“Glenys, come and get this crazed cockatoo!” called my mother from the washhouse.
Even as a four-year old I had more control over my beloved “Cocky” than my adult mother. Every Monday morning would find her working hard amid the steam and humidity of the weekday washing. The copper had been filled and the fire beneath the old 40-gallon drum lit to heat the water. The old copper stick was taken from its place in the laundry or wash-house and used to stir in the clumpy, lumpy soap powder. Then in would go the washing, first the whites (with a bluing bag to keep them white in the sometimes murky water), then the coloureds and finally the blacks or whatever was too dirty to be mixed with the coloured clothing. Sheets, pillowcases, towels, tablecloths, clothing - all received the same intense pounding by the stick, up and down, up and down, round and round. I was not allowed too near, the water was boiling hot and a child or an adult could be severly burned by flying water or laundry.
After things were washed, they were hoisted up and out with the use of the ever-faithful stick into a large tub, taken into the wash-house where the large cement troughs were standing waiting. One was filled with cold water for the rinse, the other to receive the hand-wrung items. When that trough was full, water would be turned on and again another rinse. The water was never wasted - it would be emptied into large buckets and reused, until it was too soapy for rinsing - then put back in the copper for the next load. When the washing was finished the remaining water washed the laundry and kitchen floors and any other floors that needed it! Including the chook pen (chicken house.)
I loved washday - it smelled good. I loved to squeeze the gooey mess that was soap through my small fingers and let some drop to the floor where I would skate around in it until my mother shooed me out of her way. I loved to see the billowing sheets on the line, white and clean and fresh. I loved the way my mother hung out the clothes, shirts and blouses were hung upside down so the pegmarks wouldn’t show in the shoulders, dresses folded over and pegged along the waist. The cardigans and jumpers were strung along by the sleeves from old hosiery stockings and those were then pegged to the line, allowing the woollen items to dangle and look like something from Sleepy Hollow.
And I loved washday because it meant I could help by getting Cocky out of the way. Invariably, he would bail Mum up in the wash-house, screeching at her and raising his gorgeous golden yellow crest to its highest height. If she went to duck around him one way, he would jump and screech in the same direction, if she tried to fool him by feinting in different directions, he was always right there, one step ahead of her. If she yelled at him to move and acted as though she was going to rush him, he would screech even louder and hiss at her. She was terrified of him - and, I suppose, he could look terrifying. He certainly could sound it. Our neighbours always knew when Mum was stuck with her huge load of laundry in the wash-house! So, I would come to the rescue. With soft cooing and tsk-tsk-ing, I would gather the crazy Australian into my arms and give him lots of kisses and loves as I carried him to a safer environment. He would tell me he loved me and tell me he was my friend, then he would look over at my mother, by now hurrying from the laundry to hang out the wash, raise his crest and swear! I would tell him what a naughty cocky he was, and he would hang his head and say, “Naughty bird, naughty bird.” I would kiss him again and he would nibble my ear and we would be happy together. Then he would glance my mother’s direction and shriek and laugh, knowing he had the better deal.
Cocky was far from done after the wash was finished. On several occasions when the the clothes lines were filled to overflowing with clean, beautiful laundry, and mum and I had gone inside to wash floors or do whatever work awaited, I would hear a terrible sound coming from my mother and see a look of dismay, anger and almost tears. Rushing to her side to make sure she was not suddenly ill, I would hear her mutter, “that rotten bird has got to go”, whereupon I would steal a glance out the back door and behold the beautiful laundry, now laying on the back lawn. Cocky, to get his uppances, had gone over the whole clothes line and carefully pulled each peg from its place, letting each lovely, clean, laundered item flutter to the ground. I must give him his due though, he would then jump to the ground (his wings were clipped so he could not fly far), and daintly and ever so carefully, arrange the sheets, towels, whatever, in a nice smooth pattern. Trouble was it was often being gently dropped and smoothed over Dad’s garden, creating two problems - dirty laundry and damage to the garden underneath.
Mum was never impressed by Cocky’s clever clothes arrangement. Nor by his sparkling eye and wit, and definitely never by his pouting, hang-dog expression when my father came home and heard about the troubles and cocky, ever so pentinent would say, “I’m sorry, naughty bird”. Then almost inaudibly, “It was her fault.”
