I think there’s a lot to be learned from Tasmania’s endemic chookie, the Native Hen (Tribonyx mortierii). They have increased in number around my home in the last year or so, to the point that I see them pretty much every day as they dart across the road near one of our dams.

I’ve lived around native hens all my life and I’ve never paid them much thought until one morning a few weeks ago. We were on the way to the bus stop when  one particular hen got confused and forgot to cross the road, instead running in front of my car, swerving all over the road and throwing a panicked look over its shoulder (if it had one) at regular intervals. It ran faster and faster and eventually flapped his wings desperately in an effort to speed up. And speed up it did. The speed limit on our dirt roads is 60 (I think) and I swear that determined hen was almost breaking it.

native hen

My four year old yelled, “Oh Mum, his wings won’t work!” with concern that was genuine until her brother and sister laughed hysterically and she reverted to a clown-like imitation of the hen’s flapping.

“Yes they do, look how fast he is”, I said, “He’s running but he’s flying along.” And he was. The children laughed at him anyway. He did look kind of dorky, which endeared him to me. I stopped the car so he could regain some dignity and get off the road and into recovery mode. And so we could get to the bus on time. He disappeared into the grass, we got to the bus, but I’ve thought a bit about him ever since, that dorky hen.

I have read that native hens – despite their flightless status – can reach speeds up to 50 km per hour (ok so it looked 60 on the day) using their strong but skinny (and scaly) legs. It all felt strangely familiar and heart-warming at the same time. Here’s why:

I am native Tasmanian, have lived most of my life near water and grassland and I have skinny legs that go scaly without daily QV cream application (this is not a sponsored post). And – like many other average human beings – I was born without any particular talent that would see me really fly.

I have often lamented the fact that I don’t have the ability to knock the socks off anyone with something, anything. I wasn’t born with a gift, nor the personality to stick at anything long enough to make a gift happen. I am easily bored, impatient and naturally restless. If I was poverty stricken and had to take a gift to the baby in the manger, I’d be – having given up the drum after a lesson or two – hard pressed.

(This is also not a fishing-for-compliments post, bear with me but) I am varying degrees of average – I have never amazed anyone with my looks or style but I get by; I write ok but have had far more rejection letters than acceptances and more work in drawers than in print; I like to act but have a track record of being cast as a dead person; I like to sing but my vocal range is as short as my temper, which leads me trying my best to be a good mother but often failing.

I am fit-ish and strong-ish but will never win a race. I understand a bit of Shakespeare and most of Austen but can’t get through Middlemarch. I can drive a car ok but not a tractor; swim freestyle but not butterfly, run a half marathon but never a full.  I can keep bits of houses clean but never the whole lot at one time; I can decorate a house and fill a wardrobe but something about it will always be slightly dorky.

I buy stuff from Ezibuy. Native hens, being sedentary creatures, would shop using Ezibuy. The only thing I’m not average at is cooking. I’m shit at cooking.

Do I care? Yes I do actually, I really do. Not in an agonising, debilitating, ‘I-am-nobody-why-do-I-bother’ way, just in a vague, wistful sort of way. A background lament that increases in volume in a certain breeze.

Women’s Weekly et al publish articles about women turning forty and being ‘the happiest they’ve ever been because finally they’ve learnt how to love themselves’. These are women who have kicked all sorts of wonderful goals and probably haven’t sunbaked. I sunbaked all through my teens (of course I did – I’m Tasmanian, if the sun comes out here of course I’m going to get in it, wrinkle warnings or no). And after 10 years of forward line hockey I might have hit 3 goals.

I am 40 next year (average age) and while I think I’m not a bad old stick, I don’t love myself – well not often, I do when all the washing is in, folded and put away, I love myself sick then, but most often I sort of put up with myself. I mean every day there is a new and wondrous talent being wheeled out for all to behold and revel in. And revel I do – I love to see human achievement and creative beauty and success, even if it’s tinged with green. But I’m not yet content to leave it all to them, settle in with myself, declare the current me ‘the one’ and kiss the dreams goodbye. Not without a little bit of flight.

I might not yet have invented my aircraft; and people might laugh at me or feel annoyed as I hold them up or make them feel uncomfortable. But maybe I might make people laugh. Or think. Maybe I’ll pump my skinny old legs and flap my useless wings and in the kerfuffle leave at least an impression of having a go. Maybe I’ll give other average people – the ones without youth, expertise or the gift of flight on their side – a little bit of inspiration. Maybe I won’t.

If my scaly feet never leave the ground or I never reach speeds extreme for my stature, I’ll love myself fondly, in the end, for trying.

The Native Hen

Oh look, mummy look, 

It’s a funny black chook

With little beady red eyes.

He gives us a laugh

But he makes us all gasp

‘Cos his wings never work but he flies.


And hark mummy, when,

You go near to this hen,

He’ll call like a see-saw to you,

No grace is he blest,

But the down on his breast

Is a beautiful shade of dark blue.




Categories: Navelgazery, Stories & Poems

Tags: , , ,

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