native heath had sprung up. Thick masses of red-flowering spikes glowed among the burnt and blackened logs.
When we were at rest, Jacko’s favourite perch was on the caravan steps. From there he could get a good look at everything around him. His first thought, when he finds himself in a strange place, whether a room, or a theatre, or a bit of bushland, is to keep still and have a good look at all he can see. He turns his head from side to side and appears to reflect on all that meets his eye. No doubt he is making up his mind whether the new place is a good one for a bird of his species. He is, also, very fond of watching things happen. He will stop eating to look and listen, A mental picture of our caravan is not complete without Jacko on the steps.
At Gypsy Point, at the head of Mallacoota Lake, we camped close by a red-flowering iron bark It was eighty feet high, and every bough was laden with bloom. In each clump of blossom there were brush-tongued lorikeets gathering the honey. The red and green of their feathers harmonized so with the flowers and leaves of the tree, that it was hard to tell bird from blossom, except when the birds shrieked or fluttered from place to place.
At the sixteenth mile-post beyond the Victorian border we left the Highway from the Wonboyn turn-off: to see the inlet and to put in a few days fishing. The way was rough. For a long distance we had to bump along a corduroy road. Four miles before we reached the inlet a rotten log broke under one of the rear wheels of the caravan. We found ourselves with a broken crown-wheel and pinion, miles from anywhere.
There was nothing to do but camp on the spot. Jacko was let out, to view the scene and to hunt for wood-beetles. We put up the spare tent, lit a fire, and filled the billy from the water-tank strapped to the running-board. It was one of the times when we felt the advantage of being prepared for mishaps.
Next day we were towed out by a motor lorry belonging to a young sleeper-cutter. It was afternoon before we were able to get started. It had commenced to rain, and the road was slippery. On one side there was a bank and on the other a deep gully: so the going was difficult and dangerous. In places, the wheels of the lorry ahead spun and spattered us with soft soil. Twice we had a front wheel skid—a helpless, breath-taking incident.
The dusk came down as we crept slowly along. We all felt that we were truly adventurers. Once we side-slipped toward the gully and almost skidded off the road. Thelma and Barbara screamed; Jacko chuckled. The Doctor and the driver said some things that cannot be put in a nice book like this. It was almost night before we came to our camping-place.
We reached Narooma, about half-way between Eden and Sydney. Narooma is remembered because when we awoke on the morning after our arrival there was ice on the water in the kerosene bucket.
We had left the ranges. Our last memories of them were of the spotted gums—steep hillsides peopled with a countless company of them; slender, smooth-barked, and dappled with pastel shades of green, cream, and mauve. Our way had broadened out. Our road rose and fell over the undulations of open farm lands. The mountains had gone back from the coast and were now a low blue wall in the distance.
Our next camp was at Ulladulla, a fishing village which is also the seaport of the farming district lying between the sea and the ranges. From our campfire on the hill we watched the rising moon spread a silver path across the waters. Beyond the dark stone mole the breakers creamed across the reef. The lights of a little coastal steamer showed up as she worked her way to sea; then went out as she passed behind the headland.
Thelma had been telling the Doctor that Jacko sometimes laughed in his sleep. He thought she was having a joke with him. One midnight he heard Jacko cry out. The bird was the watchdog of the camp. He always set up a squawking if strangers came about. Hearing him, this night, the Doctor got up to have a look round. Torch in hand, he made a tour of the camp, but could find nothing amiss. Going to the caravan, he pulled aside the curtains and flashed his light into the driver’s seat, Jacko was asleep, with his head under his wing. The Doctor was just about to turn away when Jacko, still deep in slumber, emitted a series of queer little squeals and chuckles.
The party like the name, Ulladulla.
“It is an aboriginal name, meaning safe harbour,” said the Doctor,
A beautiful bay, a beautiful village, and a beautiful name—we shall never forget it—Ulladulla! It trips as lightly off the tongue as did its oysters off the palate.
At Nowra we crossed the Shoalhaven River, flowing deep and still, with the mountains and its cliff-like bank on one side and green farm lands on the other.
We passed Kiama, from which we carried memories of high, round hills, criss-crossed with fences built of brown boulders gathered from the surface of the ground. Here the mountains came close to the sea again.
We then passed through a land of sleek cattle; of leafless coral-trees whose every twig was tipped with a scarlet flower; of slender, feathery-topped palms growing high up on grassy hillsides.
The last night before reaching Sydney we camped on the top of Bulli Pass, and looked down on a fairyland of lights, streaming beneath us for miles.
THE caravan party rested a while in Sydney. Relaying through 2UW to Melbourne, the Doctor told the story of our travels up to that time. Jacko was put on the air and was heard by his friends in Healesville. He gave a solo laugh and then a duet with his own record.
All the children, as well as those of a larger growth, who were listening in anywhere between Sydney and Brisbane, were asked to watch for Jacko on his way up the coast. They were told that he would be prepared to reward them with a laugh in return for a nice fat grub or a juicy spider.
The first reply to the invitation came from a young man at Hornsby. He ran up to our caravan as we were travelling along and stopped us.
“Have vou got Jacko the Laughing Kookaburra with you?”
“Could you wait while I bring my fiancee? She’s very anxious to see him?”
So we held up our journey until he returned with his sweetheart. She was a charming girl, and made a great fuss over Jacko. He seemed pleased with her attentions and laughed for her. But in her haste she had forgotten to bring him any titbit.
We lunched at Woy Woy among the orange groves on the hill-sides. Barbara remarked that the trees looked like rows and rows of old-fashioned crinolines.
Next morning we drove on through pale sunshine and silver-shafted rain that set all the bush agleam.
We left the rain behind us and came to Newcastle. Here Jacko met with a sad mishap. Some repairs were being made to the caravan at a service-station. Jacko, on his travelling-perch, was sunning himself at the back of the garage. On the other side of the fence was the railway. He had fluffed his feathers and had sunk into a comfortable doze when an engine drawing a long line of trucks full of coal let out a squeal. He was so startled that he dropped from his perch and fell into a pool of dirty oil. When he was fished out, he looked not in the least like his carefully groomed self.
He had to have several scrubbings with a tooth-brush dipped in soap and water. Even then, all the grease was not removed from his feathers. The caravan was held up two hours while he dried himself in front of a radiator.
