Giles Watson

Giles Watson

Posted on 06/23/2014

Photo taken on June 23, 2014

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Dacelo gigas
Charles Sturt

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Gigantic Dacelo

Gigantic Dacelo
Gigantic Dacelo

I seldom allow them to be destroyed,
but in his haste to please these natives,
Fraser has made great havoc among
the feathered race, and now a crow,
a kite and this laughing jackass lie
singeing in the campfire, along with
a duck and a tough old cockatoo,
all unplucked.
Of our four new friends,
one is boldest; he takes up a stick
and turns them in the embers, smiling
wide, licking his lips. He snatches them
out, and they set to, dislocating
cartilage, chewing to the bone, offering
us thin drumsticks with the blood
still in them. We drift into sleep,
nursing bruises, dreaming of rapids,
and with first light, the giant alcedo,
as though resurrected out of charcoal,
lifts his tail to mock, with his chuntering
family, a chorus of wild spirits, born
of stringybark and the whiff of eucalyptus.

Our friends, too, have gone into the chthonic,
melted into the shades of Melaleucas.
Fraser sits bolt upright, snatching for
his rifle, char-faced, sweating and afraid.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2014. Picture: The Zoological Miscellany : being descriptions of new, or interesting animals, by William Elford Leach ; illustrated with coloured figures, drawn from nature by R.P. Nodder. Volume 2, Plate 106. Although it is commonly assumed that the Kookaburra’s generic name, Dacelo was an anagram of Alcedo not coined until the 1970s, Leach had in fact already chosen this name for the bird by 1815. The early-morning laughter of kookaburras often excited fear and foreboding amongst early settlers, but exploring the Murrumbidgee River in 1830, Charles Sturt came to value them as living alarm-clocks. The situation described in the poem is from Charles Sturt, Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, 1834, Volume 2, pp. 99-100, and the sections in italics depend heavily upon his own language.