However, Mum was not the only one to feel Cocky’s revenge. One particularly hot summer, my father had growled at him for some minor infraction and pushed him into his cage and shut the door! We never shut Cocky’s door - it was just not done. He was free to come and go as he pleased. He would go in to grab a bite to eat or have a drink, and then come right back out again to make sure he hadn’t missed anything or anyone. He could bark like a dog, yell like a neighbour, scream and laugh like kids at play, or squeal just like the unoiled hinges on the back gate. He was, unfortunately, very foul-mouthed when upset, and we heard just about every word in the book, and I’m sure, several not in any books that day he was shut up in his cage. Not even I could console him and because I was just four and a half years old, and not allowed to hear his cursings and rantings, I too, was shut up, in the house. Before I went though, I did hear Dad giving Cocky an ear full - and he was pretty much Cocky’s match!
My father worked hard in our garden, he grew everything we needed for food and had a garden that others would come to look at, it was that nice. It was huge and had long, long rows running neatly and straightly back all the way to the back fences. He had a large orchard of fruit and citrus trees and he loved his strawberry beds. He would try different varieties, experimenting to see which gave the most for the least work and water. Always a shortage of water in Australia it seemed - and we ran off a tank, so if it didn’t rain, we didn’t have extra water, so it was carefully used and often rationed. During this same hot summer, Dad had purchased approximately 400 strawberry plants and 200 lettuce plants and after almost four days of backbreaking work had them all planted. They did look lovely. Sadly, it was also on that last day of planting that Dad and Cocky had their disagreement and Cocky ended up shut up in the cage.
Cocky was patient, in fact he was the epitome of patience.
He endured the humiliation of being shut up for almost three days, when Dad relented and opened the cage door. But Cocky did not move or look at him, or indeed any of us. I cajoled, I pleaded, I even cried, but Cocky would not be moved. We had done the ultimate and he was not going to forgive us easily. So we went about our lives and hoped Cocky would come out of his cage. We must have been out of our minds!!!
On the morning of the fourth day, the morning after the cage had been opened, the day began with one of those unforgettable Australian country dawns. Every bird in Australia was singing, chirping, warbling, cawing, screeching, chattering and going on with the business of getting a living, including Cocky, whistling one of Dad’s favourite songs. The sky was incredible, I remember it still - there is a certain feeling in an Australian dawn that can’t be described - the hues of colour in the sky, the sounds and smells, the gum trees almost audibly releasing their incredible fragrances, the coolness, yet all at once the warmth of the new day - it made one want to sing with the birds, rush to the river to fish for breakfast, race down the backyard and feel the warm earth underfoot and take in the beauties of the world around us. Then we heard it - a string of words unprintable, a panic-stricken voice, a “I’m going to screw that bird’s neck if it’s the last thing I do” yell. Neighbours came rushing out of their homes and looked over our fences, back and sides. In the freshly turned, fresh smelling earth was all of Dad’s hard work, all of his plantings of strawberries and lettuce starts - each lying nicely beside the hole they had once been planted in, each beginning to show signs of stress, you know, shriveling up and dying kinds of signs.
I told you Cocky was patient. He endured and then he retaliated.
I’m amazed he lived as long as he did. We had him for almost 10 years and the people before us about 40 years and those before them at least 30 years, so he was an old, old bird when he finally said goodbye to us and next day was found dead in his cage. I thought I would die too. He was a wonderful creature, he gave me many moments of undiluted joy and friendship. He would let me dress him in doll clothes and put him in my pram and parade him around the streets of our small country town. He allowed me to cuddle and kiss him until he must have wished I would go away. He sat on my shoulder or down by my elbow for hours while I played with my friends or had afternoon tea with grandma. What he had against my mother, I will probably never know - she always treated him with respect, albeit from a distance. She certainly never harmed him, although she dearly wished to from time to time! Cocky was mine and I was his and together we formed a bond and friendship that only grew as I did. On the last day I spent with him, we wandered around a new backyard in a new neighbourhood, nearer to the city than I liked, but closer to my grandparents, whom I loved. We snuggled and I thought he seemed tired and quiet. The weather was scorching hot and I put a wet hessian bag around his cage to give him shade and coolness. He went in without a murmur and sat on his perch. He asked me for a kiss and we gave each other a couple. He asked Dad for a kiss and got one! Then he did something amazing, he asked my mother for a kiss and as she gingerly approached him, he smoothed all his feathers down and gently nibbled her nose. It still brings tears to my eyes. Cocky knew he was leaving us. He tucked his head next to his wing, then turned to me and said, “Cocky loves you - ni-night”.
We blamed his death on the heat, but you know, I think Cocky was just plain tired out, worn out. He was very old. He wanted to rest. I can’t wait to hear him call me and laugh and jump up on my shoulder and say, “Cocky loves you, give us a kiss.”
I wonder how many children today have such an opportunity? I wonder how many children today would take such an opportunity. Simple times those days, wonderful times with wonderful memories of a marvelous, wise and demented cockatoo!
Copyright © 2010 Glenys J. Rasmussen. All rights reserved [Return to Top]