The Migratory Kereru talks to the Cat about Houses and Hand Gestures: a contemporary tale


The kitchen sink looks East. The view was over an open paddock, the road below, a paddock and then a stand of ancient remnant Whakamarama forest where the very early morning sun tries to force through a tangle of old branches. With the aid of disobedient self-set native trees, I’ve altered the landscape, so at the edge of the house garden there’s now a ramshackle multi-species hedgeline, slowing crowding out whatever is now on the other side in the paddock.

Tuis frequent the lower level flaxes, swinging upside-down cirque-like to get at nectar. Family groups sing a variety of tui tunes and I get to see that tuis are not black and white but oversprayed with a brilliant perlescent blue sheen. The kingfisher, kotare, likes to sit on the top of the old wire gate with his back to me and the sun. The fantails, piwakawaka dart and jump and flutter in front of the windows. There was even a shining cuckoo out the back the other day. And through the paddocks round the house I hear the penetrating chant of the interloping pheasant. Large kereru, the native wood-pigeon whoosh above me moving from the ancient trees over the road down to the Puketoki Reserve.

I was standing at the kitchen window and there on the winter-bald exotic deciduous tree directly in front of me was a very large, very fat looking kereru. He was just sitting there. Little orange beak and feet looking like tiny berries. His grey-white tuxedo shirt front blending with the branch and the green back and side body feathers matching perfectly the native trees behind him. I watched, and watched until it flew away. I was so excited I rang a friend to tell them “someone was hiding from Sonny Tau in my garden” No further explanation was needed and we just cackled. Fortunately I’m so unimportant no-one has ever offered me “chicken with kereru and miro berries”.

The kereru keeps coming back. One day I thought for sure it wouldn’t return. As I stood watching it over the sink and noting my attempt to wash the outside of the windows wasn’t going to win any good housekeeping prize, a cat ran straight up the tree towards the kereru. It was the perfect example of Gareth Morgan’s cat control campaign. Two things amazed me – the speed of the cat going up the tree and the speed of the kereru leaving the tree. They’re kind of the jumbo jet of native birds. The cat? No, it wasn’t the persistently sleeping, multi-coloured, geriatric Leaf I’ve recently been asked to house. It was the easily identifiable, well fed, youthful and fast-moving cat of a neighbour. I’ve got two of those huge water pistol things left behind after a summer at the beach– I think I’ll fill those ready for action.

And fortunately for all the birds already in the garden there’s more than enough room for all of them. I won’t have to plant new trees or build new birdbaths or open up hectares of fringe land to build new infrastructure, new schools and hospitals. I won’t have try to tell you with a straight beak all this has been necessary is because there weren’t enough trees.

I’m descended from migrants – the kind who were involuntarily migrated. Since my great-grandfather’s brief sojourn in the British Virgin Islands as the son of a freed slave and a cigarmaker we’ve moved, and expanded through both Europe and the Antipodes. I’ve been in New Zealand since I was a year old. I’ve been registered as a New Zealand citizen. I’m so glad my great-grandfather decided to migrate and I’m even more glad that my parents caught the boat and I’m standing looking out the window at a kereru.

While everything changes, a lot of what’s changed around here doesn’t seem to be helpful to the majority of the “existing residents”. We already had homeless people, we already had issues with health funding, we already had an overburdened motorway system, (the southern section of which was affectionately known as “the southern carpark”) sections of the community financially excluded from education, landbanking and less than living wages. So why deluge the country with more people? It’s because there aren’t enough houses: yeah right!

On one occasion this week I was watching the kereru and when it settled on a branch it proceeded to spend several minutes moving its head and neck up and down, in and out – as if it had got something stuck in its throat and wanted to move it but not spit it out. As I’m not ornithologically minded I just watched long enough to ensure it wasn’t going to fall out of the tree then I got on with what I was doing. Beautiful though they are, there is only so much time per day I can stand staring at a kereru.

However the repeated gestures brought to mind the early 1930’s photographs of adult members of the “Royal Family” waggling parts of their anatomy. Apologists have suggested to me that the waggling appendages were innocent fun – get a life. No-one’s going to hold accountable two little girls aged 7 and 3, unless of course they were African child-soldiers, but the adults? The Nazi Party had its origins in 1919 as a post World War I German workers political party and the Brown Shirts and Hitler had been around for quite a long time before 1933. In 1933 Hitler and the Nazi Party began the legal processes they are remembered for. You’d like to think that today’s young people wouldn’t have such naïve faith in those in positions of power. The Kardashian style fervour which follows the younger royals and those in leadership roles locally might suggest otherwise. For many Hitler is not even a memory. Who has heard of kristallnacht or for that matter the irgun, the Stern Gang, the Haganah or the names of Moyne or Bernadotte? And the photos – like finding a cockroach on your porridge.

And remember, have a nice day.

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary is the founding and current Editor of ARTbop.


About Author

Leave A Reply