THE SHOW AND TELL EGG

During the Christmas holidays in 1992, three primary school children  in Western Australia came across a giant, fossilized egg in the sand dunes  at Cervantes Beach. Cervantes Beach

Jamie Andrich  aged nine and his cousins Kelly (9)  and Michelle Rew (7)  had no idea of the importance of their find. I love the fact that when school went back,  one of the kids took it along to a class  ‘show and tell’.  It was only some time later that the egg was taken along to palaeontologists at the Western Australian Museum by Jamie Andrich and his father, Darryl.  It was  identified as being from Aepyornis titan, a long extinct, flightless bird; possibly the world’s largest.

The egg had floated 6,000 kilometres from Madagasca over a thousand years before the birds  actually died out. It appears they were still around in the 13th century, when the explorer Marco Polo described them in his diary as being; ‘so large and strong as to seize an elephant with its talons, and to lift it into the air, in order to drop it to the ground and in this way kill it.’   This account was a bit exaggerated, but Marco Polo had provided Aepyornis titan with its common name; Elephant Bird

Elephant Bird

Plans were made to auction the egg, with huge sums being bandied about. Jamie and his cousins  must have been dreaming of  a trip to Disneyland  and every toy they  ever wanted.   However, almost immediately there were  questions about ownership. Eventually it was judged to have been found on crown land, and therefore the legal property of  the government. Museum staff were very relieved. Private ownership might have resulted in  the egg  leaving Australia, or worse still being broken up and sold in tiny sections as souvenirs.

Not surprisingly  the families  felt hard done by. They believed  the old Aussie code of  ‘finders keepers’  should  be honoured. In fact, they were so incensed that they took the egg back and young Jamie reburied it!  Museum staff were terrified that he might forget the location.  After protracted  negotiation the families received an ex gratia payment of $25,000 dollars and fortunately Jamie went straight back to the egg, hidden under a particular bush at the beach. The  egg is now held at the museum, along with a smaller one, also  found on the Western Australian coast at Scott River, in 1930.

Mr Vic Roberts found the Scott River  egg when he was ten years old. However, it did not come to public notice until 1962, when the TV presenter and naturalist Harry Butler saw it in a Nannup farmhouse and informed the museum. It is now on permanent loan from Mr Roberts.

The Scott River Elephant Egg

I wonder if this is Vic Robert’s daughter cradling the Scott River egg? (photo Douglas Elford)

The  flightless birds were approximately 3 metres tall, and weighed over 450 kilograms. No wonder their eggs were one hundred times larger than a hen’s egg.

Hen's egg compared to Elephant Bird egg.

Hen’s egg  beside the Scott River specimen for comparison,

My friend, the UK collector and author Errol Fuller, poses below with an Elephant Bird’s egg  about to be auctioned with a price guide of £50,000.

Errol Fuller with Elephant Bird egg

Errol shows off a giant egg .

If you would like to know more, Errol wrote the wonderful book, Extinct birds.  I really  treasure my signed copy.

There are less than twenty complete  eggs  of Aepyornis titan around the world, mostly held in museums. Sir David Attenborough has one that was pieced  together from fragments found in Madagascar.

 

Elephant egg

This egg was taken to America from Madagascar in 1930. It would be illegal now. (Trove)

Can you guess  the nearest living relative to the  giant bird?  Ostrich?  Emu?  No….the  flightless kiwi.

Kiwi Bird

Yes, I do see a family likeness.

It seems a delightful thing that two of nature’s wonders should have been found by two little Australian boys at the beach, sixty years apart.

FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE BOX BELOW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments
  1. A fascinating story, Pauline, and I love your title – The Show and Tell Egg.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Lynne. Sometimes it’s harder to find a title than to write the story.

  2. Very interesting. I had never heard of this bird. At that height, it was something to be looked up to. 🙂 I wonder what they sounded like, if their ‘voice’ was as big as they were.

  3. What an interesting story! I was surprised that it wasn’t related to the Moa.

    • Pauline

      Yes, that would seem to have been a more logical cousin, Christine.

  4. Hello Pauline,
    I thought I had left a post already but I do not see it here!! I love your stories so much. I would love to be able to use this one in the Budgerigar Society of New Zealand Bulletin, of which I am the Editor. I am certain that our members would really enjoy the story and maybe there are many who would love to see some of your other writing??
    Please let me know if you give permission with all proper permissions etc.
    With warm regards from one Shadbolt cousin to another!!
    Sheryl Baron.

    • Pauline

      Go right ahead, my Shadbolt cousin. You have my permission to share anything you wish; including the link to the website etc etc.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Notification of new stories via Email

Enter your email address to receive notification of new stories on this website (your address will not be shown).

Search Pandora

Find us in Pandora the National Library of Australia's archive of Australian online publications in perpetuity.