BUSH-TURKEY WARS & the Poison King
“Just a pile of Dirt”
BUSH TURKEY BATTLES
Been having problems with one of the neighbours lately. It’s all to do with bush turkeys, you see.
Bush Turkeys (Alectura Lathamii) are a feature of the Brisbane suburban landscape that many unsympathetic gardeners would like to strangle. Aside from constantly foraging and raking the ground with their long toes, & digging up plants by the roots looking for bugs, they are also mound builders.
This means that in the breeding season (generally September-November) they gather up an enormous amount of mulch and earth to form a mound, around two to four metres wide and over a metre high, in which to incubate their eggs.. A male bush turkey in a heavy mound building mood will move all available topsoil from a fifty metre radius to build an attractive mound that will impress the ladies..
Personally I like Bush Turkeys. They’re quiet, shy birds with magnificent chocolate brown plummage and I’m filled with admiration at the energy and effort they go to to create their mounds. Besides, I always support the under-dog, and a bird as hated as the bush turkey often needs all the friends it can get. So to all you gardeners out there whinging about your uprooted flower bed or the “untidy mess” bush turkeys make, I say,:
I don’t give a damn. Get some chicken wire to protect young plants and learn to share your environment with other species’
While I understand and sympathise with farmers who curse possums and wallabies getting into their crops, I have no sympathy for the effete urbanite who’d harm a native species merely because they make the garden “messy”.
(Newsflash! Nature is often “messy”)
Now my neighbourhood is admittedly well stocked for bush turkeys. There’s a big gum tree down the back which is the tallest thing in the block, and all the local turkeys like to roost there come the dusk. Yes, come sunset they queue to go up the step-ladder of branches leading them to the safety of the tree-tops and in the morning they flop down heavily with a mighty flapping of wings to forage.
As well as a bright red head & neck, the male bush turkeys have a distinctive yellow wattle around their neck, which they can inflate to produce a deep booming call during the mating season. The Alpha-male turkey around here is a fine specimen with a particularly well developed wattle, and he has decided in his wisdom to construct a mound to raise his progeny on the boundary line of my house and next door.(lets call them house B)
I spoke encouragingly about the mound to the girls living at House B and they seemed sympathetic, if a little spun out by having a mound building maniac
industriously re-landscaping their front yard.
At first all was well and Boss Turkey spent the last couple of weeks furiously moving over half a ton of earth and mulch & sticks and straw over walls, across roads and under fences. Nothing stopped him. He’d work an area over for awhile, gather up a big ball of mulch etc., then start moving that pile over to the main mound. Needless to say he leaves a trail of rubble behind, and in an effort to keep tidiness obsessed types in the neighbourhood happy, I’ve been acting as clean up squad behind him, following him around with a broom and collecting what he’s missed, and adding it to his mound.
Yes, I’ve given him a bit of a hand. When he’d moved one of his dirt mounds into the middle of the road, I moved it over to the side he was heading for. I helped him a bit with fences. Nothing he wouldn’t have done himself eventually, just speeding up the process in the interest of neighbourly relations. I must admit I’ve been starting to feel a bit possessive towards the mound myself, having put so much work into it. I could understand how the turkey must feel and at the end of each day we’d both look proudly at the growing mound. Maybe I can relate to him as a fellow father.
So I was not pleased when I saw Neighbour C, from the far side of House B, standing in House B’s yard near my fence line, trimming branches back that covered the mound and protected it from excessive heat and rain.
At first he tried to ignore me but after I made him engage in conversation it transpired he was a turkey hater and was intent on destroying the turkeys habitat.
“Well you can’t touch that nest,”I told him, “its protected. There’s probably eggs in there already.”
“No eggs that I can see,” he sneered sarcastically and ripped a huge hole in the mound.
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
“Hey,” I managed to choke out,” you can’t just rip up a nest!”
And what did he reply, as he ripped a second hole?