The invitation to meet Jacko must have been heard by children all along the Pacific Highway. We particularly enjoyed meeting those who lived out from the towns. We found them waiting for us by the roadside, nursing their tins of worms and grubs.
Near Kambrack, we came upon two little fellows whose home must have been somewhere near by, in the bush. They had something in a tin; and it could be seen that they wished to speak to us, so the caravan was stopped. They had collected beetles.
They were thanked and Jacko was brought out to meet them. Boys and bird had a good look at each other. The boys must have seen many kookaburras before; but only wild ones in tree-tops. Ours was becoming a national character. And it was something new for them to see one so closely that they could look into his eyes, study the colour of his feathers—even put a hand on him!
They watched while he ate some of the beetles they had brought. Then he was asked to laugh for them; which he at once did. They stood close by, watching him and enjoying themselves greatly. Then they ran home to tell Mum about meeting him.
We reached Brisbane, where Jacko had a great reception. For the first time in the history of broadcasting in Queensland, a kookaburra’s laugh was heard through a chain of stations with a link-up of over three thousand miles. That night Jacko laughed from one end of Australia to the other!
Some listeners wrote and said they believed it was the gramophone record that they had heard, and not the bird himself. On the following Saturday, when all Queensland was listening to a broadcast description of the races, he went on the air again. This time, all were asked to listen carefully for the opening notes of the record, and then for Jacko, who would join in. He did so, as we knew he would.
After that there were no doubting Thomases.
On another occasion a young kookaburra who seldom laughed was brought to the station to see if he would join in a duet with Jacko. The result was surprising. For sixty seconds a rollicking chorus spread through the air. To complete the experiment we put on a record with the two birds. We had letters from towns far inland and from the Gulf, stating that the trio recorded perfectly.
The amount of interest Jacko created wherever he went was amazing. With Australians, the laughter of a kookaburra seems to stand for things which have a dear place in their affections. Jacko laughed his way into the hearts of his audiences; and such is the infectious quality of his mirth, he seemed to endear himself as greatly to those who heard him over the air from great distances as he did to those who saw him.
In Brisbane we played to packed houses. The Big Boss had come up from Melbourne and taken Thelma home. The care of Jacko was in the hands of Barbara. That first night before an audience in Brisbane was a trying time for her. As well as the city bookings, the Doctor had been making arrangements all the way up from Melbourne to put our programme on at the schools and picture-shows on the way home. A breakdown on the first night would have been unnerving.
Jacko was taken to the theatre by Barbara, The box in which he is carried has large holes bored in it These are for ventilation and for him to look through. Being of an inquisitive nature he thinks he is missing something if he cannot see outside. The holes serve a third purpose. A finger poked through one of them serves to show him that his friends are still with him. He bites the finger gently as a signal that all is well. On the night that Barbara took him to his first public performance under her unaided control, it can be believed that the finger-biting was a source of comfort to her as well as to him!
The time for his appearance on the stage arrived. He was placed on a chair-back in full view of the audience, and Barbara stood beside him. The Doctor was speaking. On a certain word Barbara would give Jacko his signal to laugh. In the meantime it was his duty to remain quiet and look intelligent.
He glanced at the audience, turned his head on one side, looked down at the footlights, turned his head again and looked up at the over-head lights, and then (heaven help us!) turned his back on the audience, hopped to the seat of the chair, then to the floor, and started to hop off the stage.
The Doctor went on talking. Barbara walked after Jacko. He permitted her to pick him up without offering any protest. He was returned to his place on the chair-back. Barbara stood stroking his head and back and murmuring to him in undertones. She endured a few tense moments. Came the word! Barbara stooped and gave him the signal; and then (God bless him!) he stretched out and set the house ringing.
That was the only spasm he ever gave us.
As well as playing at the larger places of entertainment we visited smaller centres and the schools. He was so popular with the children that we tried not to disappoint any of them. One day we took him to the Home for Blind Children. Their pleasure was not equalled by ours on seeing their little faces light up when, at command, he pealed forth his merry notes. Everyone of them joined in and laughed as heartily as did he.
A stuffed kookaburra had been brought along. It was passed among-them from hand to hand. These little boys and girls, “with wisdom at one entrance quite shut out,” took in through their fingers the size of the large bill, the stumpy legs and feet, the softness of the feathers, and the general shape of the bird.
It was one of our happiest engagements.
On another occasion, Barbara took Jacko and gave a show by herself to some very small children who were unable to come to see him. We had given an afternoon programme for children at one of the theatres. Most of them attended; but the head mistress at one of the schools had decided that the little ones in the infants’ class were too young to be trusted to make the journey.
As soon as Jacko’s part of the show was finished, Barbara put him in his box and went by car to the school. The disappointed little ones were more than usually pleased by having this special attention shown them. As well as having Jacko laugh, Barbara gave them a talk.
She told the children how she goes to feed Jacko last thing every night. He is always waiting for her. As she approaches his perch she sees him peering at her with his little dark eyes. She lifts aside the cover and says:
“Do you want your meaty-meaty, Jacko?”
Jacko says, “Whoo,” in a thin little voice that he keeps for replying to just that question. She gives him three or four pieces and places a few more on the perch ready for him to eat first thing in the morning.
Jacko is not a glutton. He never eats after he is satisfied. Barbara explained to the children that if she attempted to tease Jacko by removing any of the pieces she had laid on his perch, he rapped her fingers with his bill. That amused them very much.
After the talk it was learned that two of the children lived along the road by which Barbara was returning. They accompanied her and the bird in the car. It is said that we never forget our contacts with the great. The children were much impressed by finding themselves in the same car as Jacko.
He had a curious fondness for children. And they were so interested in him that when he was taken through the class-rooms you could have heard a pin drop. While a few words were being said he would look around him as much as to say: “I know what I am here for!”
There was never any trouble about getting him to laugh. But (if tales must be told) there was sometimes a little difficulty in keeping him quiet until the proper time for him to do his piece! Once or twice, at afternoon performances, he laughed before we had time to introduce him to the audience!
The children were always curious to know how Barbara made Jacko laugh.
“Do you tickle his toes?” one boy called out.
“No, sonny,” she answered, “I tell him a funny story,”
Whenever he hears his own record played he will try to laugh it down. But if it is played repeatedly he thinks there is a wild kookaburra about and gives a frightened cry. Perhaps a kookaburra’s laughter is a challenge; and the ability to laugh as loud and as long as another is needed for his sense of well-being.
