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Title: Karaway the Cockatoo and Other Nature Stories Author: Edward S Sorenson * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1303081h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2013 Most recent update: June 2013 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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Kojurrie, The Goanna
Bluey, The Wren
Booraby, The Koala
Kojurrie, The Goanna
Goanna Climbing a Tree
Bluey, The Wren
The Blue Wren (female)
Booraby, The Koala
He Was Quite at Home on his Mother's Back
MANY foolish little birds try to fly before they are strong enough, and so flutter to the ground, where they become easy prey to enemies. Karaway, the White Cockatoo, wasn't going to make similar mistakes. Barring accidents, he had a long life before him. Was not his great-great-grandmother over a hundred years old? There was, indeed, no need to hurry at the beginning. He was so well feathered, when his mother coaxed him out of the hollow spout at the top of a big red gum tree, that from the ground he and his parent looked as much alike as two peas. From an ugly, clumsy-looking, almost naked, dark-skinned infant, who nodded and rocked his big head and squawked all day, he had become a sprightly and elegant bird.
He moved along the limb with claw and beak. The great distance to the ground made him afraid. The presence of hawks made him still more afraid. Several of them he knew well, for he had watched them secretly from the seclusion he had just left. From a top branch, directly above him, Gooloowee, the White Hawk, looked hungrily at him. From a neighboring tree Wolga, the Blue Falcon, eyed him with a fierce stare; whilst Bilbil, the Sparrow Hawk, was perched beyond, and Jilli-jilli, the common Kite, soared overhead.
In looking up at the latter he almost lost his balance. In a panic he moved along the limb again with claw and beak, and cried to his mother. She still moved on, and, when she could get no farther, flew to another branch. Up he climbed, but he uttered all the while a monotonous, whining cry that had earned him more than one severe smack from his mother's hard bill in the nest. Then she flew to another tree. How he was to get there he didn't know. He raised his crest, stretched his neck, and fidgeted round and round and squawked. There was no branch or vine by which he could connect with her. Evidently he had to trust himself to the air the same as she did. After all, it looked easy; she just opened her wings, flapped them up and down, and away she went. Well—
Taking a tight grip of the limb with his strong claws, he spread his wings and exercised them vigorously. Harder and harder he strove till he almost tore his claws from the wood. In this way he tested their strength and lifting power. A dozen times he was on the point of making the plunge, and each time he barely mustered sufficient courage to let go with his feet. When he finally did so, he flew quite masterly, and alighted successfully in the other tree, where he proudly erected his yellow crest and joyously cackled, as much as to say, "Did you see that?"
Karaway was twenty inches in length, plump and symmetrical, and the whitest and the largest of the white cockatoos. His elongated, recurved, occipital crest was a beautiful deep yellow, and he was sometimes called the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. In addition to this conspicuous helmet, his general snow-white plumage was relieved with pale yellow on the ear coverts, in the centre of the under surface of the wings, and on the basal portion of the inner webs of the tail feathers. His bill was black, powerful, and abruptly curved. His eyes were black; his feet were greyish-brown.
By degrees, he made his way to the side of a quiet lagoon, where, in low, bushy trees, a small company of his kind were camping during the midday hours. They were silent, but not inactive, for they had a mischievous habit, at such times, of snipping leaves and branchlets off the trees, especially off the wild apple, just to test their bills.
Karaway was no sooner amongst them than he was engaged in the same mischief. It was just what he had been wanting for the purpose of exercising his strong bill. The inclination to bite and saw was irresistible—a habit peculiar to almost the whole of the parrot tribe. In numerous places throughout the vast forest, his associates betrayed their camps by the leaves and bark they stripped off, and the scars they left on the branches. Still, though they were immensely superior in numbers, the damage they did was comparatively insignificant to that done by the black cockatoos.
These dusky relatives, numbering seven species in all, moved in small cohorts. They fed on eucalypti seeds, banksia, wood grubs and caterpillars, and, despite their severe pruning of forest trees, did a lot of good in keeping in subjection certain pests. Their flight was heavy, and most had a low, crying call. They laid two white eggs, which were placed deep down in lofty spouts. Two notable features were the marking of the tail and the depth of the bill. The black tail of each had a broad stripe down all but the two central feathers. The stripes of the Banksian were deep vermilion; of Leach's Cockatoo, scarlet; Wyla, the Funeral Cockatoo, freckled brimstone yellow; White-tail, or Baudin's Cockatoo, creamy white. Larawuk, the Great-billed Cockatoo, had the most powerful bill, which was one-and-a-half inches long and three inches deep. He also had the longest crest. The bill of the Karrak, or Western Black Cockatoo, was two-and-three-quarter inches deep; the tail was marked red. The Yellow-eared Cockatoo, who was twenty-four inches in length, and had a light buff-colored band, thickly mottled with grey, was the most showy of the black family. In common with some of his dusky cousins, he flew low on the approach of rain, and uttered a whining cry. To get the grubs in gum and wattle trees he scooped off the bark and cut thick branches right through. So powerful was his bill that he cut down saplings six inches thick, and tore out pieces ten inches long. The Great Palm Cockatoo, who had a large, bushy, black crest, and crimson and yellow on the cheeks, was the only one whose tail was all black. He fed on the tender shoots of palms in northern scrubs.
Besides these seven "black Australians," and six white or rose-tinted, he had one grey relative—the Gang Gang. They made a total of fifteen varieties. Though the Corellas, Galahs and Weejuglas mingled together on the inland plains, the large white birds of the sulphur crest kept always to themselves.
From their midday camp they flew down on to a small plain in twos and threes till only Karaway remained. The journey to the lagoon had fatigued him; he was not going to travel any farther yet, if he could help it. He could see them easily. They were all close together and busily moving about on the ground. Perhaps they would come back soon.
Holding with one foot, he scratched his poll with the other and talked to himself. In the midst of this pleasant occupation, Moru, the Whistling Eagle, alighted on a limb within three feet of him, and his soliloquy ended in a startled screech. With his head thrown excitedly forward, and his crest raised, he edged away with quick side steps, but kept an alert eye on the enemy. When the Eagle advanced, he half opened his wings and his mouth at the same time, and hissed. Still the Eagle advanced. Alternately hissing and ejaculating, he turned nervously from side to side. When the Eagle made a more determined advance, he jerked his head violently towards him, and uttered a sharp, clicking note. Moru halted for a moment, but he was not scared. He came on again. Karaway, unable to back any farther, made a wild dart for a higher branch. After a brief interval the Eagle flew to one still higher. The cockatoo immediately realized the advantage of the position, and, throwing himself into the air, winged desperately towards his companions.
Before he had gone fifty yards the Eagle swooped at him. He dipped almost to the ground, and, in attempting the abrupt turn that would take him sharply aside and upward, he tumbled on to his back in the grass. His frantic gesticulations and loud screams brought the company flocking over him before the Eagle could get round for another swoop.
They gathered him in their midst, and their excited cries drowned his complainings. When they settled again on the plain, he was too upset to feed. He appointed himself sentinel for the flock, and kept a sharp look-out for hawks, whilst the rest regaled themselves on seeds, roots and bulbs.
Towards sundown they mounted high, and, calling loudly to one another, flew some miles away to a retired roosting place on a gentle rise.
They were astir again at dawn. After a repast of eucalypti seeds, roots, and a fungus known as Blackman's bread, they went still farther afield. Of vagrant habits, they travelled hundreds of miles, making temporary homes wherever food abounded. Their kind encircled the continent, extending for a considerable distance inland, though they never ventured into the dry central parts of the country; and, unlike the Magpies and other birds that preserved exclusive colonies, and whose movements were restricted within certain territorial limits, they joined forces with mutual satisfaction with all flocks of their own sort wherever they met them. They frequented the open plains, the cleared lands, and the thinly-timbered, gently undulating country, in preference to the densely-timbered regions favored by the black cockatoos.
Almost daily they gathered at a waterside to drink and bathe—sometimes after the morning meal, sometimes in the afternoon. They always had their quiet midday camp in open forest country by a river or lagoon; and ever, in all seasons, they kept their snow-white coats spotlessly clean. The young Cockatoo, after he had washed and preened himself, put on more airs than the gaudiest parrot that sported amidst gum blossoms. For a couple of weeks his mother assisted in providing him with food; then she cast off all responsibility. He was one of the immense flock, one of a vast socialistic community whose numbers were unlimited.
At the end of autumn they flocked from all parts to the agricultural areas, and formed an enormous concourse that met in noisy council on the slope of a clear hill. Upon a hundred trees they clustered so thickly that the trees looked snow-covered. For five minutes Karaway was struck dumb with astonishment. His black eyes scintillated with excitement as he viewed the great assemblage; his crest rose and spread as his roving glance went from tree to tree. When he at last gave voice to his feelings, he could not hear himself cackle for the noise; he could hardly hear himself scream!
On a lofty branch in their midst perched General Ny (Ny-euk-an), looking very wise, and endeavoring to sift some meaning from the uproarious debate. Ten thousand birds spoke at once, with scarcely a lull. Some more boisterous than others flew noisily about; a few peevish ones fought and screeched when they were crowded by their associates.
After an hour or so, the excitement and clamor died down, and the council got to business in more orderly fashion. It was the time when the corn was beginning to ripen on the farms; when every farmer watched for the cockatoos with a loaded gun. Every year they had raided the crops, and pitted their cunning against the grower. Hundreds of their compatriots had been killed; hundreds more had been wounded. There were still a few among them who had only one leg; several had only one eye. Still, they must have a feast of the delicious grain.
