Thank you so much, Susanne Timpani, for allowing me to contribute this guest post on your blog, Season to journal.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; Ecclesiastes 3:5 A Guest Post by May-Kuan Lim, author of The Curious Scribbler I feel a hint of pain when I look at these early photos because my children […]
One false step has made me the target of swooping magpies. Is this how fake news begins?
The first spring after we moved into our house in Adelaide, magpies swooped me occasionally, but I didn’t pay them much attention. Magpies are territorial birds, protective of their young in spring and will swoop to try to scare away perceived threats. The only real damage they can inflict on humans is eye injury, but I wear glasses so I am safe.
One quiet morning, I decide to go for a walk around my neighbourhood. On the bitumen outside my neighbour’s house, I notice a splatter of black and white feathers. A magpie chick must have been run over by a car. I step closer and bend down to get a better look. From behind, I hear powerful wingbeats approaching, fast.
I turn. A pair of crazed red eyes are fixed on me. A very sharp beak is coming straight at me. A scream of pure unadulterated terror pierces the air. It is my scream but I do not recognise my voice.
I stumble backwards. I push myself far back into a tree, as if the pine needles can offer protection against this bird that must think that I killed its baby. It has aborted its attack without touching me. Perched on a low branch, about five metres away, it does not take its eyes off me.
Finally, mercifully, it turns its head, slightly. Now, only one red eye is trained on me. Eventually, I find the courage to move. A small step first, then another, and slowly I crab walk back up the road, all the while I keeping both my eyes on the magpie and when it is out of sight, run like crazy the last few metres home.
Every breeding season since then, the magpies have targeted me with a vengeance. For most of the intervening seven years, the magpies have swooped only me and left all other family members and neighbours alone.
Every year, the first swoop of the season catches me unaware as I rush to complete as many gardening jobs as possible before I am banished indoors. Last year, I fell off a ladder while pruning a tall thorny rose bush. I screamed, dropped my tools, and ran. Thankfully, I was on a low rung of the ladder. This year, I was talking to my neighbour when it swooped. I stumbled, yelled out goodbye, and ran. We resumed our conversation a few days later, with me hiding beneath a huge black golf umbrella.
How I wish that I could communicate to the magpies that I am not a threat. The irony is that I love birds. I keep a bird list: over a hundred birds identified (caged birds not counted – twitchers’ rules). I put out water for birds in summer. I try to plant plants that provide food for them.
I have even tried, in non-breeding seasons, to feed the magpies – mince beef or bread – to persuade them of my essential goodness. On a few occasions, one has been persuaded to hop nearer, and nearer, and finally to pick up the piece of bread and fly away. But then, spring comes, protective instincts kick in, and all goodwill is lost.
When my efforts failed, the question became: how long do magpies live? When this lot dies off, my life can return to normal again – collect the mail, smell the roses, talk to the neighbours.
But then I heard on a radio program that magpies teach their young to target the same people they perceive as dangerous. It’s intergenerational!
It made me think about the information that is passed down to us. How much of it is misinformation? When I was about ten years old, my grandmother died. I remember being driven to the place where she would be laid to rest. In the car, with my cousins, I was told that on no account should I look back, otherwise something very bad will happen. I had every intention of obeying, but became distracted, and looked back. There was a collective gasp of horror from my cousins. They wagged accusatory fingers, but, thankfully, nothing bad happened.
Other types of misinformation can have more dire consequences. Sometimes people take one incident, that happened at a point in time, under specific circumstances and generalise it to represent a whole group of people, for all time. Politicians may encourage certain narratives because it suits their interests. We have many terms for this: propaganda, bias, prejudice, fake news.
But I thought I couldn’t end this post on such a defeatist tone and last night improvised a magpie-proof hat.
Screen Cloth sewn on.
Wire Ties Discourage Swooping and Visor to Hide Face
I tested it for one hour, and am happy to say that from this limited test period, it appears to have worked. Either the magpies are not around (I am so traumatised that I think of them as omnipresent) or they cannot identify me or the wire ties have discouraged them from swooping. Finally, I got a gardening job done, a job that was really irking me.
Daisies need pruning.
A serious cut back.
Flowers for the table.