A friend has a home surrounded by stately gums which are the haunt of many wild birds and to which the kookaburras pay daily visits. Wishing to try the effect on them of Jacko’s gramophone laugh, he bought a record and awaited his chance. One day, when a particularly fine looking wild kookaburra was close to the house, the record was started. As the notes floated forth the wild bird put his head on one side and listened in a very puzzled manner. He left his perch and flew backwards and forwards past the veranda, trying to find out where the laugh came from. Failing to find the other bird he flew to a branch of a gum and tried to laugh the record down. He failed; but that was not the end of it.
Next day he returned and brought three mates with him. They surrounded the house. When the record was set going they all broke into hearty laughter. The full chorus went on at double strength for some time. They did their best to beat the “hidden bird.” When they could not, the four were quite silent and quite mystified.
That the wild kookaburras are able to put two ideas together may be proved by anyone living close to a railway in a country district. Just before the time at which the train passes the birds will be seen flying toward the line and perching, either on the fence or on the telegraph-poles. They know that the swift and noisy passage of the train will set the grasshoppers and other small deer jumping, and so a meal may then be easily gathered.
BESIDES the arrangements made as we came up the coast, we had received many letters inviting Jacko to visit places inland. We decided to go to Ipswich and Toowoomba. His audiences at Ipswich were record attendances. While there, we calculated that he already had been seen and heard on the stage by more than one hundred thousand children.
At Ipswich we parked the caravan on the lawn at the home of a friend. Between his public performances Jacko had a happy time hunting for juicy morsels among loamy beds of gerberas, shaded by tall palms and wide-spreading, lavender-canopied jacarandas.
In Toowoomba he was on the air for eight consecutive nights, and had a full house at the Empire Theatre, the largest in the city. He was moulting and had lost his tail; but his laughter was as strong and rollicking as ever. We watched over him anxiously. All our dates booked up had, so far, to run to a time-table. We were dependent on his good health and good humour. And he never failed us. He was something more than just a kookaburra. He was Jacko—laughing his way through Australia! Will there ever be another one like him!
His worst enemies were his closest relations—the wild kookaburras. We have known them try to get at him even through the glass wind-screen of the caravan. He was not greatly bothered by them on the run up the coast from Melbourne to Brisbane; because we travelled almost every day and he was not at liberty except morning and evening and for a short time during the midday halt. But on the return journey we had often to idle a day or two between towns. Then his (and our) troubles began. He had a friend and ally in Fred Smith, who drove our caravan; but it was to Barbara he looked first for help in time of woe. Sometimes, in these troubles with the wild birds, victory came to us.
At Southport, fifty miles below Brisbane, we were resting at a house which, like most Queensland dwellings, was built on piles high enough to give head-room under the floor. This space had been latticed in on all sides. It provided a cool and comfortable dining-room, and, so we imagined, a safe place for Jacko.
We were having a meal when a wild kookaburra flew in through the small doorway and set upon our bird furiously. Jacko fought back; but his clipped wing put him at a disadvantage. Fred hastened to separate them. He caught the wild bird and placed him in a large wickerwork cage, holding him prisoner.
It must be admitted that he yielded to his fate with the wisdom and good grace of all his tribe. Within an hour he was eating scraps of fresh beef. While Jacko, happy and at peace, sat on his perch alongside, watching him intently.
We kept him a prisoner until the morning of our departure. When he was let go he flew into the branches of a eucalypt growing in the yard and sat on a bough, seemingly not in the least upset by what had happened.
What amused us was that it turned out that he was a married kookaburra! Within three minutes his mate had found him. There ensued such an outburst of wrangling and explanation as had to be seen to be believed. His mate chevied and chased him from bough to bough and from tree to tree, diving at him and squawking angrily. It is said that every happily married male is just a little bit afraid of his wife. We judged that he was more happy than most!
Jacko knew of the presence of the wild birds long before we saw or heard them. He always gave a warning note, flattened himself, and pointed with beak and body toward the stranger, remaining in that attitude until danger was past. On one occasion he uttered his warning note and flattened, although the Doctor, who was with him, could at first see no birds about. After a long and careful scrutiny the wild kookaburra’s head and bill was seen, about two hundred yards away. He was inside the top of a hooded chimney pot, watching Jacko.
Along the Northern Rivers, when the days commenced to warm up, Jacko called for his bath. He made his discomfort known to us by ruffling and preening his feathers, Barbara understood his needs, A watering-can was bought; and, if the day were more than ordinarily hot he had as many as three baths a day. While the water was being sprayed over him he would close his eyes, flip his bill, shake his tail, and utter contented little squawks. When the can was emptied Barbara would ask:
“Do you want some more, Jacko?” If he did he would make the small “Whoo!” sound. When he had had enough he would hop out of the spray, shake himself, and begin preening his feathers.
He never forgot to let us know when he was hungry. He would hop around after Barbara saying, “Whoo!”
“Does he want his meat?” she would ask.
Then he would call louder. When she produced the paper parcel from the butcher, he would give full vent to his feelings.
If really hungry, his mouth would open like a small carpet-bag.
For many miles along the Tweed our way ran under paper-barks fifty feet high. Between the white stems we saw, in mid-river, an island decked with tall palms.
We continued our southward journeyings. At each little town the pictures were shown and Jacko made his public appearance—we basking a brief moment in his reflected popularity.
Between towns, nature afforded us little glimpses of beauty to delight the eye and refresh the spirit. Some of those bright living pictures come before the inward vision, as this chronicle is being set down.
At Mooball we found a wayside creek, covered like a patterned carpet with the green leaves and purple bloom of water-lilies.
We came to a ferry where we had to ring a big toll bell. The ferry came in response to our ringing and brought with it a load of bare-footed school children wearing large sun-shade hats of many colours. Jacko saw them stream ashore, and as they crowded eagerly about him, greeted them with a laugh.
Mosquitoes pestered him as they did us. They bit his legs; and we noticed him rubbing his head with his wing. In the mornings (comical as it may sound) he looked tired about the eyes. Barbara made a mosquito-net for him, and after that his nights were peaceful.
It was surprising to see with what interest he observed the various affairs of the camp. One rainy evening Barbara had him in the tent with her while she was preparing our evening meal.
