Gang-gang

A magpie squats under a dripping tap during the heat wave Canberra.

A magpie squats under a dripping tap during the heat wave Canberra. Photo: Katrina Logan

As this poignant picture of a thirsty Canberra magpie testifies, the present heatwave is a challenge for some of the ''bush capital's'' abundant native birds. How can we help them?

Alison Russell-French, president of the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG), recommends that when we're providing drinking and bathing water in our gardens we give the dear creatures a range of artificial billabongs (she provides a generous six of them!).

The point is that the birds of different species come in all sorts of sizes and with different sorts of expectations. Little birds (and, for example, her garden is blessed with red-browed finches) may just flit in for a quick drink and a bath in something shallow whereas bigger birds, like magpies, may want something big enough and deep enough to plunge into and use as a kind of spa.

A magpie squats under a dripping tap during the heat wave Canberra.

A magpie squats under a dripping tap during the heat wave Canberra. Photo: Katrina Logan

Russell-French advises putting various billabongs in shaded spots because birds need the water to be as cool as possible.

Replenish the water often, for these are dusty, windy times and the water may quickly become filthy. Perhaps, too, again to indulge the needs of different species, have some of the billabongs/spas in elevated places and some on the ground, although beware of putting any on the ground if your garden is cat-infested.

Russell-French also thinks there may be some value at the moment in giving some native birds some food. These are lean times for seed-eating birds, so perhaps put out some bird seed. And with the ground baked hard as bricks, these may be tough times for those birds (like magpies) that depend on luscious, meaty, wriggling things that are only getting an underground wriggle-on when soils are moist.

A gull grabs a gulp from an accommodating frog.

A gull grabs a gulp from an accommodating frog.

Don't be afraid, she says, that by giving magpies, currawongs and others the occasional snack you will make them dependent upon you. Her experience (this columnist's, too) is that native birds won't depend upon you and your garden as their main source of tucker.

Instead, if you serve them occasionally (and even when, as in this columnist's case, you serve them rather upmarket low-fat mince), they will only treat you as one of their many sources of sustenance.

Meanwhile (and this is your columnist speaking now), be alert but not necessarily alarmed, when you see birds panting in hot weather. When God designed birds and dogs (the atheist columnist wrote, trying to engage with any Christian, creationist readers), He withheld from them, mysteriously, the ability to sweat in the way humans can.

A wall of travel trunks, imported from India, make a striking feature in the reception and bar area of Hotel Hotel, Nishi building, New Acton.

A wall of travel trunks, imported from India, make a striking feature in the reception and bar area of Hotel Hotel, Nishi building, New Acton. Photo: Graham Tidy

But instead He gave them - birds and dogs - the ability to pant. This is said to enable them to cool the body a little by breathing in air over the moistened tongue, while, like a hot English springer spaniel, panting out gusts of excess body heat.

Hotel wall packs a lot of character

Visiting Hotel Hotel in New Acton's distinctive Nishi building (one of the many inexplicable omissions from the disappointing Canberra Centenary Tapestry) this week, we came upon a wondrous thing.

Travel trunks piled in the reception area.

Travel trunks piled in the reception area. Photo: Graham Tidy

The foyer is blessed with a hard-to-define something, part art installation, part something to go ''Gosh!'' about, part movable wall made of almost 60 old-fashioned cabin trunks. The mostly metal trunks are the kind of larger luggage once favoured by well-heeled European ocean and rail travellers.

The passengers in Agatha Christie's 1934 masterpiece Murder on the Orient Express had luggage just like these.

A shy (declining to be named) member of the team behind furnishing and decorating Hotel Hotel and other New Acton premises explains that members of the team, wherever they travel, are always on the lookout for artefacts full of character. In Jodhpur, India, team members came across second-hand shops specialising in old luggage.

They seemed just the thing to decorate a hotel, our shy source explains, because as objects they speak (this columnist would say they even sing) of travel. Hotel Hotel likes the idea of a foyer being a kind of living room (in a home away from home), where the weary traveller has at last been able to put down his cabin trunk and relax.

This appreciative columnist loves the way each of the 56 items is a character in its own right. It's not only that the trunks come in all sorts of colours, but also that each one has, like all travellers, its own unique dents and scars.