ACT News

Gang-gang: Are Canberra's Gang-gang cockatoos boycotting Tuggeranong, Gungahlin?

In just a few action-packed paragraphs this item will morph into a story about Canberra birds in Canberra gardens but, before we go there, here is another look at the Canberra homes and surely bird-repelling gardens portrayed in Thea Katauskas' Lawnscapes exhibition. As reported on Wednesday, her Lawnscapes - Portraits of Canberran houses, portrays the faces/facades of 30 immaculate, distinctively inner-north Canberra homes and their ruthlessly neat gardens that she sees and admires on her inner-north peregrinations.

Oliver Cromwell famously demanded of someone painting his portrait that it be utterly realistic, with "warts and all", but the fronts of the houses that Katauskas has portrayed are immaculately kept and have no warts to portray. She tells us that she's intrigued by the way the houses and their gardens are defiant resistances to the bush of the Bush Capital. The front gardens have no Australian native plants (these are homes and gardens built and planted before the native-planting enthusiasm of the late 1960s/early 1970s) probably in part because natives can be so dishevelled, so hard to groom into shape. This columnist, a native plant zealot, has a garden decorated with a little Australian tree Eucalyptus neglecta that gets its funny name from the way in which it struck botanists that its wild, untidy looks made it look neglected (not pruned to a tidy shape).

Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition <i>Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses</i>. 74 David Street.
Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses. 74 David Street. 

And yet some of us who used to be so Trotskyite about native plants because, we stormed, native creatures needed them and wouldn't find anything to eat in exotic gardens, have long since had to face the fact that some Australian native birds love and depend upon un-Australian plants in Australian gardens. It may be that some of the dragooned, native-excluding gardens of Katauskas' portraits are after all heaven for some native birds. At the time of writing King Parrots are teeming, nibbling, in an exotic berry-bearing shrub that leans into my politically-correct native garden across the fence from the politically-incorrect exotic garden next door. Canberra's Gang-gang cockatoos (and here's where this item's morph from one thing to another really begins) go into raptures over the fruits and pips of many exotics, including and especially the un-Australian, celestial, Chinese pistachio trees.

And if you love this city then you will love its faunal emblem, the popular but poorly-understood Gang-gang cockatoo, and be in favour of this year's year-long Gang-gang Survey Project. The survey has been much-trumpeted in this column that bears the species' fabled name.

Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition <i>Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses</i>. 18 Faunce Crescent.
Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses. 18 Faunce Crescent. 

We are three months into the survey now and its organiser the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) reports, rapturously, a "fantastic" response to the request to all Canberrans to be citizen-scientists and to report Gang-gang sightings. It is part of the mystery surrounding the species that we know so little about how it is distributed around and across this city for which it is the emblem. And so, even though COG has so far collected 720 reports (sent to the online portral) of sightings, virtually no reports of sightings have come from Tuggeranong or Gungahlin.

COG's survey gurus wonder whether this poverty of reports tells us something about the distribution of Gang-gangs, or, perhaps, the distribution of observers. It may be that Tuggeranong and Gungahlin don't have very many twitching, ornithologically-attuned, binocular-armed folk, although COG is inclined to think that Tuggeranong and Gungahlin really are unhappily Gang-gang poor. Past observations from COG Garden Bird Surveys suggest this may be so, although why the enigmatic species would boycott Tuggeranong and Gungahlin (it seems to boycott almost all of Belconnen too, save for my old haunt of salubrious Upper Aranda) is a mystery.

Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition <i>Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses</i>. 21 Westgarth Street.
Paintings from Thea Katauskas' exhibition Lawnscapes -Portraits of Canberran houses. 21 Westgarth Street. 

Collected sightings so far suggest the species is most abundant in suburbs on the edge of North Canberra and about Mt Ainslie, Mt Majura, O'Connor Ridge and Black Mountain. In South Canberra the most observations are from Curtin, Deakin and Yarralumla, whilst Torrens and Fisher are the most Gang-gang-rich suburbs in Woden and Weston Creek respectively.

The survey's second week-long Muster (a kind of Gang-gang census) begins on Wednesday, May 21, with thou citizen-scientists asked to record for each day the maximum number of Gang-gangs observed within a 100m radius around a site of your choice. The Gang-gangs themselves, anxious to be better understood, urge you to go to COG's canberrabirds.org.au to find out how to participate. While there you can, with a click, listen to the species' endearing, creaking, cork-being-pulled-from-a-wine-bottle call.

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Thea Katauskas' Lawnscapes - Portraits of Canberran houses continues at the Front Gallery Cafe, Lyneham Shops, until May 26.