He took keen interest in all that was done; the lighting of the primus, the setting of the table, the opening of a tin of milk were all watched by him with the closest attention. Barbara kept up a little flow of small talk with him, and although he could not reply in words, he seemed to give close heed to all she had to say. His occasional “Whoo!” appeared to imply agreement with her remarks.
The burden of defending him from his foes fell upon his friends. This was no more than just; and was sustained with complete willingness, although the state of siege in which we found ourselves at times was a little exasperating.
At Mullumbimby, forty miles south of the Queensland border, our camp was pitched under a shady gum on the banks of the Brunswick’s latana-tangled and mangrove-lined stream.
Here a family of kookaburras found us out. The gum-tree and two telegraph-poles were points of a triangle surrounding us. The wild birds took up positions on these places and remained with us throughout the day. We were kept busy throwing stones and tapping the bases of the two poles with a heavy stick in efforts to drive our tormentors away. They merely flew from pole to pole and back again to the tree, laughing at us derisively.
By night, we all had stiff arms and stiff necks as a result of our efforts. A pea-rifle was bought, with the hope that the sound would scare the birds off. The bullets were removed from the cartridges and the latter plugged with soap; but the report of the gun was, in consequence, made so feeble that it had no effect. We then used cartridges with bullets; firing above and below the birds—with little result.
During the five days we were in that camp we made frequent sallies against the enemy; bombarding them with empty jam-tins and similar noisy missiles.
By the Brunswick, a chorus of crickets, cicadas, and frogs would start at sundown as suddenly as if a conductor had waved his baton; continue for half an hour, and then abruptly end in a speaking silence. Each evening we gladly welcomed nightfall with its hours of assured peace. And in the fresh morning an orchestra of birds, above which the fluting of the magpie rang clear and sweet, would awake us.
Although Jacko usually uttered his warning cry and sought safety when the wild birds came about, he was no craven. There were times when he preferred to meet trouble unaided.
One evening we camped by a chain of rush-lined pools linked together by a small, rock-bedded creek. Jacko was released. Glad to be out of the caravan he hopped on to the perch of his box, which had been put on the ground. Without pausing to look around him, as is his custom, he stretched out and laughed loud and long. His notes were at once challenged by a family of wild kookaburras in a tree near by. The quick response must have taken him by surprise. He looked at his enemies; but, instead of emitting his frightened cry, he drove his beak into the ground several times and gave the kookaburra’s fighting call:
“Gur-waa! Gur-waa! Gur-waa!” expressing great anger.
He hopped up the caravan steps and vented his wrath by pecking and biting the woodwork. At the top of the steps he turned and laughed another challenge.
No doubt his actions on that occasion were in obedience to some primal urge that caution could not quell. Perhaps his wild tribesmen understood. He was not attacked.
It was at the mouth of the Richmond River that Jacko had his sensational encounter with the Bantam of Ballina and kept up the best traditions of the House of Kookaburras. It happened thus:
Whilst the Doctor was interviewing the proprietor of the local picture-theatre, trying to make a date with him to screen his travel films, Jacko, in charge of the ladies, was enjoying a sun-bath, upon an adjoining vacant town block, and at the same time, poking about amongst the grass in search of beetles and grubs and other small deer.
We are never sure whether Jacko first sees or smells or hears his dinner moving below the surface. He keeps that secret to himself. But certain it is, when once he goes into action, he rarely fails to come out triumphant with some or another tasty titbit.
Just as he had pounced down, and dug out a grub, which a moment before had been snugly tucked away three inches beneath the grass, the unexpected happened.
While Thelma and Barbara were watching him at work, the silence was shattered by the loud challenging crowing of a bantam who, with a train of demure and diminutive wives in tow, suddenly appeared upon the scene.
Jacko, hastily swallowing his morsel, replied to the challenge by throwing back his head and laughing heartily, and immediately the fight was on. The little feathered fury flew up at him several times, striking viciously with his spurs. Jacko, dodging cleverly, drove home a blow with his powerful bill, and knocked his opponent to the ground.
If ever there was an astonished bird, it was that little rooster, who picked himself up and walked away, driving his family ahead of him! The attack was quite unprovoked and uncalled for, and could only be attributed to the innate jealousy of the bantam.
Along the Richmond, our road turned at times out of the brilliant sunshine into the cool twilight of the tropical scrubs, lit, here and there, by a blaze of scarlet salvias. Where the sharply peaked ranges came close to the sea our road looped upward, and we looked down into steep, palm-decked valleys. There were glimpses of plantations down below; pasture lands vividly green; still lakes, burning blue; and the thin, thread-like road up which we had ascended.
Then the sea again. We camped on a green sward in the shelter of gnarled old banksias. From the top of the dunes, the river-mouth and channels, miles of tumbling white combers, and a drift of fine sea-spray, as far as the eye could see, made an unforgettable picture.
AT Maclean, Jacko played to a very exceptional audience. Our programme had been seen by Father J. J. Durkin, who was greatly taken with Jacko and who had found our pictured stories of the birth of flowers and of coral islands in the making, both “beautiful and interesting.”
He was so pleased with our show that he came to speak with us afterwards. He said there were twenty or more Sisters of Mercy in the town and district. They were not allowed to visit places of public entertainment, but he would very much like to have them see our programme. Would it be possible to arrange a private showing for their benefit?
Father Durkin left us with our assurances that it would not only be possible for us to entertain the Sisters; but that it would be a pleasure. In his car, making several trips, he brought the ladies of the Church to the theatre.
That audience, comprising twenty-two Sisters in their sombre garb, was the smallest we have ever played to—and the most attentive. Some of them had never seen a moving-picture. They followed everything with the closest attention. When Barbara brought Jacko on the stage in mid-programme, the grave mood was relieved by a smile. Here was a small, familiar friend in unfamiliar surroundings. In the short time he was on view, before and after his laugh, Jacko behaved with perfect decorum.
The Mother Superior spoke with us after the performance, expressing the pleasure and thanks of the Sisters. She referred to two or three incidents in our picture stories which had seemed to her especially striking. When she mentioned Jacko her eyes were moist.
Leaving the Richmond River and Clarence River districts behind, we rumbled along the Pacific Highway, making good time in our heavy caravan. After long miles of treeless river-flats it was pleasant to be once again in the big timber-belts.
