Thursday, January 28, 2010

Inglorious Bustards And An Apatite For Rocks

I have just spent a few days in Sydney.  Whilst there, I did the following:

1:  Tasted pistachio kulfi (Bad.  Will not do that again.)
2:  Learned to catch a bus.  In the right direction (Good, but may have trouble replicating.)
3:  Accidentally caught that bus to the end of the line because the stupid map said it looped around, but it didn't, and then I had to walk for twenty minutes to get to where I wanted to go (Bad.)
3:  Went to The Rocks on Australia Day and watched bogans wrapped in Australian flags (Bad.)
4:  Went to the Australian Museum (Totally awesome.)

I'm not sure why I love the museum so much, but there's something about an enormous room full of stuffed birds in glass cabinets that makes me feel all warm and nostalgic.  It isn't that I grew up surrounded by dead birds, fixing me with their angry little glass eyes as I walked to the bathroom.  In fact, you could count the dead animals in my childhood home on one hand.  Nor does my pleasure stem from seeing a number of pigeons in their only tolerable state.  In fact, apart from the pigeons, I do feel some discomfit about the whole thing.

However, I justify paying my admission to this grotesque zoo of death by telling myself the birds were collected a very long time ago, and most of them probably died of natural causes.  This is not hard to believe when looking at some of the older ones, with their missing feathers, possible goitre and clear signs of beak mange.

And the fact is, it's very educational.  I learned, for example, that the scientific name for the European Blackbird is turdus merula.  Whoever came up with that must have liked blackbirds as much as I do pigeons.  If I had my way, pigeons would be called avis horribilis, not columba livia.

When I'd learned everything there is to know about birds, I looked at the minerals.  These were boring.  Ethically sourced, perhaps, but essentially all variations on rock.  However, I did like the apatite.  I like to think this one was named by a very hungry mineralogist.  In fact, hunger is probably responsible for many of nature's silliest scientific names:

Naturalist #1:  Crap.  I thought we'd finished, but we've still got this one.  What do you reckon?
Naturalist #2:  Jeremy, it's right on lunch - can't we leave it till later?
Naturalist #1:  Sorry Trent, we have to classify all the bivalves after lunch.
Naturalist #2:  Well, I don't care what the @#$% you call it.  My risotto is going cold.
Naturalist #1:  OK.  It's a gorilla ....... let's call it gorilla gorilla.
Naturalist #2:  Done.  Let's go.


  1. Magnificent museuological interpretation. I have a similarly pseudo-nostalgia about the museum. Although in my case it is a little bit more actual nostalgia as I drew some of the stuffed animals as a kid and my drawing teacher would bring them to class. Not sure how that worked exactly, but that was in the days when AM staff seemed to take stuffed bears home and no one would notice for years.

  2. Goddamn those Australia-Day-wrecking, flag-wearing, southern-cross-tattoo-toting, Australian-redneck bogans! I hate them with a ferocity that makes pigeons seem as pleasant as plush teddy bears or soft cheese!


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