It was a common scene on Sunday; the sun rising to the sound of chirping and chattering as a small congregation of Norfolk Island birds swapped their weekly news. From the cliff faces to the forest valleys, this motley crew of birds saw everything, and Sunday morning was not only a time of checking in with necessary local news – but also a time to twitter over delicious gossip!
“Did you hear that there will be a Food Festival on Norfolk next year?” chirped the grey sparrow. The rest of the birds smiled, rolling their eyes in jest, for the sparrow had the ability to sniff out even the smallest morsel of food news. “Oh come on,” protested Sparrow. “I’m not the only one who goes nuts over Norfolk dishes! I saw most of you hovering around after the Bounty Day picnic last June!”
The pigeon, whose territory was the local school of around 300 students, agreed with Sparrow, for the Bounty Day picnic was a culinary event like no other. Each year when the Norfolk Islanders commemorate the arrival of their ancestors from Pitcairn Island, emulating their first steps dressed in period costume – the day concludes with an almighty picnic. For the more opportunistic of birds, such as Pigeon, it was an event not to be missed.
“From what I’ve heard,” said Pigeon, “The Food Festival won’t just showcase the traditional dishes, but all the amazing fresh produce that’s available on the island. I pinched some local feta from a boy’s lunchbox at school, and it was divine! Plus, I overheard one of the teachers say that soon there will be goat’s produce available – I’ve got a team of pigeons alert to its
appearance at school!” All the birds knew that between Pigeon and Sparrow, they would never miss out on vital food news. With over thirty restaurants, cafés and takeout shops on Norfolk, all boasting fresh homegrown produce, there was enough food gossip to fill an entire morning. The red-tailed tropic bird did like the idea of a local food festival, though as her diet consisted almost completely of fresh fish she caught herself, she couldn’t contribute much to the topic. Many of her kind used Norfolk as a ‘summer getaway’, though she preferred to live on the island year-round. It wasn’t just Norfolk’s lovely climate, exquisite beauty, clean air and abundance of food – but also the caring humans who respected the environment. She couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to bring up her chicks! Besides, Norfolk has the advantage of being refreshingly ‘away from it all’ without being far from the mainland. She knew all too well that Sparrow and Pigeon could talk about Norfolk’s culinary
delights for hours, so she decided to change the topic.
“Following up from last week’s queries, I’ve found out that the upcoming Outrigger tournament will be called the ‘Norfolk Ocean Challenge’ and will bring humans from nearby countries to compete. All are welcome to join us from our vantage point in the cliffs!” she exclaimed, and was met by much enthusiasm from the group. “Also, I saw the cargo ship on the horizon today, and I believe it will unload tomorrow if the sea remains calm,” she said, knowing this would pique the interest of the sacred kingfisher.
“Do you know what side of the Island the ship will unload?” asked Kingfisher. He hoped the ship would be worked at Kingston, for there was something magical about watching the event unfold amidst a backdrop of Georgian buildings – the remnants of Norfolk’s era as a penal colony during the early-mid 1800’s. He would watch all day, entranced by the skills used to transport the island’s precious cargo; skills that are passed on through each generation of island men. At Kingston Pier, the varied eras of Norfolk’s history would merge: the location was the area of The Landing Place, where Phillip Gidley King had arrived and settled just weeks after Australia was colonised by the British; the locals were a mixture of English and Polynesian genetics, descendants of intrepid mutineers and Tahitians; the boats they manoeuvred were reminiscent of the island’s whaling era; and the incoming cargo, reflections of a modern society. Last month he saw a large tourist bus carried deftly across the sea, perched on top of two lighters. He often wondered what his own ancestors would have seen here hundreds of years ago. Would they have watched early Polynesians row their canoes into the bay? Or possibly witnessed the HMS Sirius wreck on the reef in 1790? As if reading his thoughts, the pigeon expressed his desire for the ship to unload at Kingston.
“It’s because I love to imagine that the cargo ship is actually that of the Sirius, bringing ashore my ancestors – a pair of pigeons by which fate blew separately onto the ship’s deck. My kind wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the Sirius wrecking on the reef,” Pigeon declared.
“How romantic,” cooed the white tern. She relished a good love story. And Norfolk, she knew, was the perfect setting for romance to blossom, for the relaxed atmosphere was steeped in the vibrant colours of nature, from spellbinding sunsets to the coral reefs. From the tops of the pines she would observe human couples on holiday, entranced by the island’s beauty and serenity. They could be as busy or laid-back as they chose, taking their pick from a variety of accommodations. The tern’s own home, a stately Norfolk pine, looked down into Bumboras beach, which is a secluded haven loved by children, surfers and those inclined to drop a fishing line. Although all accommodation properties on the island are AAA graded to Australian standards – she didn’t need anyone to assess her cliff top property to know that it was five stars! Talking about stars, she had a question she thought the morepork owl could answer.
“Morepork, do you know when the Jazz festival will be held this year? I hear the acts are world-class! I know how you enjoy the night shows – is there any chance you could take me with you?”