At one spot a large diamond snake crossed the road into the bushes. Pulling up the caravan the Doctor jumped out and headed it back to the highway again. Here he pinned it with a forked stick. It was nine feet in length, beautifully marked in dark green and yellow on the upper surface and a bright sulphur-yellow underneath.
The Doctor, for his own enlightenment, wanted to bring Jacko from the caravan and observe his reactions to a snake of this size. But Barbara objected strenuously and forcibly. She felt that the dignity of her small friend was involved!
At Coff’s Harbour the editor of the local paper paid us a visit, bringing his small son and daughter to see Jacko. He told us that the kookaburra was his mascot:
“Never in my life have I made an important decision without it being in some way associated with a Laughing Jackass.”
He had some stories to tell with a bearing on the point.
“I hope Jacko brings you good luck,” he said, at parting.
Perhaps there was something in his mild superstition. At any rate, we can truthfully say that the caravan travelled four thousand miles without a puncture!
Of all our happy camping-grounds, the headland of Nambucca River stands out in memory. It is a twin headland, cleft by a small, deep valley, overgrown with a wild tangle of wind-blown banksia, she-oaks, and paper-barks, matted together by a semi-tropical undergrowth of climbers and vines, beneath which small tree-ferns find a footing, less than a hundred yards from the saltwater.
Our caravan was parked on the green sward overlooking the ocean; in the shade of some white-stemmed paper-barks, growing on the cliff. All about us was an immensity of sea and sky. White sand and peacock-coloured waters spread out beneath us two hundred feet below. The whole stretch of peaceful ocean, blue sky, and gentle breeze was ours—just for the looking.
Each morning we saw the two great monoplanes, plying between Sydney and Brisbane, pass in majestic flight, while their shadows sped swiftly over sand and sea.
From Woolgoolga, in the north, to Smoky Cape, where the mountains go down to the sea, the coast is as wild and as primitive as when first sighted and named by Captain Cook. Hereabouts, the planes fly over the ocean for many miles. As they droned up from the hazy distance, and passed out at sea with a triple-voiced roar, keeping their schedule to the minute, one thought of the Endeavour beating slowly along this lonely coast and of the changes wrought in a short span of years.
Jacko watched these new monsters of the skies with an idle curiosity as they flew past; but was not in the least disturbed by them.
It was a different matter when the large, white-bellied sea-eagle came over the headland, cruising along the top of the cliff. How did he recognize the works of man in the air? How did he know that the sea-eagle, which he had never seen before, was a bird of prey? As soon as he caught sight of it, he sounded the note of alarm, which never failed to bring us hurrying to him. He flattened out on his perch, and pivoting on his feet, followed the eagle’s flight until it disappeared.
We spent a happy week at this delightful spot. One day, with Jacko, we visited the local school. There was the head teacher, two assistants, and one hundred and three pupils. It was not possible to project the moving-pictures. But the story of Jacko’s early life and adventures was told by Barbara. She was heard by the children in the most attentive silence. After the story concluded they all joined in Jacko’s mirth.
For several nights a small grey mouse had bitten through the mosquito-netting of our improvised safe, and raided the provisions. So we set a trap and caught the intruder; much to the good housewife’s satisfaction, and more so to Jacko’s. He is a knowing fellow, and took a personal interest in the setting of that trap.
While in camp we had the greatest difficulty in keeping him from prying into odd corners and under out-buildings, where we knew danger might lurk in the shape of stray cats and snakes. The only sure precaution would have been to shut him up. But we felt that we owed him every hour of his liberty. So we had to keep constant watch over him. It was his nature to pry.
The shelter-shed where we had our meals on the headland had the floor raised about a foot from the ground. Several times Jacko had attempted to dive under this, attracted by something we could not see. One day Barbara called aloud that he had gone underneath and was fighting a snake! Investigation, conducted on all-fours,, proved that he was having an argument with a blue-tongued lizard.
The position was dangerous. The blue-tongued lizard is a powerful fellow; he is thick-set and about as long as a man’s forearm. His jaws open and shut like a clamp. At such close quarters we knew Jacko was bound to get the worst of it in a quarrel with a creature that can destroy a snake. We called to Jacko, but called in vain. He stood facing the enemy, opening and shutting his bill. There were anxious moments while a long pole was hunted for. It would have been shocking to have seen our bird killed before our eyes and we unable to get to his assistance.
With the pole we prodded at the lizard. That drew his attention from Jacko; but the exasperating part was that the bird would not take advantage of the opportunity to hop away. We managed, at length, to push the lizard against one of the pillars supporting the wood-work, and to pin him there.
After some coaxing, Jacko came hopping out. The honeyed tones that pleaded with him to come from beneath the floor were different to those he heard as soon as he was safe in hand. He had thoroughly frightened us all. He got from Barbara the only real scolding he ever had. He did not take it too much to heart.
His sense of hearing is very keen. He can detect a white grub moving under the soil at a depth of three inches.
Time and again we have watched him flutter off his perch to a spot two or three feet distant, and stand staring intently, with his head cocked to one side. Alert and tense he waits; presently he drives his bill into the grass, turning up the soil. Then steps back and listens for the grub to move again. Greatly excited, he vigorously wields his sharp-pointed pick and unearths the titbit.
We tested his sense of hearing by placing some beetles in an air-tight tin and putting it at various distances from him. He could neither see nor smell the beetles, but could hear them moving in the tin when it was six feet away from him. We could tell that by his intense interest in the tin, and by the way he cocked his head on one side.
AT Kempsey Jacko gave us all a bad fright. He became ill, We thought for a while that we were going to lose him. That would have been a very real tragedy for us. After all his many adventures we were looking forward to taking him home in triumph to his native hills. It was impossible for us to think of the remainder of the tour without him. Between him and Barbara, who loved him then and loves him still, there was a particularly strong attachment. She had mothered him and knew all his funny little ways. Her daily care for him was greater than the forward movement of this chronicle will permit of telling.
Kookaburras have the peculiarity (in common with some other birds, such as members of the owl family) of bringing back the indigestible portion of their food. The fur and bones of small animals and the hard, horny cases and legs of beetles and grasshoppers are returned in the form of a pellet or quid; which the bird discards with a flip of his bill.
