Birds of Toowoomba - Galah

(Toowoomba, January 2011)

Imagine a large pink bird like this flying right by where you live. Imagine if it wasn’t just one bird, but a whole family group. Imagine if it didn’t happen just once but that it happened every day; several groups in the morning and again in the afternoon.

The Whittleseas were moving thousands of miles away to Perth. They couldn’t take everything and an old, bald-bellied galah wasn’t likely to make the road journey alive. (They didn’t know how old he was when they got him). Cocky Whittlesea was going to stay with us. He was friendly enough, saying “hello” and “hey” often while occasionally showing off his dancing prowess. When I was very small, we’d line up all the toys from the cornflake packets along the edge of the kitchen table and Cocky would walk along on the table picking each toy up one by one and throwing them over the edge. Once finished, he’d patiently wait for them to be lined up again before throwing them all off again. Cocky was a great guy. He used to get around being carried in his cage with the floor off so he could graze on the grass in various parts of our yard. One day I burned around the corner pushing my pedal “jeep” and it freaked him out. Cocky was being carried up the driveway in his cage and he fell off his perch onto the ground. Screaming, he took off and flew a block westward and landed at the top of a very tall gum tree. Cocky stayed stuck at the top of this huge tree for a week screaming. Luckily, I was too young to know about Brown Goshawks, Peregrines, Black Falcons and even Australian Hobbies that I have since seen in the same area. I think he was too high to be worried about by a cat. Eventually, my brave uncle (whom Cocky really loved) climbed the tree. Hundreds of neighbours and people from up the street gathered and watched as my uncle got higher and higher. Once he had gotten to the base of the top branch, Cocky climbed down to meet him. Cocky was saved.

Years came and went and Cocky cheerfully greeted all who visited with “hello”. He stayed upstairs only venturing out on fine days to graze on the back lawn. Cocky would always tell us if anything was wrong. He taught me to look out for any sparrowhawks or strange cats or dogs that visited our yard. His reactions were fairly convincing (That is an understatment). When it started raining Cocky would scream and his carer would run out and grab his cage. Sometimes too frantically, and would run back to the house with an empty cage while Cocky was hobbling along on the ground trying to catch up.

Early one morning I heard a family member saying, “Cocky. Cocky Whittlesea. What have you done?” Again, the bewildered tone repeated the same words. I went to investigate and was as shocked as anybody to see a big, white egg on the floor of Cocky’s cage. The first thing that entered my head was, “How did he get it into the cage?” (It looked too big to fit between the bars). It took us a while but we tried to adjust to referring to Cocky as “she” and “her”. Cocky laid several eggs over a couple of years, I think, and then just as suddenly as she’d started she stopped again. With that phase over, we could forget the struggle of changing our habits and we went back to referring to her as “he” and “him”.

I also remember getting up in the middle of the night (for personal reasons) and walking past his cage, (of course he had his blanket covering his cage at that hour), and he’d whisper from under the blanket, “Whatcha doing? Whatcha doing, Russell?” I’d whisper back, “Nothing, Cock. Go back to bed.”

More years came and went and I kind of grew up a bit and moved away. I’d been living in a big city somewhere for years when I was told over the phone that Cocky was finally found dead on the floor of her cage. Of course I felt very sad and lonely.

More than decade after that, I found myself in Japan exploring a department store in a big shopping centre. I’d seen a ‘pet’ department and was carefully studying the various animals. I was so surprised to see a galah sitting up on a perch surrounded by glossy white enamel walls, glass windows and fluorescent lights. They wanted ¥300 000 (Three hundred thousand yen) for him. I thought I was just passing through and 300000 yen was beyond anything I would pay for a pet. Two years later and I was passing the same pet store, went in and saw a galah sitting in the very same place with a ¥300000 price tag on the glass. Was it the same bird? I never went back.