Over a vast extent of country, which embraced hundreds of square miles, there might be, at this season, only a small patch here and there ripe enough for their purpose. Their object was to discover those patches and make a concerted raid upon them.
Long after midday the council discussed the matter. By that time many of the councillors had gone to sleep; others, with closed eyes, nodded and rocked lazily on their perches. General Ny, observing that there was not a wakeful quorum, roused them to sudden attention with a piercing screech. Then he gave orders to his captains—the old cock birds who had been leaders of little companies that had been distributed about the country during the lean months. These shortly flew away, and each, followed by fifty to a hundred of the rank and file, flew off in a different direction.
With the contingent that flew due west was Karaway. He was excited and felt quite important, but hardly knew yet what it all meant. They numbered about eighty birds. Ten miles from the starting point, at a signal from the captain, a dozen detached themselves and went off to the left. Shortly afterwards another detachment went off to the right.
Each of these detachments had a leader, who called out on leaving the main body, and continued to call at short intervals until he had got well away with his complement. His calls were responded to by members of his band; thereafter, excepting for a brief colloquy now and again, they were silent.
Detachments continued to break away until only a dozen were left. These alighted in a tree forty miles west of the main camp. After a rest, they commenced to feed for a while in the trees, then on the ground. At dusk they roosted in the vicinity.
With the dawn they went off in several small lots on various courses. Karaway's lot, still going west, numbered three. They travelled leisurely, and fed wherever any food offered, until they came to a river farm where the corn leaves were turning sere. They settled in a high dead tree on the bank, where they remained very quiet for half-an-hour. Then one flew down to the corn, and was followed shortly by another. Karaway had been deputed sentinel; it was his duty to remain in the tree and keep watch. He was hungry himself, and his mouth watered for a few grains of corn, but, with commendable faithfulness, he watched unselfishly whilst his comrades were feasting below.
He saw farmer Slocum come out, stand at the back of the house, and look towards him. There was perfect safety in the distance between them, so he did not say anything about it.
With Mr. Slocum was a hired boy whose unpleasant duty through the cold months was to "mind Cockatoos."
"Cockatoos," Mr. Slocum instructed him, "can talk to one another just the same as you and I can. Every year I've noticed two or three come to the farm when it was about time for the corn to mature. Perhaps mine would be a little backward, and, after sampling it, they'd go away, flying higher, and I'd hear no more of them for a time. But, if the corn's ripe enough, as it is now, I can assure you it's a good day's work to shoot the scouts; otherwise, in a few hours, you'll see cockatoos swooping down on to the crop from all sides. Sometimes they come in the dusk, all silent as Quakers, and roost in neighboring trees; then they drop down quietly in the grey dawn, have a good breakfast, and go away boasting about it. When you get up in the morning and see one cocky sitting very quiet in the tree-top, you can be sure there's a banquet going on below him. They never utter a word while they're feeding, for they're all stripping hammer and tongs, and listening for the watchbird's 'look-out.'"
The sentinel kept an alert eye on them as they came down the cart-track through the corn. When they were within a quarter-of-a-mile, he uttered a sharp, clicking note. Instantaneously, his two compatriots flew up. On the dead limbs, beside him, they wiped their bills and discussed the approaching foe. The leader of the trio was an old bird, who knew well that the thing the man carried under his arm was a gun—a dreadful thing that roared like thunder and flashed like lightning. He had a scar on his leg where a shot had struck him years before. He uttered a warning cry, and they flew across the river.
"Now," said Slocum, "we must try and trick them. They'll watch us away; so we'll pretend to go home, then double back through the brush along the bank, and wait for them. We must move very quietly, and keep under cover all the time."
For an hour the three thieves waited. Then, one by one, they returned to the tree over the corn. There they lingered another half-hour before they renewed the attack on the crop. This time the old bird was sentinel.
Karaway, who was hungry, was the first to dive down. Clinging to the side of a corn-cob, he stripped the husk down from the top with his bill, and, one by one, shelled the grains right round. From each grain he scooped the kernel with his under mandible, and held the remainder in his foot while he bit it up into small pieces.
He had not been feasting very long before the sudden shock of a gun nearly shook him from the cob. As he rose, he saw the sentinel drop. Loose feathers floated slowly downward from the tree. A second shot immediately afterwards cut short the flight of his mate. With frantic cries, he flew across the river and perched alone in a distant tree.
Breathlessly gasping, and with his heart in a flutter, he waited and watched and listened. Slowly he realized that his mates were lost. He did not like being alone at any time; under such tragic circumstances he was painfully nervous. At last he rose very high in the air, and made a bee-line for headquarters.
Other scouts joined him on the way, and they returned to camp, where they boasted loudly of the daring deeds they had performed, and of the lands of plenty they had discovered. The day closed to a deafening clamor of voices, for each band of scouts seemingly endeavored to talk down the others. Nevertheless, the reports were intelligently interpreted, for next day the whole flock departed in several large divisions, and each division went direct to a field of ripe corn. Slocum's farm was not visited; for more than a week that quarter was shunned by the whole community.
At most farms they met with a warm reception, and their casualties were heavy. But the grain was sweet, and they were no sooner driven from one field than they descended boldly upon another. Only when they met with immediate and determined resistance on all neighboring places did they abandon their siege and go away to a distant section. Eventually they came to levy from Slocum's crop. Karaway led them to the locality. They set out with tumultuous cries, but, long ere they came near the farm, dead silence reigned among them. Like sheeted ghosts they arrived in the dusk, and whitened the trees along the river.
When day dawned, only one innocent-looking bird was visible among the trees. But what a sight he looked down upon! Ten thousand silent birds were enjoying a glorious breakfast, and were husking, shelling, and eating with the greatest rapidity. They made little noise in the process, for there was hardly any fluttering. Each one kept to the cob he had settled on. Here and there two birds clung to the same one. Occasionally a dry stalk broke under the weight, and there was a momentary disturbance. Otherwise their conduct was the most consummate manifestation of secretness that could be found among birds who were so very noisy when noise did not matter.
Shortly, the sentinel observed the boy running down. At his signal, they rose like a great white cloud. A shot at long range hurried them to perches beyond sight of the farm.
They made a great uproar as they departed, but, hours later, they returned without a sound. The boy was working at a corner of the field, and, when he rushed towards them, they saw he had no gun. He shouted and coo-eed, clapped his hands and waved his hat; they answered with derisive cackles, and merely flew from one spot to another. When he had pursued them to one end of the farm, they flew back to the other, and were busily stripping long before he could get up to them.
Tired of running and shouting, the boy resorted to strategy. Picking up a stick, as near the shape of a gun as he could get, he held it in his hands in the manner of a stalking gunner, and approached as though he were trying to get a shot at them. They saw him steal into the corn, where they got sight of him only here and there. Each time he came nearer to them, and they became alarmed. In a body, they darted from the trees, and their rising flight as they passed over the forest showed that they were going right away for that day at least.
They continued to come on other days, until the last cob had been cut and stored in the barn. At the end of the harvesting, they flocked on to the farms for the gleaning. Cobs that had been missed, loose grain on the ground, and other pickings that such fields provided, kept them well supplied for a couple of weeks. They were not now secret in their comings and feastings; their multitudinous voices could be heard for miles. Nor did they bother much about keeping a watch. When they reposed by some quiet lagoon, they often remained unconcernedly in the trees, though the farmer, looking for ducks, passed under them with his gun. After harvest there was peace between the farmers and the cockatoos.
The winter had been a strenuous and exciting time. In August, they sorted themselves into pairs for the more sober duties of domesticity. The couples formed into companies, which varied in numbers according to the facilities for nesting in the chosen localities. Ever sociable, unselfish, and exceedingly gregarious, they claimed no special rights over such localities. Indeed, the exigencies of the season alone confined each division to a certain area.
Karaway, who, like most long-lived birds, had been slow in coming to maturity, dallied long ere his fancy turned to thoughts of love. Many of his age, unchanged by the quickening spring and the ripening summer, and ready to brave again the guns of the angry farmer, were fated never to marry.
Finding a lady who took his fancy, during the restful, idle hours in shady trees, he went up to her in a half-cheeky, half-hesitating manner and kissed her. The lady raised her crest as if she was surprised, if not offended, at his impertinence. Karaway bowed humbly, and made some remarks about the weather as he twisted and fidgeted beside her. She turned her head away, and pretended to be absorbed in the courtship of some cockatoos on a higher branch. He pinched her gently on the wing, at which she smacked him smartly with that member, and gave vent to a raucous screech.
The rebuff caused him to stand off until, calming her ruffled feelings, she scratched the back of her head with her foot. Then he edged up again, and, gently insinuating his beak, considerately scratched the part for her. Slowly she put down her foot. At the same time, she held her head down to assist his efforts, while her dark eyes twinkled with pleasure. He also nibbled lightly at her shoulder, and stroked her beak with his own. Her maidenly reserve disappeared; she was captivated by his devoted attention. Looking very happy, they presently flew off on their honeymoon.
They would rejoin the company in leisure moments, but, for a time, they were much by themselves. They had to find a suitable place for a nest. In the course of this search, they visited many trees, wound their way into many hollow spouts, and had long discussions and arguments about the holes they inspected. Old General Ny, whose experiences in house-hunting covered a period of more than three-quarters of a century, remembered when houses could be got almost anywhere. And Cockatoos were far more numerous then than they were now. Man destroyed the trees wherever he went, and the task of finding a fitting domicile became greater every year.
The search was not lacking in adventure. Many holes contained possums, who were indignant at the birds' intrusion into their bedrooms. In one was the burglar Kojurrie looking for eggs. He gave Curry, the bride, such a fright that she would not afterwards enter a hollow unless she could see to the bottom. It had to be a very lofty spout. The Parrots nested at any height, even close to the ground, and they betrayed their domiciles by biting the bark and wood away around their doors. But Curry was a wise, calculating bird.