Shortly after eating some fresh beef, at Kempsey, Jacko brought up a quid and was very sick. He trembled all over, and his little feet shook as with a palsy. These looked to the Doctor very much like symptoms of poisoning. Preservatives in the beef were suspected. Within half an hour the Doctor had interviewed the butcher. He was assured that no preservatives had been used.
A fresh supply of beef was procured from another shop. But Jacko couldn’t keep it down for two minutes. He sat hunched on his perch, shivering. His feathers were ruffled, his eye, not bright and outward-looking, but dull, and seemingly turned inward on his misery. We stood before him sadly perplexed: prepared to do anything that might help him in his sad case, but feeling very helpless.
We thought of white grubs. They were one of his favourite foods and easily digestible. During that day—a particularly hot one —we made frantic efforts to secure some. After some search, we located an old potato paddock on the outskirts of the town. The Doctor and Fred dug hard for about two hours, and at the end of that time had found about a dozen grubs. A local man was offered threepence a grub for every one he brought. He took the work on eagerly enough, but gave it up within twenty minutes.
Jacko swallowed the grubs mechanically and without apparent relish.
They reappeared in a very little while, semi-digested. He was very sick. He seemed to understand that our sympathies were with him; even though we could do nothing.
He watched our movements with his food-tins. Once, weak as he was, he dived off his perch and tried to dig out a grub for himself. It was dreadful, however, to see him shake and tremble on his feet while thus occupied. He seemed to be battling with himself.
The spectacle was a little too much for our feelings. He was restored to his perch. Barbara shed tears and called him, “A brave little man!” The Doctor had to walk away.
It was pluck that pulled him through that day. He seemed, for a little while, to improve, and we began to feel hopeful. We recalled the many miles he had come; the cold of an unusually sharp winter, when even the gum-saplings as well as the orange-trees and sugarcane along the river-flats of the northern district had been burnt and blackened by the intense frosts. He had laughed his way through with never an illness—the best traveller of us all.
That night his condition became worse. At about eight o’clock he had another bad bout of shivering. At times his eyes closed and he looked the picture of misery. Night and illness are not a pleasant combination. There is always the suggestion that life will go out before the day breaks.
It was just possible that a certain friend, a very keen ornithologist and field naturalist, would be able to advise us of something we might do for Jacko. He lived in Toowoomba.
We put through a long-distance call. There was some delay, and then, getting through, we learned that our friend was in Sydney. We got his address: the Pioneers’ Club. Again there was difficulty in getting our connection. The young lady at the switchboard understood our position. She was sympathetic and did her best for us. There was nothing for it but to wait. It was midnight before the call was put through.
Fortunately our friend was at home. He was more than a little astonished to hear the Doctor’s voice.
“When did you reach Sydney?” he asked.
“I’m speaking from Kempsey,” the Doctor replied.
“Good heavens! Whatever is the matter?”
After telling him and describing the symptoms, he said:
“It seems very serious! How old is he?”
The thought of his years had never crossed our minds.
“Nine years last October,” said the Doctor. He felt as if he were dragging the words out of himself. He waited anxiously for his medical friend’s comment
“Well, the only thing you can do is to give him fifteen drops of castor oil, and report to me in the morning.”
The Doctor returned to camp with a bottle of oil. While Fred held Jacko, Barbara gave him the fifteen drops from a teaspoon. For a bird that never drinks—takes no liquid of any kind—it looked like a case of kill or cure. We wondered how he would get on with the medicine.
After one or two side-to-side flips of his bill, to get rid of the oil remaining in his mouth, he sat quietly on his sleeping-perch, we watching over him.
By morning, though still weak, his condition had clearly improved. Each of us felt relieved. There was a different air in the camp. When the Doctor called at the telephone exchange to ring up his friend again, the girl operator smiled her recognition and asked after Jacko.
His system had been badly upset. During the next day or two he remained in a very feeble condition; and could digest neither beef nor the grubs which we got for him.
We moved on to Port Macquarie and there received a letter from Thelma, in answer to one we had mailed as soon as Jacko fell ill. She told us that he had suffered two previous attacks similar to the one he was then experiencing. The only cure was a complete return to his natural food and total abstinence from raw beef.
Straightway we employed two boys, and driving them six miles out of town, put them to work in a paddock strewn with fallen timber and bark.
Their promised reward was five shillings each. They returned with a good collection of shiny, black wood-beetles, white grubs, spiders, crickets, and some worms.
From then on, Jacko’s condition rapidly improved. Each day the boys brought us fresh supplies. The food variety toned him up and his natural courage and good cheer helped him along. In no time he was well and strong again.
No one knows how long a kookaburra lives. Jacko, at nine years, may be young or old, or just middle-aged. We hope kookaburras live a long time.
WE arrived at Taree late one afternoon, and next day journeyed to the mouth of the Manning River on the motor launch Ivy. The wild, wind-swept beaches and low, sandy ridges, covered with a short, stubbly growth, reminded us of the sea-front between Carrum and Frankston, on the shores of Port Phillip.
Of course, Jacko went with us. For his own safety we kept him, while aboard the launch, in his travelling-box; making him content himself with what he could see through the ventilation holes. We were in mid-stream, on the return journey, when Barbara gave a gasp:
“Jacko’s out of his box!” she said.
And he was! How he had managed it we don’t know. He did not seem to be aware of the fact that he was on a boat. He was hopping along the narrow deck, and heading for the water. Had anyone but Barbara attempted to catch him, he would, most likely, have fluttered about and ended his days in the Manning.
Someone has said that twins in a family are a revolution, and triplets a state of permanent insurrection. As the Doctor returned the unwilling Jacko to his box, he wondered how the analogy could be made to cover the case of a family that included an enterprising jackass.
From Taree, we travelled all day up and down through the ranges toward the Gloucester Buckets, which showed from time to time above the skyline. On the way up the coast we had decided that the name had been given to that curious formation of giant rocks because of their resemblance to the buckets of a dredge. But, on our homeward journey, we learned that the name was a corruption of the aboriginal word bukans, meaning large rocks with an echo.
We pulled up for lunch on the wayside and encountered a veritable plague of golden beetles, better known as Christmas beetles. They were in myriads. For a mile along the road the trees were stripped of their leaves. Jacko, greatly excited, began to hop about, catching them as they dropped from the branches, and eating them as fast as he could.