“Its not a nest till there’s eggs in it. Till then it’s just dirt and sticks.”
I didn’t hit him oh my flock, for I am a man of peace, but his sheer sadistic nastiness appalled me. Happily so far
he has not returned to wreck further havoc, but he strikes me
as the obsessive type, unable to rest till all Turkeys are stricken from the planet, and me along with them..
Later I followed up our discussion by affixing to his door
the Nature Conservation Act 1992 with relevant passages highlighted, eg.,
“It is a serious offence to harm bush turkeys”
and “Do not disturb mounds or eggs”
(Actually I felt like naiing it to his door but my personal assistant insisted I use blue tak.
“Ah, the reasonable approach!” I agreed appreciatively)
I also media blitzed the neighbourhood with pro-turkey propaganda, to try and raise support, and thankfully the kind-hearted girls at House B have come out more firmly for turkeys, and have agreed that the mound should come to no harm.
But we’re still keeping watch, me and the turkey. He stands on his mound and I keep vigil from my front verandah and together we watch for predators. I am armed with a camera and a copy of the State Wildlife Legislation.
This morning at dawn Boss Turkey had a lady friend over. When I saw them it looked like they were burying something in the mound. They’d dug a hole right in the centre of the mound and were doing a little dance around it, holding their wings out. It was a lovely sight. Pity my camera’s playing up.
All going well, in another three weeks or so we’re going to have some fuzzy grey balls of fluff on knitting-needle legs shooting through the undergrowth. Here’s hoping.
Later I thought about my neighbours words and realised what they said about this person and their world view.
“Just a pile of dirt & leaves.” Thats all he could see brothers and sisters, just a pile of dirt.
He couldn’t see this wonderous construction for the small marvel it is. This organic incubator, meticulously assembled and maintained at a constant temperature of 32 degrees, providing a perfect micro-environment for the eggs to develop and hatch,.
He couldn’t see this animals behaviour for the amazing ageless ritual it is. Millions of years bush turkeys been building their mounds, doing their dance, raising their young, repeating and refining their Life Cycle. He couldn’t see the courage and determination this little animal put into moving over a half a ton of material past every obstacle in its way, fighting off every rival and predator so it can create the perfect environment for its young and perpetuate its species. Been doing it before man came along and hopefully will be doing it after we’re gone. He couldn’t see this miracle of Life on his very doorstep.
What a horrible and empty place the universe must be in his head. Just a pile of dirt, indeed!
Addendum: I have noted that many creeps intent on poisoning wildlife are diverted to this page so let me take the opportunity to remind you all that; a) harming a bush turkey is a criminal offense
b) you run the risk of poisoning other native species or pets and children.
c) “poisoners” are considered in Australian society to be the lowest of scum, pretty much on par with paedophiles. Think of the shame and disgrace you’ll suffer when people find out.
d)A useless strategy. More Turkeys will just move in to fill the void. How many lives do you think you have the right to kill just because of a little inconvenience.! Turkeys are no threat to humans, aren’t disease vectors, don’t cause hygeine or noise problems. What right or reason then do you have to harm them?
I’m so ashamed of the selfishness of the Human Race sometimes.
THE POISON KING by Adrienne Mayor
(Princeton university Press, 2010)
Mz Mayor, a scholar of the classics and ‘science in history’ at Stanford University,
has produced a readable and excellent history of one of Romes most notorious enemies. History as they say, is largely written by the victors, and it was the Roman authors who wrote the reviews for the Mithradatic wars, and thus subsequently influenced the historical assessment of Mithradates the Great.
Consequently he is largely portrayed in the West as little more than a convenient foil against whom the Romans must overcome before they can rise to super-power status. A sort of Super-Villain, cartoonishly greedy, treacherous and cruel.
