Monthly Archives: February 2009
Kookaburra Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Eating all the gumdrops he can see
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
Leave some gums for me
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Counting all the monkeys he can see
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
That’s no monkey, that’s ME!!!
At Girl Scout camp in Kansas, we roasted marshmallows and sang about the Kookaburra. I had no idea what a kookaburra was. And a gum tree? What was that? Was it spearmint, doublemint or Juicy Fruit?
Finally, I got to Australia and met this large laughing bird, which sits high in eucalyptus (gum) trees on the lookout for snakes, lizards and baby birds (ugh). It’s also called the “Laughing Jackass.” It gets to be about 17 inches long and will smash its food, whether a snake or a baby bird, against a rock to break its bones to make the prey easier to swallow. The kookaburra is an essential part of the Australian ecosystem, especially when it eats those very poisonous Aussie snakes. The bird at work, though, doesn’t paint a lovely lyrical picture for me.
The song was written by an Australian woman, but kookaburras don’t eat gum drops or any seeds, and there aren’t any monkeys in Australia, except in zoos. What kind of a song is that to teach to children!
You won’t see the kookaburra at the bird feeder with the cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets and the rosellas, but it might swoop into an Aussie backyard (or “garden”) for some barbecue.
In Sydney at the house of friends who lived in a wooded area, we awoke at daybreak every morning to a chorus of kookaburras, otherwise known as the bushman’s alarm clock.
Half asleep, I dreamed I was on the jungle ride at Disney World. The kookaburra’s laugh is the iconic jungle sound on a number of movie soundtracks, although the kookaburras live only in Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands. The kookaburra laugh, on high speed, was also used as Flipper’s “voice” on the television show about the dolphin “Flipper.”
Now, I can’t get that darned song out of my head! Or the kookaburra’s chorus, either. You can find many versions of the song on YouTube.com. Listen to it, if you don’t mind it taking over your brain.
I’ve just discovered the Flight of the Conchords television show. I know, I know. What took me so long? Well, for one thing I’m too cheap to pay for HBO. Another is that I count on my children to tell me about what’s fun in the entertainment world. By the time they think to clue me in, the coolness of a show is already starting to wear off, so I hope that doesn’t happen to this duo that describes itself as “formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.” If so, I’m sorry, guys.
This past week, I’ve tried to make exercise more appealing by only allowing myself to watch the Flight of the Conchords show while on my exercycle or lifting weights. Instead I stop so often to hear and decipher what the guys are singing or saying that I barely break a sweat. Hey, exercising my laugh muscles is better than no exercise at all.
I can understand what drives Mel, the obsessive stalker/groupie, who is the band’s sole fan on the show. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are so endearingly odd and weirdly sweet, even their names fall just a bit short. No “r” in Jemaine or extra “t” in Bret. They’re laid-back and unflappable, genial and don’t take themselves too seriously, which seems to be a Kiwi trait. (I could be wrong. I was only there for eight days.)
My daughter gave me the first season to watch when I got home from New Zealand. She knew I’d love it, if only to hear the accents again. West rhyming with East, so that it sounds like “weest.” Eeg for egg and Leeft for left. The universal greeting of “Hey, guys” or just “guys”. We say that, too, but it’s just different.
There’s also the tongue-in-cheek rivalry with the much larger neighbor Australia. (Maybe it isn’t tongue-in-cheek. In New Zealand, I heard an Aussie and a Kiwi cordially discussing their rivalry (big brother and little brother) until the the Kiwi said, “At least my ancestors chose to come here.” The Aussie replied, “Being transported to Australia was the best thing that ever happened to my great-great-great grandfather. He did his time and then prospered.” They both smiled.)
It’s fun to watch clueless Murray, the band manager, who tries to manage the band surreptitiously from his office in the New Zealand consulate in New York City. My daughter and her boyfriend are music business graduates, so they particularly enjoy Murray, played by Rhys Darby. I asked, “Where have I seen Murray before?”