Large numbers of them hung in clusters above the roof of the caravan. Fred climbed up and filled a one-pound coffee-tin with them in a few minutes. The gleaming mass, in all their beauty, glowed with iridescent lights—living jewels of emerald and amber—as brilliant as any we had ever seen.
It was at this unnamed camp that Jacko scored a victory over a wild kookaburra. Our bird suffered the disadvantages of his qualities and his circumstances. He was more than ordinarily gifted in his own way. Realizing that he had been reared in captivity, and was handicapped by his clipped wing, we had always been at great pains to prevent the wild birds from coming to holts with him. So, with much satisfaction, we are able to record that on one of the occasions when our vigilance was eluded the attacker was driven from the field with his self-esteem in tatters.
We were packing up. Jacko was sitting on the perch above his travelling-box, taking his usual interest in our movements. No doubt it was this that enabled the wild bird to come up unseen by his sharp eyes. There was a flurry of wings, an angry squawking, and the two of them were at each other, on the perch. Jacko opened his beak and struck fiercely. The other at once retaliated, and immediately, they were locked together, beak to beak.
Fighting kookaburras always strive to catch each other by the lower bill—that one being the weaker because it is connected to the head by a joint. Once that deadly grip is secured the opponent is held fast. Jacko thus gripped his attacker, and, in a moment, forced him off the perch and held him dangling in the air. He then tried to toss and beat him against the perch, as he would a mouse or a big lizard. The weight proved too great for him. The wild bird broke away and rolled to the ground.
Undaunted, he rose again to the attack, with head-feathers raised and the light of battle in his eyes. Jacko, with a lightning lunge, struck him in the chest, and pulled back with feathers in his beak as his opponent fell to the ground again.
It was a clear victory for Jacko. It happened so quickly that we had no time to interfere. The wild kookaburra rose and flew into a tree a little distance away. Of course, the bout ended in rival peals of mirth. But, somehow, the laughter from the tree failed to ring true.
We pushed on, well satisfied!
It was the hottest day’s travelling we had yet experienced. After climbing the steep pinches, we pulled up on the summits and refilled the radiator from the water-tank.
Late in the afternoon, as we approached Gloucester, the sky clouded over and the thunder rumbled and rolled in the distance. Three miles out, we topped the last of the hills and left the winding, valley road which had been with us for fifty miles.
The little town, ringed by fantastic peaks and pinnacles, is set in a green plain, which stretches away to a line of timber marking the course of the river.
Just as we settled into camp the storm burst, and the rain fell in torrents. We found ourselves in company with a troupe of performing lions and an electrical waxworks, whose wagons had been passing and repassing us all the way from Brisbane.
That night, with the usual courtesy of the troubadours of the road, the proprietors invited us to see the show. The trainer of the lions was a gigantic native of Africa. Before the performance he appeared in front of the tents and addressed the crowd. He was truly a figure of barbaric splendour, clad in robes of purple and gold, under the glare of the circus lights.
The show commenced, and the lecturer gave a lurid and graphic account of each of the wax figures.
All the most recent horrors were represented here, as well as some of the ancient ones—not forgetting the ever-green Kelly Gang.
The storm broke out afresh. The lions of the circus began to roar, adding their thunder to the rumblings in the mountains. As the lightning became more frequent and vivid, deafening thunder-claps reverberated through the town, and re-echoed from peak to peak. The wind increased and the canvas roofs of the tents bellied in and out. There was a rip of tearing fabric. Walls and roof parted company in two places. The rain swept in and the attendants rushed their precious figures to less exposed places.
Meanwhile the storm-stricken and frightened beasts raised a terrible din as the trainer, clad in his rich raiment of purple and gold, whipped them through the blazing hoops.
It was an awe-inspiring spectacle. Combined with the other events of the day, it proved too much for the Doctor. That night, after he had gone to bed he had a dream. He heard a terrific commotion of lions fighting and snarling in a general pandemonium. Above the noise of the beasts he heard men shouting and cursing. Jumping from the caravan, he ran across to the circus. He saw fur and feathers flying in clouds! As he appeared, the lion-tamer screamed:
“Call off your jackass!”
And the Doctor shouted back:
“You call off your lion!”
JACKO had a poor Christmas dinner at Wangi Wangi, on the shores of Lake Macquarie. The hill slopes were very dry, with scarcely a beetle to be found. So he had to fall back on the beef, which he now ate again with gusto.
At Newcastle he again met city audiences. He appeared during Christmas week at the Civic Theatre, before crowded houses; and had a week’s broadcasting, as well. One evening a number of children were invited to the studio to see and hear him; and their happy laughter went out over the air along with his. Good little Jacko! He has “done his stuff” facing a sea of faces; he has done it for a handful of children in little up-country schools; and he would do it for you, with only you to hear him!
At Violet Town, on New Year’s Day, he had a new experience of the small kind that is dear to his heart. We were picnicking, and were at rest in the shade of a tall angophora. Jacko was hopping about our feet, busying himself turning chips over in search of a morsel or two. A wasp came toward us carrying a spider much larger than itself, which it had paralyzed in the usual way by injecting a drop of poison into the nerve-centre. It was a steel-blue bodied wasp, with long orange-coloured antennae. When three feet away, it placed the victim upon a small grass tuft and searched around, looking for a safe place to cache it. After digging a hole in the ground, it would bury the spider and deposit a tiny white egg alongside it, before covering it up. The larva, when hatched, would thus have a supply of food awaiting it.
Jacko had been watching the activities of the wasp. He hopped over to the spider, just as the wasp came back to it. The little buzzing imp flew at Jacko as if to drive him away. He reached for the spider and the wasp went down for it at the same time. Jacko was first. He picked up the prey, and the wasp, irate, tried to settle on his head. With a sharp movement of his bill he flipped it away and hastily swallowed the spider.
Its quarry having disappeared, the wasp quartered the ground in its fussy manner, within a foot of Jacko. He followed all its movements, turning his head from side to side to keep his eye on it. Not once did he attempt to pick it up or peck at it—some inner knowledge warning him that the result would be unpleasant. Then the wasp gave up the search and flew away.
It was the sort of small tragedy, or comedy, that is part of the affairs of the natural world.
