Mar 21, 2024 | Community

Birds over Brunswick

Author: Barry York

Birds over Brunswick - Brunswick Daily

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains voices or names of deceased persons in writing.

When I was growing up in Brunswick West in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it was common to see flocks of seagulls – scores at a time – flying over the neighbourhood. They hovered around the tip in Pearson Street, which is now the beautiful Gilpin Park, named after the late former Mayor, George Gilpin.

I have not lived permanently in Brunswick for more than 30 years but I doubt whether there is such a seagull presence today.

Seagulls were not the only flocks to be seen and heard in the skies. Pigeons were popular, especially among the old Australian and British workers who were ‘pigeon fanciers’. I lived in Shamrock Street and a neighbour had a flock that could be seen flying around Brunswick West always to return to our neighbour’s shed, where he had built a pigeon pen.

My father told me, when I was young, that that particular neighbour had served with the Australian Army in the Pacific during the War and after the defeat of the Japanese, he had been accidentally left on an island by the liberating US-Australian forces. Everyone else had been evacuated but somehow not him. My dad speculated that perhaps he became a bird fancier during his months of isolation on the island.

With gentrification, pigeon fancying, as it is properly termed, declined in Brunswick.

The most common birds back then were sparrows. In my parents’ backyard, we had a fig tree. It grew and grew and provided plenty of figs. My parents always shared any surplus with neighbours, which I like to think was typical of the ‘socialist’ ethic among the working people of my suburb. I relished the figs, even when the fruit was infested with tiny ants. My main competitors for the figs were little finches. The laundry, at the back of the house, looked onto the tree and I’d see dozens of these little birds humming around and pecking at the freshest of the figs.

The fact that Brunswick was still fairly industrial back then, with many factories and workshops, did not deter the bird life. The most unexpected bird species to fly over the inner north were cockatiels. We purchased one and had it as a pet in a cage – but we ended up with quite a few more.

This sounds like a yarn but it is true: We’d put the caged cockatiel on a stand in the front yard for fresh air and on one occasion we noticed a small flock of them flying north over Brunswick West. Two of the wild cockatiels spotted their cage and descended to land on the top of it.

We were very surprised to see them on the cage and my mother, who had a strong affinity with all animals, quietly walked out to the cage and, speaking softly to the two new arrivals, lifted the cage and the stand and brought the lot into the house. She then carried them into the loungeroom, opened the cage door, and left the room – shutting the loungeroom door as she left.

After an hour or so, mum and I carefully opened the loungeroom door and – lo and behold! – the two new cockatiels had entered the cage and were having a feed.

Over the years, we did this routine a few times; each time catching one or two new cockatiels. For some reason, my mother always gave them a name starting with ‘j’ – Jasmine and Jonathon are two I remember.

We took a photograph of a couple of wild cockatiels on the cage in our front yard, around 1979, and you can see it for yourselves in the cover image of this article.

I was told by a local that the cockatiels, which prefer arid and semi-arid environments, would fly north to warmer climates.

Brunswick had a diverse bird life. And I haven’t even mentioned budgerigars and canaries or the aviaries that some migrant men, mostly Southern Europeans, kept as an after-work hobby.


This article was edited, and published on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri-woi wurrung People, whose sovereignty was never ceded.

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