As one of Taronga Zoo’s Indigenous Discovery Hosts, I have been given the amazing privilege of co-presenting a specially written and adapted Taronga Free Flight Bird Show for NAIDOC to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture. It is such an honour to welcome the audience and begin the show with an Acknowledgment of Country for the Traditional Custodians of the land that is now Taronga Zoo – the Cammeraigal people of the Gurringai Nation.
Presenting one of Taronga Zoo’s most famous and fabulous shows to a packed amphitheatre during the peak school holiday period is truly one of life’s most terrifying and exhilarating experiences. There is a fair bit of waiting around (and feeling sick) to do backstage while the brilliant team of bird trainers prepare the stars of the show (the birds that is!) and it gives you just enough time to feel completely ill and promise yourself you’ll never do this again.
The pre-show drum beat that plays does nothing to help, and I swear it beats faster and faster the closer you get to walking out! The brilliant thing is that the second you walk out onto the stage your fears disappear, the audience feeds you with their excitement and the birds steal the show, taking the pressure off you and keeping you company so you don’t feel so alone out there, all the while reminding you that this is really not about you, but about them!
The show opens with a Dreaming Story about how the birds got their colours, told with the breathtakingly clever choreography of an array of birds from chickens and pigeons to cockatoos and galahs. Billy the Brolga helps us tell a Dreaming Story from the Kolomini people and there are cultural references throughout the show for each bird presented, everything from how cockatoos can tell us when it’s going to rain to what the falcon has meant to cultures all over the world. It is truly a brilliantly inclusive and informative show and I get wonderful feedback from the guests in the audience as I walk my way across the Zoo to the NAIDOC activities at Backyard to Bush. I am ALWAYS late back after the show as I am stopped by so many people along the way all wanting to share their experience of the show with me - what am I going to do with myself without all of that attention when NAIDOC is over?
One of the greatest things about being involved in such a brilliant and inspiring NAIDOC event is that I get to continue the amazing and inspirational work my great grandfather began back in 1938. Tom Foster was one of the original protesters on Australia Day in 1938 which led to what we now know as NAIDOC. Tom and his peers were petitioning for equal rights for Aboriginal people with a march that became the very first civil rights march in the entire world! That’s pretty brave and impressive and the very thought of it pushes me out onto that stage when all I want to do is run!
Without a doubt though, Ker Jan Dee the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo has stolen my heart and feeding her an almond is my favourite part of the show, especially because I get to be so close to her and she knows I’ve got the nut so she talks (squawks) to me. Ker Jan Dee is a great conversation starter and a huge favourite with the crowds.
After the show I always get kids asking me if it’s true that Black Cockatoos can tell you when it’s going to rain and I love to share what I know with them. The best part is seeing their little eyes light up as wide as an owl’s when I tell them that they have just shared in the knowledge and traditions of a culture that is over 60,000 years old which makes our Australian Aboriginal culture the oldest and longest surviving culture in human history. A pretty awe inspiring thought and almost as amazing as having your money stolen by Jasper the Galah. Though being an honest bird, he does return the coin straight back, it is certainly one of the highlights for visitors watching the Bird Show.
Co-hosting the NAIDOC Free-flight Bird Show has been such an amazing opportunity. It has been so memorable to share my culture and keep it alive in so many people’s hearts and minds. I will truly miss doing the show not to mention all the wonderful bird show trainers and their stunning birds. I certainly won’t miss the fear and nausea and the drum beat. Well, I think I’m kind of used to that now and can even manage a little wiggle and jig backstage with Brendan, Grey, Matt, Erin, Claire, Fle and Claudia (and sometimes even Fitzroy).
Indigenous Discovery Host, Shannon.