The field naturalist, very early in his studies, is confronted with the fact of nature’s unrelenting cruelty: big lives devouring little lives. Consider the number of lives that have gone to keep, alive and well, our quiet little friend Jacko during his nine years on earth. What saves the spectacle of nature’s methods from being too painful to contemplate, is the knowledge that there is seldom a conscious act of cruelty on the part of the killer. Jacko, swallowing a mouse or a grub is as innocent of murderous intent as the gentlest child.
We reached Sydney, and there, for his well-being, we found a good supply of small frogs—the green and cream-coloured piping Hylas—which were plentiful in Centennial Park.
Jacko liked to go to bed each evening a little after sundown. On the night prior to leaving Sydney, we packed up for the run to Melbourne and were busy at it until long after dark, He could not understand why he could not go to bed. He kept hopping about and jumping on the running-board, trying to get into his sleeping-quarters,
The Doctor placed him on the cap of the radiator, hoping to get rid of him for a little while. In a few minutes he was down again and making for the cabin door. When shooed away he growled a deep and guttural growl and tried to dodge past, He had a will of his own.
The tent and the rest of the gear that was carried under the front seat had been stowed in their place; and, at last, we were finished. The Doctor placed Jacko’s box in front of him.
He jumped on the edge of the box, then up one more flight to his perch. As the box was lifted through the door of the cabin he cleverly ducked his head under the edge of the mosquito-curtain.
Barbara gave him his supper and placed his early morning snack beside him on the perch. The hangings that kept his bedroom dark, and him secure from the annoyance of midnight cats, were let down. Our good-night glimpse of him was his bright little eye peering at us from between the curtains.
Although we still had some bookings along the South Coast of New South Wales, we considered the departure from Sydney as the beginning of the last leg of our journey home.
There came a day when we crossed the Victorian border. To Fred, on his first trip south from his native Queensland, the event was possibly the opening of a door to fresh adventure. But to two of us, natives of the south-east corner of this wide continent, it was like entering the front gate of one’s home after an absence.
It was raining as we coasted along the winding mountain road. There was the smell of the wet forest and the music of trickling streams. The giant trees stood about us, and the ridges were lost in the low, grey clouds. Mile after mile the forest floor on each hand was carpeted with fern. The smell of musk, damp with the rain, was sweet to us.
The miles of our journeyings stretched far behind us. We had come from the land of the sugar-cane and the banana. We had seen bright seas flashing through thickets of poinsettia, hibiscus, and palm; and crowds surfing in July. We had known nights, black and velvet-soft, when the warm air was heavy with the scent of frangipanni; and days when sharp colours and brilliant sun made life seem as if it were being lived in the heart of a bright jewel.
All that was behind us and our thoughts were reaching forward. The dwelling on the hill above Healesville and the good friends who waited there to welcome us filled our thoughts. Already we saw the valley and the dark line of the Dividing Range beyond it. We were anticipating the moment of arrival, and the commencement of the story of our adventures.
End Of Part Two
Part 3-Home Once More
We were home and I didn’t know it. But that was not my fault.
I had been away eight months, travelling with the Doctor and Barbara. Eight months is too long for remembering things.
Barbara carried me in from the caravan and set me down on the floor. I looked around me. I felt that there was something that I ought to remember. What was it? The Doctor and Barbara stood looking at me. A lady I did not know picked me up and started talking to me. She called me Jacko and stroked my back; but I didn’t know who she was. She seemed very sad about that.
She put me down and went on talking to the Doctor and Barbara. I hopped away to pry into things and find out if this new place were a good one for a kookaburra. I had a look at the fire, and then I hopped out of the room, into the passage. I stood still a while and looked around me. It all seemed very strange; and yet it wasn’t strange. I hopped down the passage and into another room. It was a nice warm room and in it was a chair that I looked at for a very long time. While I was looking the strange lady came into the room. She said:
“Hello, Jacko. Don’t you know where you are?”
She opened a drawer and took a knife out of it. Then she went outside. I heard something go “Click!” It was the catch on the meat-safe! I knew where I was! I was home, and that lady was Thelma!
Right there in the kitchen I stretched out and laughed. Thelma came in with some scraps of meat. Barbara and the Doctor came hurrying to see what had happened. Thelma gave me the meat; and there was a great to-do!
After Thelma and Barbara and the Doctor had started talking again, I hopped away to see what else I could find. At the back door I stopped. There was a dog lying on the veranda. I never feel sure about dogs, so I opened my beak at him. He did nothing—just wagged his tail. He was a little dog with dark hair, short and coarse. He had grey whiskers and sharp little ears, and shaggy eyebrows and bright eyes that twinkled in his hairy little face. While we looked at each other his stumpy tail kept wagging,
It was Splinter.
I went past him and down the veranda steps, where I used to keep my old knife-handle. Then I went on down the back path past the patch of beans where the hawk nearly caught me.
At the bottom of the garden, under the peach-tree, I saw another kookaburra. He was sitting down so close to the ground that his toes were hidden in his feathers. He was looking up at some starlings in the branches above him. When he saw me he opened his bill and said “Quark!”
It was Skippy.
I almost began to forget that I had ever been away. It was a nice, sunny afternoon as I hopped from one place to another, remembering things. I found the lawn-mower alongside the house, and I stood beside it and laughed.
That evening, at sunset, the Big Boss came home. The first I knew of it was when I heard the front gate click, and saw Bill bounding toward me. He licked my face and knocked me over to show how glad he was to see me.
Then the Big Boss came up to us. He cuffed Bill’s ribs and picked me up. He talked to me a lot and seemed very glad to see me. He carried me inside with him.
In the room where the fire was twinkling we found Barbara and Thelma and the Doctor, There was a lot of talk and laughter and shaking of hands. They seemed happy and glad to see each other. I was happy, too.
That night, Thelma lifted me up to my perch on the old chair-back in the kitchen; just as she used to do. It was very nice to fluff my feathers in the pleasant warmth, and settle down.
Soon after my return from the long caravan trip, I commenced to lose my feathers, and I heard the Little Girl Next Door, who is growing quite a big one now, say to Thelma:
“I don’t know what has come over Jacko of late; he looks so deplorable and his manners are shocking! I can hardly say a word to him, he is so cross and crotchety.”
She did not understand what was the matter with me.
Moulting at the wrong time of the year is no joke for a jackass, I can assure you.
However, in six weeks I was quite spruce again. Thelma said I had come through it very well and looked handsomer than ever.
Project Gutenberg Australia