Have you ever visited Angel Place, just off Martin Place in Sydney? Its hanging birdcages are a touching memorial to the city’s lost birds, forced ever westward over the years of white settlement. If you listen carefully you can hear their recorded songs and calls over the ceaseless noise of traffic and construction work.
On the pavement below the empty cages, names of birds no longer found in the city appear on what resemble little grave markers.
I was reminded of our loss in an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1908. Many of the birds were still common at that point. The piece was in response to a woman from the suburb of Strathfield, pining for ‘the bush’. But as the writer commented, it was still there if she just looked and listened;
Tomorrow my lady will walk to her morning train. Let her listen. Every gum tree along her way sends forth the cheery morning song of the jacky winter, his thanks to providence for allowing him to live at Strathfield, as well as the ‘cheep cheep’ of the beautiful blackcap deprecating the quality of his morning meal among the gum leaves. In the gardens, the flashing spinebill, with hurried note, and the gentle silver-eye, with tender song, will be busy among the flowers. From the hedges and shrubberies the defiant warbling of the blue wren will assail her. Thickheads, yellow robins, and many other birds will appeal in unison to her ears.
The tiny birds mentioned are still plentiful in my Blue Mountains garden.
In 1908 Sydney was a place where all the joys of nature remained to be enjoyed;
If there is one city in the world from which the cry for country joys need never rise it is Sydney. There is no part of the town from which the bush cannot be reached in less than an hour. From the western suburbs can be found all sorts of delightful spots on either side by easy walking; dwellers in the eastern suburbs have all the coast line, with its wealth of birds and blossoms, just at their gates; North Shore and Mosman have easy access to the delights of Middle Harbour, while on the North Shore line, within half an hour’s journey of the G.P.O., so real is the bush that lyre birds are to be seen and heard. Although our town is the biggest in the Commonwealth, the joys of the country have not yet been cut off from us, but lie all about and around us, to be had for the taking.
And what is the situation 110 years on? Well, there is still much to enjoy in our parks and gardens. However, our meddling with Mother Nature is all too evident. The writer of the article would have been amazed to see ibis harassing business owners in George Street.
Thankfully all is not lost. It’s hard to spot a blue wren, but I have looked up to see fluffy frogmouth chicks on the walk from Mosman Bay to Cremorne Point. And I have often woken to a kookaburra or a rainbow lorikeet perching on the balcony of our Mosman apartment block.