” ‘Yes Man’ with Jim Carrey.” Right, Rhys Darby plays Norman, a clueless bank manager in that movie.
I love Jemaine and Bret’s oddball and brilliant music. I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to watch!
The video below combines the Flight of the Conchords with one of New Zealand’s other passions, “The Lord of the Rings.” The “Business Time” video at the time isn’t suitable for young children…..
My friends and I fell in love with Tasmanian Devils, irascible carnivorous marsupials that live in the wild only on the island of Tasmania, an Australian state south of the mainland of Australia.
In the wild, Tasmanian Devils usually are only active at night, when they hunt or seek out carrion. They can be very nasty-tempered and make a huge noisy fuss when they eat. You can see why I find them so adorable! They have their own personalities and are inquisitive. (Their main inquiry probably is “When is feeding time?”) Their keepers and the scientists who study them become very fond of the little devils.
If you want to see Tasmanian Devils, you’ll need to visit a wildlife park or zoo in Australia. There, the devils are happy to greet you during the day. At some parks, you can even pet a devil. Just be careful that you don’t reach too close to its head. We saw devils and many other unique-to-Australia animals at East Coast Natureworld near Bicheno and Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park near Taranna, both in Tasmania.
The only other place outside of Australia where devils can be seen is the Copenhagen Zoo, where they were a gift to Denmark, because Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, is from Tasmania.
Many Australian zoos and parks, particularly in Tasmania, are breeding the devils in special quarantined areas so they won’t contract Devil Facial Tumor Disease, an infectious cancer that affects many wild devils. So far, the disease is incurable. Scientists estimate that half or more of the devil population has disappeared in the past dozen years because of the disease.
Tasmanian Devils play an important role in the Tasmanian environment, plus they are so cute. You can read more about devils in my previous post, I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil. That post includes a Discovery Channel video and links to more information. Below are some videos from our visit to a wildlife park to see the devils.
When my friend Anita told me we could tour Tasmania when we visited her and her husband in Australia, I thought: “Great, I can see some Tasmanian Devils.”
I told my daughter (she stayed behind) about the itinerary that included these irascible marsupials, and then I added, “The Tasmanian Devils are dying out.” Just to say that made both of us tear up. Thousands of types of animals are threatened with extinction, but the devils could be gone in only a few decades.
I’d read a heart-breaking story last year in the New York Times about a terrible infectious cancer (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) that could wipe out the Tasmanian Devil. Some scientists think the devil population may have dropped 50 percent or even more in the last dozen years. The disease is transmitted from devil to devil by biting, which the devils do while eating and mating. It’s no accident that they’re called devils, although they can also be very endearing. (See Harper’s Magazine link below. It’s a great article.)
Scientists and wildlife experts are trying to find a cure, but so far they haven’t come close. Wildlife experts also have set aside disease-free areas for the devils to live and reproduce. The devil only exists in the wild in Tasmania, an island that’s one of the states of Australia. Since the extinction of the Thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian Tiger) in 1936, the Tasmanian Devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.
Study of the devil’s facial tumor is leading to better understanding of the nature of cancer itself.
At the first wildlife park we visited, my first sight of a devil was a sleepy creature in a burrow.
“Ahhh, so cute!”
He (or she) and his friends were soon up and chasing each other in a circle and also checking us out. They gave us the “vicious yawn,” which scientists think means the devil is thinking: “You don’t scare me.” The devils looked like small, stocky dogs and ran like raccoons. It wasn’t until the keeper tossed a fleshy bone to three of them, that their cantankerous side appeared. Their comraderie disappeared, and they grabbed onto the bone and wouldn’t let go. They made a terrific racket as they ran in circles, all three gripping the meat in their mouths together. Usually, devils are solitary but will come together when they find something delicious.
See the devils in action below in the YouTube video from the Discovery Channel.
Click on these thumbnails to see cards starring Tasmanian Devils on Greeting Card Universe.