ACT News

Gang-gang: Exclusive art galleries visited only by scuba divers, fish

Today's column of giddying contrasts takes us, as today's two pictures proclaim, first down to the floor of the sea and then up, up into the trees.

We will be going up among the boughs in a moment because at last we have the results of the much discussed here and much anticipated survey of the ACT's gang-gang cockatoos. The species is the faunal emblem of this idyllic territory and the faunal logo of this venerable and globally acclaimed column.

Two of Jason deCaires Taylor's underwater sculptures.
Two of Jason deCaires Taylor's underwater sculptures. Photo: Jason deCaires Taylor

But first to the seabed because a reader, noting our recent items on Bert Flugelman's Earth Work sculpture buried in Commonwealth Park, thinks we may be interested in Jason deCaires Taylor's "contribution to the art of the unseen".

English artist Taylor, in his early 40s, already famous for his several underwater arrangements of sculpted figures, has been newsworthy in recent times for his latest work that explores the plight of migrants attempting perilous North Africa to Europe crossings of the Mediterranean. That compassionate creation of human figures and their boat is installed 14 metres below water off the coast of Lanzarote, Spain.

Gang-gang cockatoos at play.
Gang-gang cockatoos at play.  Photo: Geoffrey Dabb

Our chosen picture is probably from one of his longer-established installations in the Caribbean. It illustrates the way in which these installations become artificial reefs, attracting corals and other underwater growth.

"Subject to the abstract metamorphosis of the underwater environment," his website bubbles, "his works symbolise a striking symbiosis between man and nature, balancing messages of hope and loss."


"As time passes and the works develop biological growth, they redefine the underwater landscape, evolving within the narrative of nature."

Yes, as you can sense from those little snippets of artspeak, words can't properly capture the wonder and strangeness of this environmentally earnest artist's underwater works and of what becomes of them over underwater time. We urge you to don your virtual scuba gear and go on an online ogle of some of them.


But now we dry ourselves off and flutter up into the trees to be with the gang-gang cockatoos.

We remind you that one of the Canberra Ornithologists Group's activities to mark 2014 (COG's 50th year) was the creation of a year-long "citizen science" project to learn more about the ACT and our region's not terribly well understood faunal emblem, the gang-gang cockatoo. The project was organised by and the report has been compiled by the indefatigable Chris Davey and Kathy Eyles.

In 2014 and 2015 the project's many splendoured events (including terrific art activities for schools) were mentioned and portrayed in this column, with readers encouraged to be participating citizen scientists.

It emerges that there were 7189 records of sightings submitted. And in addition to these primary observations, there were 6160 secondary observations, giving a total of 13,329 gang-gang records for analysis.

The just published reports are now available online. They are at the COG webpage:

The data has been translated into a wonderland of maps, tables, graphs and analyses, and this pixie-sized column hasn't room enough to do the findings a hint of a scintilla of justice. The bird-besotted among you will read them anyway. So here we alight on just a few things.

The authors say that bird-blessed Canberra is "the cockatoo capital of Australia", because we are fortunate to host seven (one of them the gang-gang) of the 14 Australian cockatoo species.

And yet the species is not spread evenly (like Vegemite on a piece of toast) across the ACT. There were 34 suburbs from which not a single gang-gang was reported.

Nor is this entirely explained by proximity to woodland and nature reserves. One map in the report points to woodlands/reserves "favoured by gang-gangs" and other inexplicably shunned woodlands/reserves unhappily "not favoured by gang-gangs".

But the 34 apparently gang-gang cold-shouldered suburbs were all some distance from the "favoured" woodlands/reserves.

"Those suburbs that are most likely to report gang-gangs," the report finds, "are those bordering the Canberra Nature Reserves of Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie Forest/Woodland Reserve, Gossan Hill Forest Reserve, Bruce and O'Connor Ridges Forest Reserve, Black Mountain Forest Reserve, Aranda Bushland Forest Reserve to the north of Lake Burley Griffin and Red Hill Woodland Reserve and Mount Taylor Woodland Reserve to the south."

One cautious great expectation of the survey was that there would emerge at last some proven instances of the species successfully nesting down here in urban Canberra.

Almost all of their known nesting is thought to be going on in bosky places high up behind our metropolis. Alas, almost no such evidence was gathered by this survey.

In the year there were 147 recordings of forms of "breeding behaviour" (mostly inspections of hollows in trees, but also including some blush-making copulations) but the only certain go-to-whoa "breeding event" was one in the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Do you put out food for gang-gangs that visit your garden? They are playful (as Geoffrey Dabb's picture and text shows) and irresistibly gorgeous. On a 10-point scale of animal cuteness a young gang-gang is a 12.5. But Messrs Davey and Eyles counsel some restraint.

"It is suggested for the health of the bird that feed be limited and put out in the afternoon only and removed at night. This will ensure birds seek naturally available food at first light when they are most hungry."