Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years. He wrote this piece for the Volunteer Newsletter in 2004.
Long-billed Corellas only ever seem to make the news when they are causing trouble. I guess this item won’t help their reputation.
I’m part of a project going through the Melbourne Museum’s vast collection of bird skins, checking their registration, or lack of it, in the EMu database. Historical specimens from legendary sources such as John Gould, William Blandowski, Baldwin Spencer and Donald Thomson are commonplace here, along with those collected by Museum staff and many collaborators in the birding community.
We all know how important the Museum is to safekeeping our heritage. We usually think of this happening in a rather abstract, institutional way, with these grand collections. But it can be quite personal.
Amongst the hundreds of items checked so far, it was a surprise to come across one specimen with a personal letter of introduction carefully placed beneath the reposing bird. “Cocky” was a Long-billed Corella (Cacatua tenuirostris) donated in 1980 by a family in Croydon. The letter is countersigned by Alan McEvey, a former Curator of Ornithology and a legendary bird man in his own lifetime. It gives us a brief biography of Cocky who had lived to the age of 80 or 90.
Cocky the Long-billed Corella with his letter of introduction.
Source: Museum Victoria
In his early life Cocky lived for many years in a hotel in Bridge Road Richmond. Eventually he was ordered from the front bar by the police for bad language. Apparently it shocked the ladies passing by. Was Richmond really more genteel in the early years of the twentieth century than now? Hard to believe.
After this indignity Cocky lived in the back shed of the hotel, where he picked up the talk from the two-up games, the sly grog and illegal betting. “C’mon Bill, put a bob on a horse,” he would urge, along with numerous other colourful sayings. All this could still be heard out in the street and the passing ladies were still getting upset. A woman who worked at the hotel as a maid eventually offered Cocky to take home for her 10-year old son. She was the widowed grandmother of the donor and Cocky was handed down in the family for the next 50 years.
Her son removed Cocky, hitherto immobile, from his small cage and exercised his wings and rubbed his feet with olive oil until he could walk. He would sleep on the boy’s bedhead. But he started tearing the skirting boards apart calling; “Rats, rats, scald the buggers!” so he was put in an aviary. When he swore a cup of water was thrown over him. He stopped swearing but still talked until the end.
The letter concludes: “I have looked after him for 20 years please take care of our friend”.