Eventually, they selected one at the top of a giant gum tree. Some improvements were needed to make it habitable, as jagged pieces of dead wood stuck out from the sides. With their powerful bills, these were soon cut away and ejected. During their carpentering, they were careful not to make any mark at the entrance that could be seen from the outside.
On the dry wood dust at the bottom she laid two pearly-white eggs. Each one was a little more than an inch-and-a-half long by an inch-and-a-quarter broad. She never approached or departed from that nest in sight of an enemy. She came and went swiftly and silently. Her observation tree, from whence she darted to the nest, and on which she alighted after leaving it, was half-a-mile away. Thereabouts Karaway perched, when he was not with his male friends, while his partner was sitting. It was not discreet to linger about the nesting tree, as that would draw attention to it. So it happened that the male members of the local flock were much together, often miles away, while their consorts were hidden in the hollow spouts that led to their nests.
When the infants were hatched, he had less time to spend with his friends. Still, the members mingled together whilst searching for food. The husbands vied with their wives in boasting of the merits of their young ones. They were voracious infants, and called for food all day. They had to be fed by the parents for two months. Whilst Karaway waited on one, Curry attended to the wants of the other.
Large flocks were roaming over their areas, long before these belated youngsters were feathered. As soon as they got them on the wing, they joined the gay throng. Many of those who had mated early had nothing to show for their labors, for, in November, the bird-snatchers had been busy where the nests were accessible.
With the ripening of the crops, the multitude of pilferers returned to the farms. Day after day, the clamor of the hunted brigades resounded along the river. In a deep bend, after their first raid, they saw dead Cockatoos stuck on gibbets in exposed positions above the corn. From a safe distance, they examined the disquieting objects, and, after an excited consultation, departed in haste for the next plantation.
Karaway, with a thousand comrades, settled quietly in a tree that overlooked a promising field. A small flock of King Parrots feasting on the edge near the brush suggested safety, so down they dived.
Before they had time to strip their cobs the sentinel's sharp note of alarm called them back again. As they rose in a mass over the gully, half-a-dozen blackfellows sprang from cover on each side, and sent a dozen boomerangs that whizzed amongst them. These deadly weapons broke necks, legs and wings. Karaway and a score of his mates tumbled screeching to earth.
He realized, as soon as he hit the ground, that his only chance of escape now was to hide, and he made a desperate effort to scramble through the thick growth. But the trailing wing handicapped him. A black man tore through the bushes and vines and attacked him.
Screeching frantically, he fought with the ferocity of a wild cat, and, getting hold of a finger, he almost severed it from the hand with his sharp beak. Unable to use a club in the thicket, his captor grasped him savagely by the neck, and held him tightly until his life ebbed out.
It was a warm summer morning. From a low perch, the Kookaburra watched a clear spot near the bank of a grassy gully that wound along by a selector's house and into a scrub beyond. It was a loamy spot that bore indications of having been recently scratched over, and a movement of the soil had caught the avian eye. It cracked and heaved, and out of it came a little black head, and two bright eyes blinked up at the interested bird. The latter made ready to pounce down for an appetising meal, for he recognized the newcomer as Young Kojurrie, the Goanna, who had just come out of his shell, which was buried a few inches underground.
Motherless, like the young Brush Turkey, and having similarly to depend on his own resources, and shape his own course from birth, he was fitted for the battle of life with a wonderful instinct that told him at once that the prying bird was no friend of his. He possessed enough inherent cunning to know in the first moments of his existence what to do in the emergency. He did not think of drawing back now that he had been seen, for the huge beak would dig into the ground and easily dislodge him. He took stock of his surroundings, noted the best cover at hand, and gently eased his shoulders and hind limbs in readiness for a dash.
He gradually drew himself out of the earth. First one front paw and then the other appeared, with the deliberation of a stalking Gecko. At that moment, the Kookaburra made a sudden swoop. As suddenly the watchful lizard sprang from the natural incubator, and, scurrying over the few feet of clear ground, plunged into a patch of thick grass where the tip of his tail just beat the bird's beak by an inch.
It was easy for him to conceal himself in grass or bushes, under bark and logs. Without wandering very far from his birthplace, he gathered sufficient food until he was eighteen inches in length. He kept mostly to the ground, and mounted logs and stumps. He sometimes climbed a little way up a low tree, like Kunni, the Jew Lizard, and Bungara, the Common Dragon, whom he frequently met while hunting for birds' eggs and small animals. He watched the Quails, Pipits and Ground Larks, and rifled their nests. He followed the tracks of the Pheasant and Black Duck, and when he found their treasures, he squashed each shell in his mouth and swallowed shell and all.
He watched the Crows, for their actions showed him where meat or a nest of eggs was to be found. From the ground he could not see very far. It would have taken him days to explore the whole locality unaided, whereas Crows, winging leisurely over the treetops, spied out everything in a few minutes. They were practically his scouts. Having been led by them to fresh killed meat, he drove them from it, and the indignant Crows had to wait until he had gorged himself and crawled lazily away. He did not take liberties with Mulyan, the Wedgetailed Eagle, nor with Moru the Whistling Eagle, nor even with the big Brown Hawk. They would not be bullied like the Crows.
The wind was another help to him, and guided him to carrion. By this means he discovered a dead cow some distance up the gully, where two other Goannas were banqueting. One of them was very old and bulky. He measured six-and-a-half feet from his nose to the tip of his tail, and was so fat that his long slim mate could lose him in a race up a tree or along the ground. He was fattening for his winter sleep, and would retire earlier than his active companions.
On the putrid meat Kojurrie fed day by day. Placing his hands against the carcase, he tore the flesh off with his teeth like a dog, but swallowed the pieces without chewing. He crawled between the bared ribs and through the hollow frame for titbits, and enjoyed an odor that was highly offensive to Kunni and Bungara, and to Bogi, the Blue-tongued Lizard. At night he slept in a hollow log near by, and emerged for his morning meal when the sun was warm and the grass was dry.
By the time winter arrived, he had accumulated two large flakes of fat—a store of food that would sustain him by absorption through the period of hibernation. Now he sought a sunny spot, and burrowed deep into the ground. He filled up the passage as he went, and left but room for his body at the end. There, secure from all danger, and protected from cold and rain, he remained all the winter.
In the warming spring, when the land was green with grass and flecked with flowers, and the birds were singing and pairing and building their nests, he woke from his torpor and came forth again.
He was longer and slimmer, and very hungry. A flood had washed away the remains of the cow, but in a waterhole a little farther on was a bogged sheep. The cruel Ravens had pecked out its eyes. Feeding on the living meat was Dirrawong, his big sluggish companion of the previous season.
The aggressive look and attitude of the glutton warned him off, and turning aside he thrust out his long slender tongue in resentment. The tongue was forked and could be drawn back into a basal sheath. It was a distinctive feature, for the members of the small isolated group to which he belonged were the only lizards that possessed such a snake-like organ.
His head was long and pointed, and, like the body, covered with small scales. The eyes were protected with well-developed lids. The limbs were powerful, and the claws long and sharp. His prevailing color was black. The neck and back were crossed with lines of small yellow spots. The under surface was greenish-yellow, crossed with black bands. The limbs were marked with broad yellow blotches, and the whip-like tail was covered with yellow rings, which were broader on the rear half.
Scientifically labelled Varanus varius, he was popularly known as Lace Lizard, Lace Monitor, and Goanna. By many people he was miscalled Iguana, a name that belonged to a group of Brazilian lizards, which were in no way related to the Varanids. There was no representative of the Iguanidae in Australia.
Kojurrie followed the course of the gully in expectations of finding another sheep, or cow.
On the way he flushed a hen, which had been sitting on a clutch of eggs in long grass. He ravenously pounced upon them, and devoured egg after egg.
He had reached the seventh when a girl, who had been aroused by the cackling of the hen, surprised him at his feast. For a moment he hardly knew which way to run for a tree. He rushed off at a great pace for a few yards, then whipped round and scurried in another direction. The girl raced after him with a long stick which she held up in both hands.
He reached a tree just a yard in front of her, and swung smartly round to the back of it as the stick hit viciously at the root.
Ascending rapidly and spirally he kept out of view of the circling enemy until he was beyond reach. The girl doubled back. Kojurrie thrust out his tongue and corkscrewed the opposite way. When he had reached a height of about twenty-five feet, he stopped and looked down at her with a triumphant twinkle in his eye. The girl began to throw sticks. He watched their flight closely, and swung his head to left or right as they clattered near him. When one struck him on the butt of the tail, he showed his annoyance in his countenance. His tongue worked rapidly, and maliciously, as he climbed higher. Out of reach of the flying missiles, he flattened himself straight out along a horizontal branch.
From that vantage point Kojurrie watched the girl. A dog had now joined her. They went along the gully and in turn surprised Dirrawong. He raised his head, and his sulky looks disappeared. Dirrawong was so gorged that he had no chance of escape. The dog caught him by the back and shook him until he was dazed and crippled. Then the girl belabored him vigorously with her stick. She afterwards knocked the sheep on the head, and, dragging it to a heap of debris, set fire to it. On top of the pyre she threw the big goanna.