In the East however, he was portrayed as a Saviour-King come to save the masses from the tyranny of the Romans. This concept may sit oddly with the modern mind; that an autocratic king is fighting as the ‘Defender of Liberty’ against a (somewhat)democratic republic, who in principle rules by law rather than royal fiat. But the Roman tax-collector, selling into slavery all those who could not pay, became a symbol of tyranny where-ever he appeared. Indeed, in Republican Rome, corruption was the norm when administering the provinces.
In fact, rapacious imperialistic republics, with ostensibly democratic institutions, are a recurring feature in History. The Classical Athens of Pericles springs to mind, as does the rampaging armies of the French revolution. Lets not forget either the British Empire, with its venal parliament controlling the lives of millions of the ‘inferior races’ without a vote. Acquiring vast fortunes in the process, from opium, slavery & tea, and of course stealing other peoples land.
Some would include modern America on this list. America with its C.I.A. games and missiles and imperialist ventures like the recent Iraq war. But “America” is a subject for another day.
So how Great was Mithradates the Great? Was he a Hero-King like the legendary Arthur, or was he just another mass murdering psychopath? As regular readers of my sermons will know, its long been my contention that historical figures who have acquired the cognomen of “the Great “ are, without exception, blood thirsty maniacs who have waded through blood to climb onto their throne of bones. Thinking of a few examples only here I name Alexander the Great (you didn’t want to be around that bastard when he’s drunk), Timor the Great, Frederic the Great, Charlemagne, & Pompey the Great.
Ah Pompey. The Dictator Sulla called him “the Great” when Pompey was still a young man, but everyone else called him “Butcher Boy”.
Mithradates was certainly a larger than Life figure. Tall, strong, intelligent, educated, a multiliguist and scientest, spectacular events & intense weirdness littered his life. A comet filled the sky at his birth and a meteorite once stopped him from annihilating Sulla’s legions , when it crashed into the ground between the two armies, sending the soothsayers into a maddened frenzy of prognostications. (It sounds like something from Monty Python but this apparently really happened!)
He murdered most of his family and subsisted on huge daily doses of poison which he took to develop an immunity. Not only an expert in toxins, antidotes & medicine, he was fascinated by science in general. He conducted his own experiments and apparently the mysterious antikytheria mechanism, hauled from a wreck on the Mediterranean seabed in 1901,was one of Mithradates toys.
He also organised one of the largest massacres in history when in one day in 88B.C. 87,000 Romans were slaughtered in what is today Turkey and Greece. (Puts 9/11 in perspective dont you think?) He murdered or poisoned all who stood in his way and had a nasty paranoid streak. You did not want to be around Mithradates when things were going wrong.
The Romans sent armies out under Sulla for revenge of course. But despite ultimately defeating Mithradates on the battlefield, the wily king was still able to negotiate a treaty and hang onto his kingdom for another ten years till his next attempt to take on the Romans.
Pompey tried next and though he could defeat Mithradates armies he never could catch the cunning monarch.
Perhaps Mithradates tale is essentially a moral lesson in hubris. Enormously wealthy and powerful, and relatively secure in his native kingdom of Pontus, he chose again and again to risk what he possessed to follow his grand imperialistic dreams. He liked to portray himself as the Liberator of Greece and the Saviour of Asia, but really what drove him was his desire to be named not merely King, but ‘King of Kings’. His self-belief in this role as the prophesied saviour of Asia doomed him to follow the path of Destiny where-ever it led him.
The Romans never did track him down. He died in exile that is true, but only at the end of a long, healthy, and largely successful life where he had his fill of love, adventure, wealth and power.
Mithradates. Psychopath or heroic saviour King? You decide.
The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists
~ by reverendhellfire on October 10, 2010.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: Adrienne Mayor, ancient history, Ancient Rome, Australian wildlife, book review, brisbane wildlife, Brush Turkey, Bush Turkey, cartoon, fantasy, Mithradates the Great, mound builders, mushrooms, native birds, neighbourly relations, poetry, poison, social comment, squarey, suburban wildlife, warfare