"Do I look like I'm laughing?" A young kookaburra contemplates a winter's morning in Hobart.
Sweet, soft, all enveloping: a gently persistent rain tips from ragged easterly clouds. When it rains like this, a few hours can feel like forever. And a day, with a fat and tattered grey curtain drawn across the face of Kunanyi/Mt Wellington, can have me wondering whether the mountain exists anymore.
It is the first decent rain of the winter, possibly the whole year. The gutters, clogged with eucalypt droppings, have overflowed all night, plashing and gurgling, disturbing the dark so sweetly it is hard to complain.
Kookaburras don’t belong here. That’s what I tell a visiting Norwegian naturalist. They see things differently in Europe, where borders and allegiances shift – as much for wildlife as for people – and concepts like wild, native and endemic are relative.
So when the car we’re travelling in bumps a flying kookaburra, and I fail to stop and enquire after its health, my Norse passenger is horrified. I tell him not to worry, that in Tasmania kookaburras are introduced, and therefore feral pests. His outrage grows further, and the rest of the drive is awkwardly quiet.
All life, of course, has an intrinsic value. Had I stopped, sought and found that kookaburra, and looked it in the eye, I could not have disregarded its welfare so easily. When we are face-to-face, it is harder to dismiss care.
Like the kookaburra we come across in a frosty hollow one winter’s morning. It is young, its plumage yet to settle from punk to prime. And it appears injured, not flying but flopping and half-heartedly hopping away, one wing trailing. I am trying out a new camera and keen for a close-up, I creep closer. It stays put, so I move even closer. The kooka barely blinks, just occasionally raising its hackles or looking sideways for emergency exits.
We are eye-to-eye for several minutes. The young bird looks exquisitely healthy: plump, dazzling of eye, immaculate of plumage. Has it crash-landed on a maiden flight, and been genuinely injured? Or is it just cold and faking it? Whatever its story, it is certainly not laughing.
I think of my father hand-feeding kookaburras in parts of Australia to which they’re native. They would fly to him, but to no-one else, sometimes landing on his hand to receive a morsel. After Dad’s death, our family made kookaburras a talisman to his memory.
So feral or not, as I leave this Tasmanian ring-in, I wish it well.