Kojurrie noted every little detail of that tragedy, and it remained in his memory for many a day. Still it did not prevent him from venturing to the fowl house. Attracted by the cackling of hens, he crept in. Clutching the edge of the first box with his hands, he lifted himself up and peered into the nest. It contained two eggs. He dropped half into the box, ate them both, and passed to the next nest. It contained a china nest-egg. He took it in his mouth and tried to break it. He dropped it and took it up again. He had never seen such a hard egg before. He took it on to the ground and tried his hardest, without any better result. It was a freak of an egg. He turned it round and round and wrestled with it several minutes. He only hurt his teeth, and at last he gave it up.
Finding no more, he crept round to the back of the kitchen. The door was open, and on the table were some savoury bones. He entered with the manner of a burglar, and, after peering into every corner, and listening attentively, climbed on to the table.
Just then the girl entered, and in a moment slammed the door. His retreat was cut off, so he scuttled across the fireplace, and scrambled up the chimney.
Meanwhile the girl's cries brought her mother on the scene. Kojurrie saw them look up from inside as he balanced on the top edge of the chimney. The dog was yelping and dancing with excitement outside.
Before he could decide what to do next, he was roughly prodded from his perch with a clothes prop. Luckily he fell into the gutter between the sloping side of the chimney and the gable of the house. Then he climbed on to the roof, where he was kept a prisoner for hours.
Late in the afternoon the dog relaxed his watch, and Kojurrie stole down to the ground. For the first few yards he moved slowly, and looked from side to side. He then ran quicker and quicker, and, when well into the grass, made off at his fastest pace.
For the rest of that season he kept away from the house. He was an accomplished robber who could climb, run and swim with equal ease and skill. He chose his trees with good judgment, and peeped into every hollow knob and spout in search of eggs, young birds, and possums. Parrots' nests he robbed with ease, but the White Cockatoos, the Kingfishers and Magpies gave him such a buffeting that he generally kept away from their homes. His bedchamber was a hollow limb, and sometimes, when pursued and pelted with sticks and stones, he sought that refuge in the day.
He had some terrifying adventures. On the eve of winter, when he was growing sluggish, the selector chased him on horseback and flogged him to a tree with his stockwhip. The whip did little damage on his tough scaly body, but the resounding cracks made his heart jump with terror. As he climbed the gum bole the whizzing thong had more effect. It lapped round him no matter how quickly he tried to sidle away, and with a sound like a pistol shot.
Just when he thought he was safe, and had eased up to get his breath, he got on to a piece of partly-shedded bark, which came off suddenly, and down he dropped. He seemed a wildly whirling form that was mostly legs and tail.
The selector, who had followed him round, was on the point of riding away when the mishap occurred. Kojurrie dropped across the horse's loins, and catlike, stuck his sharp claws in and hung on. The startled horse bounded and snorted, and as the twenty claws again scratched and pricked him, and the hard tail whipped him across the flank, he lashed out and bucked with a vigor that threw the man spinning into the grass.
About the same time the Goanna dropped off unhurt, and whilst the frantic horse bolted across the paddock, he rushed off unseen through the long grass and scrambled breathlessly up another tree. Such was his excitement and confusion that, for a moment or two he hardly knew where he was.
Stretching himself along a lofty limb, he watched the scene with scintillating eyes, while the enraged man below walked around, and looked up trees. He did not shift from the spot till an hour after the selector had gone.
A rabbit, furtively moving from tussock to tussock, aroused him. He quietly descended, head downwards, and set after it. All the indignities he had recently suffered were forgotten. His whole attention was centred on capturing the unsuspecting Bunny.
He approached cautiously and silently. Every rod or so he stopped and raised his head slowly, but, like a cat, almost immediately lay flat again. When he was about ten feet off he paused, and, watching for a favorable opportunity, drew himself up for a supreme effort. Then he made a sudden rush, and, before Bunny could realize the cause of the disturbance, had seized him by the throat. Once fastened, neither teeth nor claws relaxed their grip until the victim's struggles had ceased.
Holding the body on the ground with his hands, the captor then tore it to pieces with his teeth. He left little but scraps of pelt and a part of the head.
Soon afterwards he retired underground for his winter sleep. All the Goannas disappeared from the bush. The Dragons, Kunni and Bungara, sought winter quarters in hollow logs. Bogi, the Blue-tongued Lizard, was snug under the root of a hollow tree.
Kojurrie had doubled his length since the previous winter, and in the succeeding spring he was more vigorous, more aggressive and daring. For his kind there was always an abundance of food. A season that was bad for most other animals was a time of plenty for him, for almost any kind of meat, whether fresh or in the last stages of decay, was acceptable. He could reach it whether it was buried under ground, stuck in the top branches of a giant tree, or was floating far out in the water. He swam to a bogged beast or floating carcase without hesitation, ate his fill, and swam lazily back to land.
This spring, he had another interest beyond administering to his gluttonous appetite. It was quickly manifested on his meeting with a female of the species, who was accompanied by a presumptuous stripling. He raised his head high, and stared haughtily and malevolently at the latter, who lifted himself similarly and poked out his tongue.
Kojurrie, hissing like a snake, advanced with deliberate step. The other turned slowly away, with head lowered, and directed malicious side glances at his rival.
Tamoi, the object of their admiration, was slim and sprightly, and in their eyes the fairest thing in the bush. To other creatures, the two sexes looked as like as two peas.
In his wooing, the dominant male showed a gentleness and tenderness that belied his true nature. He was not as affectionate as Kunni, the Jew Lizard, who was a most loving and sociable creature for all his terrifying aspect when he raised his frill and opened his capacious yellow mouth, but he was constant. Having chosen his mate, he was united for life.
With a happy and important air he led her to dinner. He was drawn to the wedding feast by its far-reaching odor. The main item was a fat possum, which had been so long dead that all the fur had fallen off it. The repast was concluded with two small snakes and the entrails of a bird that a hawk had dropped.
They slept in the same tree at night. Sometimes, the night camp was a hollow log or a hole in the ground. A rabbit burrow was an acceptable bed-chamber, and also provided them with a fine banquet of young Bunnies.
At times they hunted in different trees, or were widely separated on the ground, though they were never apart very long. If Kojurrie happened, from a lofty point, to espy another Goanna prowling about in the vicinity of his mate, he got down without much loss of time, and ran across to see what the fellow's intentions were. He was not gregarious. Tamoi was the only companion he desired. Though everywhere was common hunting ground, it was a law of the Goannas that each couple should keep separate. They each had their home spots, from which they never wandered a great distance in any direction.
A long waterhole in the grassy gully centralized the haunt of Kojurrie and Tamoi. Half-a-mile away on one side was a wide swamp, and on the opposite side lay an ironbark ridge, with a small lagoon at its foot.
The sloping ground near the lagoon had an attraction for Tamoi. She haunted it for several days, roamed about in a searching, undecided manner, and rooted here and there to try the ground. At last she found a moist, sandy spot that suited her purpose, and there she scratched out a hole several inches deep. It was her nest, which was judiciously placed where the infant Goannas would have immediate cover, and where they need not seek far for food.
A dozen white eggs, with tough, flexible, skin-like shells, which measured two-and-a-half inches by one-and-a-half inches, were deposited in the hole and covered up to be hatched by the sun. When the laying was completed, the surface was carefully raked over so that the site could not be easily discovered. She kept an eye on the place, and occasionally scratched it over again, until the young ones were hatched. After that she gave them no further thought.
About that time Kojurrie came into conflict with Nurai, the Black Snake. He met many snakes in his wanderings. Some of them he hardly noticed, whilst at the mere sight of others he thrust out his tongue as he did at the man-beast. Nothing provoked him more than a surprise by Nurai. Equally repugnant to him were Marrakilla, the Brown Snake; Mugga, the Tiger Snake; and Tamby, the Death Adder. Deep, undying enmity existed between them and the Goannas.
Kojurrie stepped on to the black body of the snake in thick grass. With a low hiss, and with a fierce glitter in his staring lidless eyes, Nurai flattened his ugly black head in anger, and struck at him with lightning swiftness. Kojurrie whipped round and rushed at his enemy with open mouth. The snake dodged smartly, and again the quivering head, which arched a moment a foot from the ground, darted at the Goanna, who screwed as quickly on to his side to protect his armpit. In the effort to bite and to avoid being bitten, their bodies became mixed in a dizzy whirl, and their tails, which whipped from side to side as they turned and twisted, thrashed the grass like a whirlwind.
Breaking away, they sparred a moment with swaying heads, and then charged each other open-mouthed. They again became a tangle of whirling bodies. The snake hissed and the Goanna uttered a snuffling, coughy sort of sound as they snapped and ducked, reared and swung, and rolled over and under.
On breaking away the second time, Kojurrie arched his back, and, with a sullen, disgusted look on his face, retired to the bank of the gully. He had been bitten twice, and with instinctive precaution, sought among the herbage the antidote that bushmen had long tried to discover, and that was known only to Goannas.
He chewed the herb until the green juice ran from the corners of his mouth. Then he returned and resumed hostilities with more savageness than before. The Snake had been bitten on the body, but Kojurrie's bite was not poisonous. He strove to sink his teeth into the neck, but as often as he snapped at it Nurai swung back or aside, and guarded against that deadly grip as skillfully as Kojurrie protected his throat and his armpits from the lethal fangs. Back and forth they swayed, and at intervals enveloped each other in a whirlwind of writhing coils and lashing tails. Breaking away and clashing again, with fierce hisses and snorts of fury, and spurred by an animosity that was aeons old, they struggled in terrible earnestness for mastery.
Again and again the Goanna went to the gully, and each time returned to the combat with green and dripping mouth.
In the fourth bout he obtained a firm grip with his claws as he swung under, and in an instant his jaws closed on the Snake's neck. In vain the latter endeavored to envelop him in a crushing coil. Swiftly shifting from side to side, he eluded the violent contortions, and held on with his teeth till the Snake was killed.
