Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Flamin' galah!

Lately I've been thinking about how our wildlife informs our national character. A book I've just finished reading pointed out that one of humans' intrinsic tendencies is to imitate, whether it be parents, spouses, work colleagues, or even the natural environment. And I reckon the author is onto something.

There's a desert-like rawness about the Australian character. At times this manifests itself as a beautiful honesty and unaffected, easygoing charm. At other times it's a complete lack of grace. It is attractive, but not in the way that beauty is packaged by the world's largest and most dominant outlets (Hollywood for example). Aussies make good larrikins, good sportspeople and this is reinforced by what we call our tall-poppy syndrome - which at its worst is basically a preference for the mediocre tryer (read underdog) over the arrogant, beautiful genius.

So what does this have to do with wildlife? Not much, except that the animals here seem to have a similar kind of presence. Take the kookaburra: solid, pleasing to the eye, certainly not flashy. And that call - pure Australian.

Then there's the galah itself. Never seen one on fire, but flamin' may well refer to its plumage. It's a really attractive colour combo, too, but look into its eyes and honestly tell me if it's beautiful. It's not, is it? And that strut... not one for the fashion runway.

The cockatoo is next. The cries from these guys shred the air, and the way they swoop around in the sky and perch themselves brazenly on public monuments... could there be anything more like cheeky Aussie teens, or toey blokes with a few beers in them?

My favourite around our suburb is the black cockatoo. It has an unmistakable cry, harsh and plaintive at the same time - it's hard to know what it will break first: your heart or your eardrums. Here's one I caught on camera out the back of our house.

Even the coat of arms... the kangaroo and the emu. Neither winning Miss Animal Kingdom, both kind of cute, hardy, reliable. What is that if not the Australian character?