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The call of the Bush Stone Curlew

The call of the Bush Stone Curlew

Life on Hamilton Island is distinctly coloured by the prominence of bird life and the melancholic call of the Bush Stone Curlew at night - a beautiful echo against rhythmic waves on the shore. The curlew is a beautiful bird and notably absent from my home cities of Melbourne and Adelaide because of land clearing and agriculture. The curlew is still found across other parts of Australia including Kangaroo Island, Magnetic Island and Brisbane city. Unfortunately though, the population is only estimated at 10-15,000

Facts about the Curlew

Curlews are tall birds, standing up to 59cm on stick-like legs with knees that are actually ankles. Males and female birds look the same and will often stay in monogamous pairs through the year. They use fallen sticks as camouflage while they crouch down to sleep during the day in preparation for their night-time adventures. The curlew is a forager, feeding on invertebrates and lizards. The hard beak of the curlew has tiny holes where blood vessels and nerves exit, so it's thought that they a use sense of touch through their beaks to find food on the ground.

When the curlew is territorial it will project a low pitch, guttural growl and spread its wings to give the illusion of size. Oddly though, when the curlew is threatened it adopts a strategy of stopping completely, standing awkwardly still and hoping to God nobody sees it.

Aboriginal dreamtime and the meaning of curlew

The mournful call of the curlew inspired the Aboriginal dreamtime story of Purrukapali and Bima that is told to Indigenous children across the northern parts of Australia including the Tiwi Islands. The story is below - 

 

PURRUKAPALI AND BIMA

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Purrukapali was Mudungkala’s only son. Every day his wife Bima went out gathering food for him, accompanied by their young son Jinani. In the same camp lived an unmarried man, Japara, who used to persuade Bima to leave her child under the shade of a tree and go into the forest with him.

On one very hot day Bima neglected her son too long and he died in the hot sun. On hearing of the child’s death, Purrukapali became so enraged that he struck his wife on the head with a throwing stick and hounded her into the forest.

In an effort to help the anguished father, Japara promised to restore the dead child to life within three days, but Purrukapali was adamant and the two men soon became locked in a deadly struggle.

Purrukapali picked up the dead body of his son and, walking backwards into the sea, he decreed that death should come to the whole world. As his son had died, the whole of creation would die and, once dead, never again would come to life. There was not death before this time.

The place where Purrukapali died, on the east coast of Melville Island, became a whirlpool so strong that anybody who approached it in a canoe would be drowned. When Japara saw what happened he changed himself into the moon. But he did not escape the decree of Purrukapali, for even though his is eternally reincarnated, he has to die for three days every month. One can see on the face of the moon man the wounds that he received in this fight with Purrukapali.

Bima, still bearing scars on her head, became Wayayi, the curlew bird that still roams the forest at night, wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for the child that she lost.”

- Munupi Arts and Crafts Association

There are many other local stories about the call of the curlew that you can read about here

The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Fitzroy, Melbourne

The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Fitzroy, Melbourne