After releasing his hold he fixed a still truculent eye on the slightly squirming body, and with arched back walked around it for some time before he quitted the place.
A thunderstorm had been brewing during the progress of the fight, and, soon after he had joined his mate, it burst over them with terrific force. Blinded by the driving rain and pelted with hailstones, they crept into a hollow log, where they remained all night.
At sunrise the selector passed close by on his way down the paddock. Kojurrie had just come out, and before he had time to turn back, the man's dog rushed between him and his refuge. No tree being handy, the nonplussed Goanna ran to the only available upright, which was the selector, and in a twinkling scrambled up on to his shoulders. The unwilling host danced and roared, whilst the dog, yelping and barking, jumped round and round.
Under pain of the pricking claws, and fearful of being bitten, the selector bent gingerly down with the intention of lying prone, that his objectionable burden might take himself off.
Just as he dropped on to his knee the dog made a bound at the Goanna, and all three floundered in the grass. Kojurrie was first on to his feet, and quickly scuttled back into the hollow.
That adventure induced him to shift his headquarters to the ironbark ridge, and he did not visit the gully again till the following summer. In the succeeding spring he was four years old, and six feet long. During the next eighteen months he added another six inches to his length, and increased so considerably in girth, that he had little more than half his former speed and nimbleness in running and climbing. The dewlap under his throat became more pendulous as he aged and fattened. It was inflated when anything irritated him, and being of a yellowish-white color, the broadened surface made him conspicuous even on the rough bole of an ironbark tree. The dark color of the tree, harmonizing with his own dusky hue, had often served as a protection to him in his younger days.
Still, he saw many men and many dogs in the interval, but was himself unseen. As they approached, he sneaked slowly away to a big tree, and ascended on the opposite side. However, he did not always escape so easily. His hearing was not keen, and, when stalking his prey, or bent on some other important enterprise, he gave his whole attention to the object in view. In consequence of this action he was not infrequently taken by surprise. At such times he would lift his head with a jerk, then rush for the nearest big tree with the rustling clatter of a willy-willy whisking over dry leaves.
One autumn day, he was following the track of Tamoi across a sandy patch by the lagoon, when suddenly he saw the selector in front of him. In a couple of seconds he was scrambling wildly up a tree. Tamoi, watching unseen from another tree, saw the man, holding something in his hand that looked like a long club, follow him round the trunk. But it was not a club, for he pointed it at the climber, and from it came a streak of lightning and a clap of thunder. Kojurrie dropped instantly, and lay on his back at the feet of the terrible man foe.
And Tamoi knew, as well as the Crows and the Eagles, that Kojurrie would climb no more.
THE BLUE WREN was a helpless, naked mite, with tightly-sealed eyelids, when young Bob Bucknell discovered him in a cosy dome-shaped nest of grass, hidden low down in a thorny bush.
Bob was a selector's son, a barefooted urchin who spent all his spare time wandering about the bush, and along the banks of the river and creeks. He was a nature lover of the impish variety. He would not destroy an egg, neither would he damage a nest, but he played tricks on the birds. For instance, he would put the Redbreast's eggs into the nest of the Native Canary, and the latter's eggs into the Redbreast's nest. His interest in the result, when the young birds were fledged, was so absorbent that he often went without his meals to watch them. Many of his experiments were successful, and at the same time amusing to himself. But there were birds, such as the Swallow, Willy Wagtail, and Lyre Bird, which could not be imposed upon, nor would they tolerate any interference with their domestic arrangements. The last named would abandon her nest if the egg was only touched by hand. The Willy Wagtails, on detecting the scent of Bob's hands on their babies, would discuss the matter excitedly for awhile, then either abandon, or fall upon them in a rage and kill them.
In this way Bob indirectly did a lot of harm, though less than was commonly wrought by "professional" naturalists. Like them he could plead that he was working in the interests of Science.
The Blue Wrens, who were honored with the title of Superb Warblers, were not so particular, or perhaps I should say that their parental instinct outweighed such prejudices. Though shy birds, the parents lingered about, exhibiting the greatest concern and anxiety, while Bob examined the babies in the palm of his hand. There were four in the brood, all so much alike in appearance that the sexes could not yet be determined. But he knew something about Wrens, and before placing them tenderly in the nest, he made a bet with himself that there was only one male among them.
He had no sooner turned away than the parents flew to the door of their home, and fussily inspected the premises and the inmates. The wide gapes and hungry cries of the latter proclaimed that all that was wrong with them was that they wanted more dinner. Though waited on by both parents, they had such ravenous appetites that they were always asking for more.
They were six days old when their eyes opened, and a week later they left the nest. Their tails were not more than an inch long at this time, and all wore a uniform greyish-brown plumage like the mother bird. This was an anxious time for the parents. What with feeding them, and teaching them to fly, and keeping them together, and instructing them to get under cover when menaced by an enemy, they were kept busy from morning till night. Then there was the trouble to get them to roost. The nest-bush was not now their home, but a low bushy tree near by. On a thin horizontal limb of this bush which stood a few feet from the ground, they would perch regularly till the following spring.
The mother would call and call as she led the way. She would flutter to the roost and back again, and, anon, marshal them together when they wandered in different directions. She could not make them understand that they must roost now like the Magpies across the gully, and the Magpie Larks in the box clump, instead of going back to the snug bed they had left. With a great amount of persuasion and no little patience, she at last got them on to the limb. When they were all perched side by side, she, thankful that her day's task was over, settled down at one end of the little row, with the male parent at the other end. In that position they camped every night.
Though the stone Curlews screamed wildly along the ridge, and the prowling dingo sent forth a lonely howl at intervals through the night; though the Teringing (Owlet Nightjar), and the Gooragang (Winking Owl) made weird noises by the river, and the Powerful Owl, who preyed on small birds, passed softly overhead, they feared nothing whilst thus snuggled between the little grey mother and the game midget in blue and black who was her life-mate. The bright, joyous days that followed had really more dangers for them, since the small fry were preyed upon by the common enemies much more than were the larger birds. The sweet-voiced Butcher Bird was a friendly neighbor to most of the feathered kind, but he had a craving now and again for a little poultry. At these times, he attacked any small birds that came his way, whether Wren, or Robin, or Finch. They were also easy game to the wild cats and the skulking fox, which waited for them in the undergrowth, and among the dense tussocks.
In such places, and in low detached covers that dotted the open grassy lands near scrubs, the Wrens, like the Robins and Finches, loved to play, and sing, and feed. They were not gregarious like the Finches, which assembled in flocks of thousands, nor like the Tits and Chats and Robins, which, in a lesser degree, associated in colonies. The half-dozen kept always to themselves, and had their own bit of territory just as other individual families of Wrens had theirs. Each group of Magpies also had its own private hunting ground, and resented intrusion by other Magpies. Their territorial divisions, however, were of considerable extent, and embraced the numerous subdivisions claimed by the Wrens and other unrelated or distantly related groups.
Among the bushes, and through the grass, the parents led the infant quartette. They chatted and fed as they went. Though they could fly, they had yet much to learn. The most important lesson was how to find and catch their food, and how to prepare it for swallowing when they had caught it. The mother, having captured a caterpillar or a grasshopper, would welt it on the ground, run it through her beak, and crush it from end to end. She would then drop it, and try to induce one of the chicks to complete the process. After a moment, if unsuccessful, she would return to it, and chat encouragingly as though she were saying: "See, you take it up like this, hit it till it's limp, then nip it right along with your bill till it's soft. So!"
The manipulation finished, she would offer it to one of them with her beak, and hop nimbly away in search of something else. Moths, flies, including blowflies and March flies, beetles, larvae, cockroaches, and grubs were equally welcome, and with each find she uttered a soft note of satisfaction, and the lesson was repeated.
Such a simple lesson it looked yet they were many days learning it.
When they were a month old, their tails had grown to their full length, and they had so far mastered the art of providing for themselves as to be able to catch the nimble fly. Still, both the adult birds continued to feed them for another six weeks. At times, they fed on the ground in the deep grass, where they met the Quail and her merry brood, and now and again were startled by encountering a foraging Brush Pheasant. The big bird meant them no harm, but his fierce-looking black head thrust through the tangle of blades, did not invite confidence. The Quail did not mind him in the least, except at nesting time, when she knew he would gobble up her eggs if he found them. The Wrens, however, always shifted quickly from his path. At other times they hunted and gambolled by turns in the low bushes. The cockbird displayed his handsome plumage, and now and again poured out a joyous summer song that drowned the squeaky notes of the youngsters.
The young ones were five months old before that budding naturalist, Bob Bucknell, noticed any difference in their appearance. Then the first moult took place. There was now a marked change in one bird. The others merely donned new coats of the same shade as the old. The solitary exception was distinguished by a light-blue tail.
"Didn't I say so!" Bob exclaimed joyously. "One bluey and three hens."
The blue color marked the male, and here Bob was up against a problem that had doubtless puzzled many a scientist. In most broods he had kept under observation, female birds predominated. Yet, in the breeding season, he had often noticed two, and occasionally three, males in attendance on one female, when all took part in feeding the young. At the same time there were always a number of unmated females. These, he concluded, were young birds. The females did not mate the first year, whilst the males did. In regard to the other matter, his father, who was an old bushman, explained that only one bird acted in the capacity of husband. The other was tolerated because he could not be driven away.
"But why doesn't he get a mate of his own?" Bob asked.
"He might be their own son, of the previous brood, who had refused to be turned out, or who has not grown enough to take up domestic duties on his own account. Or perhaps he hasn't been able to find a mate for himself. Small birds have so many enemies, and the females, who are less active and wary, suffer more than the males."