The morepork, who was listening to the conversation although nestled in a dark hollow of a nearby pine, considered the tern’s request. Morpork was the eyes of the night sky, and was therefore an authority on Norfolk’s life after dark. He watched the movies and dramatic productions at Ferny Lane Theatre, enjoyed the local band nights, loved the Rock and Roll Festival, and never missed the popular Country Music Festival. He would sing his best soprano in response to the Opera in Paradise performers, and he often spied on the Line Dancing troupes, copying their steps along his pine limb by the cover of darkness. But it was the Jazz Festival that he loved he most, as the groovy music seemed to compliment his own ‘boobook’ call. Before he had a chance to reply to White Tern’s request, the quick-winged Grey Fantail swooped into the congregation bustling with information.
“Everyone listen!!” she shrilled, quickly flitting around each bird until all attention was on her. “The annual Archery Open Field Championships are due to start next Tuesday, so make sure you inform all your friends and family to steer clear of the archery fields!” Before the birds even had time to nod their heads, the grey fantail was off. The birds fell apart in fits of giggles, for poor Fantail had become excessively paranoid about flying objects after she was hit by a stray golf ball at the recent Golf Classic PRO-AM.
“Fantail is right,” said Sparrow when the laughter subsided. “We do need to stay on top of the sports events on Norfolk each year – with everything from Pistol Shoot Tournaments to FMX Pro Motorbike Championships, we need to make sure we are in the right place at the right time.”
“Well, we can’t all be at Foodland mall on a Saturday morning Sparrow!” joked the green parrot. The birds exploded again, twittering loudly, for the one-liners of Green Parrot were as delightful as his rare sightings in the wild. It was great fun teasing Sparrow, for as hard as he tried to take an interest in the greater welfare of the birds of Norfolk Island, his obsession with food made him quite single-minded.
“Ha ha ha,” Sparrow piped above the raucous laughter. “If you must know, I don’t only go to Foodland on Saturday’s for the food. What I love most of all, well, second most of all, is the atmosphere. The great community spirit of Norfolk comes to life on Saturday mornings; the locals joke affectionately with each other, like one big family, and the tourists buzz around enjoying the happy vibe, listening in to the friendly banter in the Norf’k language. And yes, while all this is going on, my colleagues and I make the most of the distracted humans – it’s quite a thrill to dive and swoop between obstacles to catch dropped crumbs of bakery goods, or swipe some of the café cheesecake topped with homegrown strawberries …” Sparrow was lost in his reverie, his right wing twitching involuntarily as he fantasized over next Saturday’s bounty.
“Come to the National Park one day Sparrow, and I’ll show you a smorgasbord like no other,” said Green Parrot. “The protected forest covers almost a quarter of the island, so we are guaranteed food direct from Mother Nature herself. I must say however, that the cheesecake is doing wonders for your plumage!” This was again met with laughter, as Sparrow was definitely a reflection of his food obsession. Sparrow himself chuckled at the joke, patting his rounded breast with pride. In a flurry, Grey Fantail was back. “What’s so funny? What did I miss?!” she demanded, for she liked to keep up-to-speed with the gossip.
“We were just teasing Sparrow,” replied White Tern. “For his obsession with human food.” “Well I don’t eat much of their food, though the humans are wonderful as they help to disturb delicious insects as they walk past,” she twitted. “Why, just yesterday I was following a couple on a walk out to Captain Cook Memorial, and they were disappointed they only booked a one week stay on Norfolk. They couldn’t believe how much the island has to offer! They said they felt free and healthy here, amongst the natural beauty and clean air. The man had even lost his wallet the previous day and it was handed in to the Visitor Information Centre – money intact! They then understood why most people leave their cars and homes unlocked here. It made me think how lucky we are to call this island home! They loved how clear the night sky was here, but blamed the dazzling star spectacle on the woman’s unfortunate encounter with a cow on their walk home after dinner. The man joked that she did look an inch taller after stepping in the manure!” The birds joined in with Fantail’s delighted twitters – they loved hearing stories about humans ‘stepping back into nature’ and thought it was hilarious their own droppings were considered good luck.
“Speaking of good luck,” began Green Parrot. “If anyone would like to challenge myself and Morepork to a round of minigolf tonight, you are most welcome. Look for the smoke coming out of the volcano on the first hole. Make sure you bring your lucky feather, you’re going to need it!”
It was common, particularly on full moonlit nights, for the birds to meet for some friendly competition. Each hole represented a chapter in Norfolk’s history: from Norfolk’s ancient beginnings as a volcano, through to its discovery by Polynesians and Captain Cook, then through the various settlements on the island, finishing with an aeroplane preparing for takeoff on the island’s runway. Once scores were tallied up and sufficient gloating had ensued over hole-in-ones, the birds would return to their various homes around the island, grateful that there would be no departure from their Norfolk Island paradise.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 04 Issue 01, 2014. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.