thomas m wilson

Galahs and Play

April 22nd, 2007

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This morning I was on my way into King’s Park when I looked up into an old Wandoo tree and saw this galah sitting above me. I stopped and watched him for a while, and took this photo. When I clicked my tongue a bit he became more interested and seemed to engage a bit.

Parrots originated in this part of the world. Cockatoos are part of the parrot lineage, and more than half of all cockatoos come from Australia. We have plenty of hard nuts to crack on our trees, thus the big, powerful beaks of these birds for cracking nuts open. Eolophus roseicapillus is the latin name for this species, but most Australians call them galahs. Australian slang uses the phrase ‘playing the galah’ to indicate that somebody is fooling around, and it is true that these birds love to play (ok, I admit that only salt of the earth Aussies use the term!).

Play is a sign of intelligence, and parrots are amongst the most intelligent of animals. They can live to 80 years old – older than many people! – and they do plenty of stuff in groups. For example, these galahs often keep their fledglings in ‘creches’ of up to a hundred youngsters. An evolutionary history of cooperation like this has helped direct their increasing intelligence. It also means that they readily develop strong relationships with others, be they cockatoo, or be they human.

As I looked up into the tree from a suburban street I saw a stranger, not a friend. But as I looked up into the tree from the street it was salutory to be reminded that another intelligence was looking down at me from the wild, and wondering what the hell I was doing standing there.

Art and Photography Exhibition in Western Australia

April 19th, 2007

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My friend Dave is opening the doors of the studio in his back garden a week from this Friday. The currently roofless studio – thus the ‘weather pending’ bit above – will be full of art works and photographs of a bunch of local people, including four of my photographs. There will be music and the drinks policy is byo. I hope to see you there.

Australian Company

April 12th, 2007

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This photo is by Geoff Cuningham (published in The Best of Australian Geographic Photography). It is of a velvet gecko pausing on some Aboriginal rock art, and to me it is the perfect symbol of the intimate connection between Aboriginal culture and the natural world on this continent. I consider this to be one of the most memorable Australian nature photographs.

The Aboriginals weren’t saints when it came to environmental sustainability, but they were a lot more attuned to the textures, patterns and forms native to Australia than the Europeans who arrived after them. Part of this came from hunting native animals: the hunter perforce has a deep knowledge of the animals he hunts. Aboriginals also kept Australian animals as pets.

But white Australians can bring Australian life into their homes as well. Michael Archer, author of Going Native, has kept a quoll from infancy in his house, and reports that it makes a better pet than a cat or a dog. The Department of Environment and Conservation in Western Australia has, over the last few years, legalised the keeping of lizards, so that you can now have even a big monitor lizard. In the next few years they will hopefully get around to legalising the keeping of marsupials such as quolls. If a native pet industry grew up then conservation would have another ally. But more than this we would have little Australians in our houses, bringing us white people closer to having a bioregional consciousness.

With knowledge could come love.

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