"They'd want to, to level things up," said Bob, "when there are so many more females hatched than males."
"There's another point," said his father. "Birds have their attachments like other things. Geese, for instance, are very affectionate. Most birds merely love for a season and then separate. Others, such as the Blue Wrens and Flock Pigeons, choose each a mate when a year or so old and stick to her for life, or until forcibly parted. Perhaps, in the time of choosing, two males are attracted by the same female, and the loser, who is too strongly taken up with her to go away and look for a substitute, becomes an outrageous nuisance and a disturber of the happy home. He haunts the premises and tries, maybe, to induce the little wife to elope."
"I suppose some of them do clear out with the other fellow?" queried Bob.
"In the case of a more masterful bird, that either happens, or he takes possession of her and the home, too."
Impressed by these remarks, Bob kept an untiring eye on his feathered friends. He always moved stealthily along by the river scrub, and kept under cover and picked his steps as he approached their haunt, for the Wrens flew off at any unusual sound. In this respect, they resembled the great Lyre Bird, to whom they were allied. First, he would hear the sharp note of alarm. Then one would fly off, and the others would follow in single file. They might hop actively about the bushes, chirping or singing the while, but they would not pursue their ordinary business whilst he remained in view.
Bluey, as he had named the male chick, was now the dominant member of the brood. He was very little bigger than his sisters, but he was stronger and smarter, and ever so much prouder. By virtue of these qualities, and the bit of blue he had acquired in his tail, he put them completely in the shade. He was a little more than ten months old when his second moult occurred. From this ordeal, he emerged the gayest little dandy that could be seen on a grass stem. Not only was his tail a darker blue, but his head was a beautiful blue also, and his bill was nearly black. He was now arrayed in full plumage, which was a lovely harmony of blues and blacks. His sisters eyed him with pride, and perhaps envy, for their own adult dress showed no change in color.
The Redbreasts, and the Flamebreasts and the Yellowbobs, who were friends of his, could flash fine colors, but no color was as showy as his. With his tail cocked straight up, he darted gaily from twig to twig, and practised the rollicking song of his kind, for it was high time for him now to take up his musical lessons in earnest. He was the showpiece among the feathered midgets in the light coverts by the scrub.
As before remarked, he was called the Superb Warbler, and when he had mastered the grand oratorio of his fathers, the title would not be unmerited. Of the sixteen species of the genus "Malurus," some of whom were red-backed, some black-backed, and others marked with white on the back and wings, none could equal him in brilliance of song or dress. His smallest relative, whom he saw when he ventured down by the swamp, was the Emu Wren, who was a quaint little fellow with a light-blue throat and a tail which consisted of six shafts resembling emu feathers. The tail was four-and-a-half inches long, whilst the body measured only one and three-quarter inches. This tiny member belonged to a different group, which included the weird little Grass Bird, the Grass Wrens, and the Rock Warbler.
The squeaky notes of his infancy began to leave, him in July, and by August he had acquired his full song. How merrily he rolled it out, morn, noon, and eve. Often, too, in the early night, like Willy Wagtail and the Reed Warbler, he would rouse up suddenly and deliver himself of a brief but cheery nocturne. If he missed his parents and sisters, when he hunted in the grass, he would at once bring the song to his assistance. Mounting a commanding twig, he would sing until he was answered, then fly off immediately towards the spot where he had heard the voice.
All this time, they had kept together, but no sooner had he become an accomplished singer than his father intimated to him that it was time for him to clear out. The first gentle hints were unheeded, and the old bird talked to him in anger, and pecked him whenever he came near. Bluey was surprised and dismayed. He could not understand this sudden change in his parent, who had been so long his ardent protector. In a humble spirit he went to his mother. That enraged her consort the more, and he attacked him fiercely and persistently until he had driven him off. A few days later the mother acted in the same way towards her daughters, and chased and beat them until they had all left her. So the family was disbanded, and almost immediately the old couple set about to prepare for their next brood.
Bluey, thrown on his own resources, was a lonely and miserable mite for the first couple of days. He moped among the bushes, and now and again chirped a dismal response to the merry voices about him. The dawning September with its wealth of scent and flower had stirred the Native Canary, who poured forth a delicious stream of melody. The Diamond Birds, Redcaps, and Tree Creepers were all more sprightly and busy, but he remained a sad little chap, and the persecution to which he was subjected did not tend to mend matters.
It was the season when his kind zealously guarded their respective patches, and attacked trespassing Wrens more determinedly than at any other period of the year. He had ventured up the river and down the river, and once he had crossed the stream, only to be driven back each time by the pugnacious males who had selected there. There did not seem to be any vacant land anywhere—except out back. As he was not of the wandering sort he found it hard to tear himself away from the old associations.
He was perching disconsolately in a distant part of his native towri (aboriginal name for the territory of a tribe) when the father bird, who was demonstratively busy these days, caught sight of him. He did not ask him if he was married yet, nor did he bother to inquire why he was not elsewhere. He just lowered his head and rushed at him in silent fury. That determined him. Straight as he could go, he flew to a scrubby rise, far out from the river. On one side was a deep grassy gully, with here and there a clump of cockspur and other bushes on the high level. It was an ideal place for a Wren settlement. Communities of Robins, and a few Grass Warblers and Bush Larks, among others, helped to brighten it.
Whilst running and hopping down the slope in the mellowing hours, and now and again fluttering and darting, butterfly-like, over the red-topped grass, he met a lady of his own species whose greeting was very different from what he had been used to of late. In a little while he had forgotten home and mother. He proudly displayed his fine dress, and coquettishly turned and flicked his tail, whilst, with his whole heart in the effort, he sang his song of spring.
But he had to fight for his lady-love, for other young bluecoats who thought they had as much right to her as he had, had come to the hillside. The contest resolved into a desperate scrimmage between four. They were all fighting together to see who should have her. Hitherto, Bluey had soon turned tail when attacked by aggressive males, but then he knew that he was violating the laws of birdland. He was now fighting for his rights, for that which all warm bloods, whether bird or animal, will give stubborn battle.
From the conflict he emerged triumphant, and flew off ultimately in the happy possession of the maiden Wren. Their main concern was to select a patch sufficiently removed from other Wrens, and this they found at the head of the gully. Under a dense bush, three feet from the ground, the little hen built her nest, which was dome-shaped, with a side entrance composed of fine grasses and lined with feathers. The task occupied her six days, though, of course, she did not work at it all day long. Three small white eggs, marked with reddish-brown spots, were placed in the cosy receptacle.
All this while Bluey's demeanour betokened that he was fully aware of his responsibilities. Active and pugnacious, he saw that no brother Wren trespassed on his run with impunity. The presence of the Cuckoos, who had just come down from North Queensland, he as hotly resented. Big as they were, he attacked them gamely and drove them away, and was often assisted in doing so by the Fantails, Flamebreasts, Tits, Wood Swallows, and Scrub Wrens. But they returned again and again, ever looking for other bird's nests, and, despite the vigilance of the Wrens, a Bronze Cuckoo succeeded in depositing her egg in the nest whilst they were feeding in the long grass.
They were not as wise as the Ground Tit, who covered the stranger's egg with grass so that it addled. Again, they were not as clever as the friendly Tomtit, who built a two-chambered nest, so that when the Cuckoo chose the top chamber, which was usually occupied by the male Tomtit, the egg remained unhatched. When the intruder placed her egg in the lower chamber before Mrs. Tomtit began to lay, the latter used the upper chamber, and the ends of the parasitic bird were again defeated.
Mrs. Wren, though conscious of a change in her domestic arrangements, unfortunately, carried out the duties imposed upon her. The chicks appeared in fourteen days. Both parents fed them, at first with a joyous will, then with a growing mystified air. One bird was different, and ever so much bigger. He was a greedy giant whose capacious mouth was always foremost. He grew and grew till the domicile was crowded, and feeling uncomfortable, he shouldered the midgets out on to the ground. Gooloowee, the White Goshawk, who had been watching from a lofty perch for an easy meal, snapped up the first. Wolga, the Blue Falcon, made short work of another; and the third was carried off by Min Min, the Nankeen Kestrel, just as the frantic parents returned to the nest.
The alien continued to expand. When he shortly left his cramped quarters to perch on a commanding branch, he was bigger than both his foster parents put together. Mrs. Wren was quite proud of her big baby. She danced and chirped with glee, and called to her mate to come and look at him. Bluey was astonished. He hopped round him excitedly, and surveyed him with a quizzical and suspicious eye.
"Good gracious," he seemed to say, "it must be an emu!"
The glutton kept them both busy in supplying him with food, and he further astonished Bluey by viciously attacking him for being slow with the dinner. The boy was master.
Bluey, who was simmering in an argument between his dignity and his paternal instinct, felt that he ought to give the audacious youth a good pecking, if only on principle. He attended to his wants somewhat nervously. When the ungrateful youngster again pecked him, he promptly turned to correct him, and was as promptly thrashed by the infant.
Troubles came apace. He would not go to roost like other little birds, but chose his own camp, and Bluey and his mate humbly and timidly perched alongside him. His rightful owner, the Bronze Cuckoo, came early and late, calling, calling, while the big baby wailed dismally in reply. Rage and fear possessed the Wrens. Furiously, time after time, Bluey drove away the mother Cuckoo, but always she returned with the same appealing call, and ever that baby bird wailed in reply. Then came a day when he flew off with the Cuckoos, with the distracted Wrens flying wildly in pursuit, till the bigger, stronger birds were lost in the distance.
