Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Sacred Kingfisher

It seems death stalks the trail this week. Lying on the side of the path was a bunch of turquoise feathers. I picked up the small Sacred Kingfisher and held it in the palm of my hand admiring the exquisite bright blue green mantle then placed it in the earth. I'd been watching a pair of these birds for weeks. Often they'd sit on the electricity wires, the same spot every day, watching for prey. Now only one remained.

However the bird book tells me these creatures are usually solitary, only pairing up to breed. They build their nest in tree hollows or by burrowing into termite mounds or river and other earthen banks and can have three to six eggs.

Sacred Kingfishers are widespread across coastal Australia. Some migrate from New Zealand; others travel from northern Australia to Victoria and Tasmania. The result of one of these journeys to Brunswick, a Melbourne suburb, created great excitement and spawned an annual festival dedicated to The Return of the Sacred Kingfisher.

In the mid 1970s a group of dedicated environmentalists took over a rubbish tip on the edge of the Merri Creek in Brunswick. and CERES was born. There they created an oasis of community gardens, permaculture, alternative technology projects, environmental educational programs, an organic farm, native plant nursery and a haven of inspirational green activities. The creek was restored, replanted and restoried. And one day, back in 1992, a Sacred Kingfisher visited. They'd not been seen in the area for 20 years.

From then on the return of this tiny sacred bird has been celebrated at the end of November. Hundreds of school children, story tellers, dancers and songsters recreate the story of the Sacred Kingfisher's return to the Merri Creek. CERES says that the ceremony in homage of this tiny bird has 'become a symbolic community ritual, connecting people to place through the creative expression of our environmental, artistic and cultural significance.'

Maya Ward who has walked the Merri Creek (and the Yarra River) from sea to source has written 'The Story of the Sacred Kingfisher' (2006). She ends her watery journey along the Merri Creek with this poignant story of the Sacred Kingfisher and its very timely return to the CERES haven.

'Once upon a time, in a southerly land between mountains and bay, was the land of the Kulin, where the Wurundjeri lived. Their ancestors, Bunjil the Wedge Tailed Eagle and Branbeal the rainbow had created this land, and the people sang the songs to sustain the land, to thank the ancestors for creating this bountiful world. And when the people died, the Sacred Kingfisher in her clothes of sky and cloud flew away at the end of summer with the people’s spirit into the sky, while their body and soul returned to the earth. And in spring the Sacred Kingfisher returned, to nest and rest, to feed and breed on the banks of the Merri Merri, while the Wurundjeri harvested eels and blackfish, cumbungi and water ribbons.

But then one day strangers came to the land of the Kulin, who did not know lore or right behavior. The strangers stole the land from the Wurundjeri, and banished them to beyond the mountains. But the Wurundjeri walked back over the mountains, and so when the strangers had been in the land for many generations, and were starting to open their eyes and unblock their ears, to see and hear of the wrongs they had caused, the Wurundjeri were there with the stories of how this land came to be.

And so, after many many years unspoken, together the Wurundjeri and the strangers retold the story of Bunjil and Branbeal, and of how Waa the crow created a whirlwind to take them into the sky, so that they could view their creation. The people who were no longer strangers sang the song calling Branbeal to bring colour to the world. But she only comes after rain, so when the drenched singers had dried themselves, Branbeal the rainbow arced over the Village Green.

I know why she is called the Sacred Kingfisher.' (Ward, 2006).

Ward M, 2006, The Story of the Sacred Kingfisher,