Do you have a story about discovering that something that you had been told is untrue? Would love to hear about it in the comments below. More and more I think it is the sharing of our our first-hand experiences that is the antidote to fake news.
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Next Friday, I will write about my experience of the Australian education system as a former international student, a former vocational teacher, and a mother (you never stop being a mother, so no former there).
Many things can get a girl down. How she looks. How much she earns. Whether she climbs the corporate ladder. Whether she cares for her children herself. Whether she has children. Whether she is married, single, divorced, separated, uninterested, uninteresting (or so she thinks).
For men? Just vary the variables. Modern life, full of choices and options, can be confounding. It can frazzle. Confuse. Disappoint.
Kathleen Ciwa Browne Rushton didn’t have the luxury of choice. I know this because, last week, I interviewed her daughter, Tricia Rushton.
In the late 1960s, Kathleen was working in a factory in Sydney to support her invalid husband, Meurig, their two teenage daughters, and Meurig’s mother, who was also an invalid. Both Kathleen and Meurig had grown up in Fiji and survived dramatic World War II experiences before migrating to Australia.
Shaped by mum and dad.
‘In Fiji, after the war, there was an attempt to reimpose a very hierarchical colonial structure, and my father in particular would not have that,’ says Tricia. ‘He really loved Indian people. He wanted to maintain his Indian and Fijian friends and equality, and they thought if they moved to Australia, it would be a less racist place.’
Even though Tricia’s parents were quite wealthy when she was a baby, they lost all their money due to health and other disasters. That is how Kathleen came to be making tin cans at the Gadsden-Hughes Factory in Five Dock, Sydney.
The factory was full of migrant women. Kathleen was a migrant too, but unlike her co-workers, English was her first language. (She also spoke Fijian and Hindustani.)
‘My mother was earning 75% of what the man next to her earned, because she was a woman and there wasn’t equal pay. A guy called Halfpenny was around’- John Halfpenny was a powerful figure in the trade union movement -‘and my mother was angered at the high level of strikes and that the migrant women were being fooled; they did not understand why they were being asked to put up their hands.’
Dwell for a moment on the the picture of a factory worker, a woman paid 25% less than a man in the same job, a woman so ordinary that it might be hard to tell her apart from all the other women. Factories around the world are full of such women. Bangladesh. Vietnam. China.
Now think of two vocal, forceful men confronting her, men important enough to be brought in from interstate, men accustomed to speaking before crowds, men tackling the big issues of pay and work rights and conditions, men perhaps prepared to use whatever means necessary to reach their goal.
Sit down, they say.
No, she says.
Shut up, they say.
No, she says.
It’s enough to put the steel back in my backbone and rub the self-pity off my educated face. But wait. Kathleen was different to the other women.
‘She was blind. She had sight in only one eye and became very old and there was nothing particularly attractive about her except her love and warmth and she just used her persistence and sense of obligation in the community to make things right.
‘I think I have been shaped by her. If anyone thinks that I am half as effective as what my mother was – with all privileges she sacrificed to give me university degrees, and a senior executive career and all that – I would be incredibly proud.’
‘Right up until her deathbed,’ continues Tricia, ‘she was writing to the council, writing to people about things that weren’t right. For instance, when Medicare was first introduced in Australia, it was called Medibank in those days, she noticed that there was a gap. She was a pensioner by then. The Medibank gap inhibited people from going to the doctor. One day she received a phone call from the Commonwealth Minister for Health. “Neal Blewett here. What can I do for you?” She explained the gap problem. And they fixed it.’
Fixing. Lots of things need fixing. There is a lot to do, regardless of one’s employment status, one’s marital status, one’s parenthood status (I think I just coined that phrase).
Perspective. Kathleen’s story gives me perspective. I am part of a larger narrative.
Laughter. I hear the laughter and energy in Tricia’s voice and ask myself, when I am dead and gone, what is it that I have done today that will matter?
I feel like inserting an expletive here, directed at the little pesky problems that get me down. Generally speaking, I don’t swear. However, I want to very forcefully say that I’m not going to let those &*%$! things get the better of me. You know what I mean.
Next Friday: Magpies and me. Warning: it’s not a pretty story.