A sad little couple, they returned to the desolate home. Other Wrens were happy in their family circles. The Thrushes, Honeyeaters, Painted Quail, Blood Birds—all had their babies, but Bluey and his mate, with none, had no object in life.
Unlike most birds, whose families are disbanded early, the Wrens clung to their brood through all the year. So Bob was not surprised when presently they shook off their moping fit and set to work again to rear a second brood. This time their efforts were rewarded with three baby Wrens, with no alien among them to repeat the tragedy of the spring. They were not the only late-comers of their species, for that terrible destroyer of birds, the imported fox, had been active in the neighborhood. Indeed many a pair, ruthlessly bereft of their first brood, had been forced to rear a second.
In the scented grass, and among the fruited bushes, Bluey attended them all day, and sang to them his grandest song. He fed them, and fought valiantly in their defence. If any danger threatened them, he rushed to the scene at the first squeak of alarm. He made no outcry. Not a chirp escaped him, but with lowered head and raised mantle, his wings and tail depressed, he charged swiftly and determinedly at whatsoever might be present. Birds, many times his size, he bluffed by his dash and courageous attitude. Having beaten or scared the enemy off, he would hop about with merry chirps as though crowing over the victory.
In the height of his glory, when summer was waning, what appeared to be a new calamity descended upon him. All his gay plumage fell away from him, and every vestige of his beautiful blues and blacks was lost. He sang no more, but cowed under the deep cover, and wondered miserably in his own way why this should be so.
As his new coat grew, he became more sprightly. The coat was a sober greyish-brown like his mate's and his children's. They did not seem to notice his lost grandeur, and he gradually became resigned to his altered state, though he was quieter and more retiring than formerly. Other male Wrens came on to his towri unheeded, and he went on to theirs without protest. All wore the same safe winter dress, and though maintaining their individual family circles, they could be said for the nonce to be gregarious.
The Willy Wagtail, chirrupping good naturedly on a stump, or on the back of a browsing cow, cut a more dashing figure than any of them, during this period. But, in early spring, Bluey again moulted, when, to his great delight, his bright-colored plumage was resumed. Then he sang his best from the top of the bushes, and gambolled in the spring sunshine, as though he desired to show Willy Wagtail what an insignificant creature he was. Willy had only a black and white suit for all the year, whereas Bluey had demonstrated that he was a bird of fashion, who dressed befittingly for the winter and summer seasons.
He might not sing as well as the Reed Warbler, or the Silver Eye, but still his was one of the welcome voices of the bush. For the service he did in keeping insect pests in subjection, he was worth more than his weight in gold.
Each year a new nest was built, though the pair were always to be found about the same place. Many happy broods they reared before the partnership was ended. As he sat preening himself on an exposed twig one morning, the little Falcon swooped down suddenly, and, in a moment, the little brown mate was alone.
THOUGH the first days of the young Koala's existence were passed in very much the same manner as those of the young Possum, he was not carried in the pouch until he was able to take care of himself. He was only a little fellow, and no bigger than an active kitten. He was, however, well covered with light grey fur when his mother hoisted him on to the back of her shoulders, and gave him to understand that he had to stop there and hold tight. She, of course, could not climb and reach for gum leaves and hold him at the same time.
At first he thought "piggy-back" was fine fun. When she crept out of the big hollow knob that was her home, and walked along a slender limb a hundred feet from the ground, he dug his sharp nails in with fear.
It was a cold starlit night. Possums were feeding in the same tree, and Squirrels darted through the air a little way off with peculiar cries. He glanced timidly at them from time to time, but he was so much taken up with the danger of his position, that he could give little attention to anything else. The mother moved with slow, deliberate steps; nevertheless every movement made him fancy he was going to fall. Learning to ride in such a situation seemed a foolhardy undertaking. Indeed, it was absolutely dangerous.
Certainly, the mother ran no risk of falling; the great grasping power of her claws precluded that. Numbers of her kind, when they had been wantonly shot by settlers, had cheated their slayers by hanging under the limb in death as a Sloth hangs in life.
Perching herself in a small fork, the mother Koala grasped a branchlet in her hand, and, for some minutes, munched the juicy leaves. Then she retraced her steps, and started down the perpendicular trunk of the tree for the ground. It was a fortunate circumstance that she descended backwards. In this respect, the Koala differed from the Possums, Dasyures, and other Australian arboreal animals—with the exception of the Boongarry, or Tree Kangaroo. Still, Booraby, the youngster, was mightily uncomfortable. Clinging tightly to the dense fur of his mother, and looking anxiously from side to side as she dropped lower and lower, he scarcely breathed until the long, slow descent was accomplished.
On the ground, he could ride with ease and confidence. Like a little boy who has got over his initial fears on the back of a pony, he even wanted to "show off." While she dug for succulent roots, he partly sat up and scratched his ear and his ribs. He had more leisure to admire the scenery, and to notice what was going on about him.
Madam Koala moved along the edge of a narrow belt of scrub that lined the river bank. It was, to him, a pleasure excursion, full of interest, for there were many other creatures abroad. The frisky Possums, with their gambollings and chasings, their squeaks and purring chatter; the Squirrels, with their sudden flights and squeals; and the night birds calling overhead, enlivened the passing hours. Boo, the Bandicoot, was busily rooting about in the grass. Murura, the Red-necked Wallaby, was clipping the tender herbage. Just inside a fence which they came to after a couple of hours' ramble, Parrimalla, the Scrub Wallaby, was enjoyably nipping down a patch of young corn.
She did not go through the fence, but turned out into the forest. She knew the thieves would be hunted with guns and dogs, for she had seen it happen many a time while she had been squatting' quietly in an adjacent tree. She knew the farmer was also unfriendly to her, though there was nothing he could say against her. She never stole anything, and she never harmed anybody. Quiet and inoffensive, she asked for nothing but wild roots and the leaves of her native trees. Besides, she was one of the most attractive features in the bush. But there was no accounting for the actions of man. He turned his murderous hand equally against Kogra, the Echidna, and Duckbill, the Platypus, although they were not only as inoffensive as herself, but did good service for him in their unobtrusive ways. It had been a good world to live in before man had come, but now the struggle for existence was bitterly hard. Even when he did not directly molest her kind, he drove them before him by destroying every tree that nature had provided for their subsistence.
A deep snort overhead suddenly disturbed her meditations. Looking up, Booraby espied father Koala sitting in a small box tree. He had not seen much of his father, for that worthy was not very fond of society. He was often promenading about in the daytime, or drowsily sitting in some forked branch where daylight happened to find him. Nevertheless, Mrs. Koala, with some idea of asserting her rights, climbed up to him. Beyond a stertorous growl by way of greeting, and a solemn survey of the youngster, he took no notice of them. Externally the couple were alike. Mr. Koala, however, had a couple of white patches on the hind part of his back. Mrs. Koala had not these patches, and, whereas her broad ears were well marked with white, his were margined anteriorally with black. But such marks were mere color variations. One or two of their neighbors, whose donkey-like cries they heard from time to time, were more than half white, whilst others were all grey.
Mrs. Koala brushed her little burden against her mate as she seated herself in a convenient position. Her look and manner were eloquent.
"I think you ought to hold the baby while I get my supper."
Pa Koala looked at the baby with eyes that plainly said: "Let the little one get down and walk."
She caught the branchlet he was holding and pulled it rudely away. Pa Koala was decidedly vexed. He looked at her a moment as though he had a mind to knock her off the limb. However, he thought better of it, and shifted to another branchlet.
Being a long way from home, and a slow traveller, she left early, whilst he remained in the box tree, quite indifferent to the flight of time. As day was breaking, she climbed back into her nest. Booraby was glad to be home again. He was tired from so much unaccustomed riding, and a little bit stiff from clinging to a perpendicular back whilst he was being carried up and down trees. He rolled off with a sigh of relief, and, after a drink, coiled himself up in his mother's arms and went to sleep.
He had no fears when he went out again. He was quite at home on his mother's back, and enjoyed being carried about among the branches. As he grew older, he plucked some of the leaves within his reach while she was feeding, and, sitting up like a little jockey, munched them with enjoyment. When he was on the ground, he would slip off sometimes and beg for some of the roots she was digging up. He gradually got into the way of scratching for himself. Again, he would dismount on a limb, and either amuse himself by climbing about, or sit beside her and eat off the branchlet she held in her hand.
His next step was climbing a little way up the trunks and backing down again. Occasionally, she climbed a sapling without him, and when he was able to follow her successfully she showed a disinclination to carry him any further. When he seemed tired, or the climb was a stiff one, and he cried and whimpered like a child, she would, as a favor, put him on her back. But by-and-bye he cried in vain. There was no more "piggy-back" for Booraby; he had grown too large and heavy for those baby habits, and must now walk.
One morning, when he would have followed her into the hollow as usual, he was refused admittance. The bedroom was too small for both, and, as he was more restless and less regular in his hours of repose than the female sex, she complained that, with his fidgeting and scratching, she could not get her proper day's rest.
Day found him sitting disconsolately on the doorstep. He was dozing off when some Kingfishers and Magpie Larks discovered him. They made sport of him, and flew at him and pecked him. Indeed, they made such a disturbance, that no nocturnal creature in the neighborhood could get a wink of sleep. Booraby, ordinarily of a gentle disposition, was stirred into a fit of passion by their persecution. He warded the attacks with his hands as well as he could, and made a vengeful grab now and again as an incautious tormentor flew closely in front of him. His strong teeth snapped hard together like a steel trap when one darted just over his nose. He was forced at last to seek shelter. Over the roof of his old domicile was a thick cluster of foliage, and under that he hid himself.
