The bad mother


I seem to remember that “barbecue stopper” was a phrase coined, or at least popularised, during the Howard government; the kind of topic that the hollow men tested on focus groups to gauge the reaction of carefully selected representatives of Everyday Australia. I reckon the two words “bad mother” would not just stop a barbecue but kill it faster than slapping someone else’s child. Just type “bad mother” and “feminist theory” into Google and see how many quatrillion hits you get hit by.

Perhaps its because of the hegemony of my unreconstructed phallocentricity that the phrase popped into my head the other morning (I’d like to kid myself that it popped in there ironically, but, well …). I’d just come under the railway bridge as the four-carriage train from Dungog sped overhead when Jambo spotted Mother Duck (from my previous post) and her clutch, now reduced to four ducklings. The tide was low but there was still plenty of deepish water pooled up from the litter boom by the TAFE. But did she gather her offspring and swim away towards the tidal pool as a good mother should? No. She ran out of the water and waddled along the concrete making bewildered noises. Of course, her ducklings came squeaking pathetically behind her.


Jambo’s chased ducks before, and ducklings. On one occasion he caught a few, carried them around in his mouth and put them down, at which point the still living ducklings lay, stunned, for a few seconds for racing into the water. Not this time. This is the first time he’s actually caught and killed one. I’m hoping it was an accident.

I was baffled by Mother Duck’s behaviour. Surely the obvious thing to do was to head for deep water. And she barely even bothered with the old “ooh I’ve heart my wing – chase me instead” routine. So the other day she’d been wantonly larking around miles from cover upstream, being stalked by two ravens. And now this. No wonder she only had four ducklings left. Ok, three.

But I need to be careful at this point. It’s not a huge leap from judging the maternal instincts of a duck to developing  Malthusian theories on the virtues of public housing. The fact is, Nature just gets on with it. Unless you’re at the top of the food chain then you’re fodder for something else. The creek’s littered with dead babies, such as this gorgeous blue skink.


This young myna was still limp and must have died only moments before I came across it.


And this blue-tongue, barely more than eight inches long.


Oh, and baby birds. Always baby birds.


Of course, for every “bad mother” there’s the feckless owner of an ill-disciplined cairn terrier. But would that stop a barbecue? I’ll take it to my focus group.