The seat was as smooth as glass, and showed that another form had been wont to rest there. It suited him very well through the remainder of the warm weather. About the end of autumn, his father claimed it, and he was compelled again to seek fresh lodgings. Thereafter, he did not care much where he slept. Usually, if day did not surprise him in an uncongenial neighborhood, he sought a comfortable fork very high up from the ground. Though in the open, he was not easily discovered as long as he sat tight and remained quiet. He was wise enough to do this if there was an enemy in sight, for his color harmonized well with the grey and white of the gum trees. Unlike the Possum, the Flying Squirrel, and other arboreal animals that were most active at night, he rarely sought the seclusion of a hollow by day. Essentially an open-air creature, he found that almost any place at all suited him for a bedchamber.
Wet, windy days in such exposed positions were unpleasant. However, the cold did not affect him, for he was encased in a thick, tough skin which was covered with soft fur that was fairly long and dense. His ears were of moderate size, but as they were covered thickly with hairs two inches long, they looked large and rounded. His nose was black and prominent; his hands and feet were large and white. The hands were composed of two sets of fingers; the two innermost were opposed to the three outer, and all were armed with big, curved claws. The toes, excepting the innermost, were similarly armed. The exception was nailless, and placed in the same position and used in the same manner as the human thumb.
Though admirably fitted for climbing, he was tardy in his movements. He made certain of each hold as he went along; slow but sure. From this fact, some of the first white men who saw him named him Native Sloth. He was afterwards generally called Native Bear.
His species associated in pairs, though many of them were much of their time alone. He had no yearning for their society. Nor did he show any enthusiasm when Yarri, an old acquaintance, came on to his branch as he rose from his solitary meal in a big blue gum. He resented the intrusion. But the visitor took no notice. He was a droll warrior who was not easily turned from anything he had set his mind upon, and he had set his mind on a bunch of choice young leaves that overhung a comfortable seat.
They came together with mutual growls. There was no room to get past. The intruder, who was the bigger of the two, edged an inch or two farther. The movement brought forth another growl from Booraby, and he struck at him with his claws. Yarri at once reared up, and, grasping the other with both hands, endeavored to throw him off. Booraby, holding to the limb with his powerful toes, fought fiercely with tooth and claw. For a moment or two, they rocked and swayed, and made a noise that could be heard a mile away. Suddenly, they both toppled over, and the combat ended with a thumping fall to the ground.
With a parting snort or two, and eyes that blinked savagely, Yarri climbed slowly back into the tree, whilst Booraby walked off in search of other pickings.
That morning, he did not seek a perch, but sat drowsily at the foot of a large tree. There, a prowling Dingo came upon him unawares. He sat up and looked at the disturber of his slumbers with an air of mild protest, but with no suggestion of alarm in his attitude or expression. The Dingo had too much respect for his ready claws to approach within reach of them. He moved from side to side, and waited a chance to get a snap at him from behind. Now and again, he looked round as if expecting assistance. Instead of that, a boy came along the bridle track that led past the tree, and at the sight of him the Dingo turned tail and fled.
Booraby regarded the newcomer with equal indifference. The boy prodded him with a stick, and provoked a murderous look and a grunt from him. Striking a defensive attitude, he tried to parry the prods with his hands until the boy poked him on to his feet. When he was induced to move away, he did so with reluctance. Under pressure he increased his pace to an ungainly, lumbering trot, and the boy laughed aloud. Reaching the back of a tree, he started to climb as quickly as he could. The boy tried to beat him off, but luckily the stick broke. Just out of reach Booraby stopped, and, clinging to the straight bole, looked down with solemn, indignant eyes at his persecutor until that person departed. Then he climbed down again, and shuffled off to another tree which had been hollowed out by bush fires.
At the entrance, Kojurrie, the Goanna, raised his black head in surprise. Booraby, treating him with contempt, continued straight on, and the Goanna, thrusting out his forked tongue in resentment, doubled round to make way for him. Under a root, he saw Bogi, the Blue-tongued Lizard who regarded that hollow as his private residence. Paying no heed to him, the Koala selected a spot against the back wall, and curled himself into a big ball of fur and went to sleep. Bogi stuck close to his sheltering root, and kept a suspicious eye on the unwelcome visitor as long as he remained on the premises.
At sundown, Booraby was abroad again. With deliberate steps, he made his way down to a little creek where a half-submerged log afforded him an easy drinking place. He lapped the water up somewhat after the manner of a dog. Except for drinking purposes, he did not like water. He preferred a dry wash any time to a bath. Then he wandered leisurely about, but never wandered very far in any direction. He finally ascended a white box tree, where he remained until the following evening.
With the approach of winter, a change came over him. He saw other Koalas going about in couples, and it struck him all at once that it was a very good idea. Chancing to meet a young lady Koala on the ground, he squatted down in front of her, and gave the matter long and serious consideration. Her large, soft eyes were expressive of a kindly, gentle nature. She was a lady of striking appearance, well able to take care of herself, and, at the same time, able to afford him such companionship as he needed during the winter evenings. Undoubtedly a partnership would be beneficial. But he was not a creature who rushed to conclusions. He studied her, and meditated.
For a long while, they sat there without saying a word. Then the maiden got up to see about supper, and, with the same grave, contemplative air, he strode after her. A gruff voice down the flat-in front of them woke him up. Was she going to see that fellow? With feelings of jealousy he ranged alongside, and, uttering a few soft grunts, edged her off in another direction. In a retired spot, he started up a small tree, and looked back at every step to see if she were following. But she passed on in search of a better tree; so he backed down again, and hastened to catch up to her.
A dallying hour brought them to a big blue gum tree. Among the branches, there was a comfortable hollow knob. He led the way up to a stout limb that was overhung with clustering leaves. He was a good judge of positions and of the weight-carrying capacity of branches. Once only had he been at fault. It was a brittle branch, and he had crept out a little too far. He fell so heavily that he bounced, and, for some minutes afterwards, he sat there blinking sulkily at the cause of his fall.
They had spent so much time on the ground, that day dawned upon them as they finished their repast. Toonool, the lady Koala, curled herself up in the hollow, whilst Booraby wedged himself in a smooth fork near her. When night came again, he descended with her to the ground. Thenceforth they lived together, and the blue gum was their home.
Toonool slept nearly always in the hollow, and rarely appeared in the open before night. As for her partner, he seldom sought a hiding place, and was often wandering about on the ground in broad daylight. Occasionally, he did not come home in the morning, and she was anxious about him, especially when she heard the howls of the dingo pack, or the furious barking of hunters' dogs. Either daylight surprised him at a distance, when he decided that it was too late to go home, or he was too tired and sleepy to climb to the considerable height at which their domicile was situated.
One evening, when the cold weather was departing, Mrs. Koala emerged with a baby on her back. Booraby surveyed the newcomer with grotesque solemnity, and, in his quiet, unassuming way, was pleased with the little maid.
When the cub began to walk about a little, he allowed her to climb over him, and, at times, he squatted down and lazily played with her. As she grew older, he turned away from her with a bored expression, or checked her innocent playfulness with a growl. He drifted back into his solitary habits, and frequently occupied a different tree in the vicinity of his mate.
In the summer, his fur grew thin and shabby, but, with the returning cold season, it was replaced with a new coat. From this time to the end of spring he was at his best, and looked sleek and vigorous. In his new suit, and with his humorously-solemn cast of countenance, almost human in its expression, he was an attractive creature. He was thirty-two inches in length, eleven inches high, when he stood on all fours, and eighteen inches in girth. He now accompanied his partner more constantly than he had been wont to do of late. They were alone again, for Miss Koala had just gone off with one of their young neighbors, and the pair had made their home on a low ridge across the little creek.
Booraby, after drinking, sometimes wandered to that ridge. Rambling about there one sunset hour, he met the Wombat. This creature was a stout marsupial who was much like himself in form, but considerably larger. He was forty-four inches in length and seventy pounds in weight. Again, the Wombat had a short tail, while the Koala had none at all.
Warro, the Wombat, was so agreeable as to extend an unmistakable invitation to the gravely observant Koala to join him in his early evening repast of grass and roots. Although nocturnal in his habits, he not infrequently emerged in daylight. The dipping sun still shot rainbow shafts across the hill as he started to feed. The Koala grubbed up some roots beside him. Striking a good patch, he squatted down on his haunches to eat them, but the Wombat stood up at his meal.
At that moment, Mrs. Wombat emerged from the burrow and strode curiously towards the Koala. The Koala at once retired, and his expression and manner clearly conveyed what he thought: "One Wombat is tolerable, but two's a crowd."
She followed him a little way towards a gum sapling, and then stood and watched him ascend, as though she were impressed with his remarkable lack of smartness. She was not very active herself, and could neither leap nor climb. But, when a wood-splitter, looking for timber on his way to camp came along the foot of the ridge, she showed that she was not slow of foot. Her activity in scampering back to her burrow was a revelation.
The splitter's dog, when he arrived, nosed about with raised bristles. Discovering Booraby, he leaped at the sapling, and barked and whined in his excitement. The Koala was well out of reach, but, when the splitter, a moment later, drove his axe into the sapling, he looked up anxiously for a means of escape into another tree. Alas! no friendly branch was within reach.
A few vigorous strokes brought it down. He did not jump as the Possum would, but clung to his perch until the fall threw him sprawling on the ground. Before he had time to pick himself up, the dog's fangs crunched into the back of his neck. There might be some palliation for the offence of the dog, but there was none for the wanton action of the other brute.
In a little while the slayers departed. They left a still, grey form by the felled tree, where a feast awaited Kojurrie, the Goanna, and Wahgan, the Crow.
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