birds of australia with hayley and michael: the galah

Dear No Award; here we are back again with our continuing series on Australia’s birds. Why do I think this is the greatest thing ever? Uh, because I’m a Penguin. This month sees a devastating lack of fights between Michael and Hayley as they agree over the Galah.

Galahs flying with a motion blur


For some reason bird names are pretty common as insults – think about it: cuckoo, turkey (as Homer explains), coot, chicken, dodo, even tit (although the insult may have a different etymology than the bird name). Australia has added a couple of classics to the list: drongo and today’s bird of the month: galah.

The galah is one of Australia’s most distinctive birds – a small cockatoo with a bright pink chest and face, grey back and white crest – commonly seen in large flocks throughout most of mainland Australia. The precise reason that they’ve come to be synonymous with foolishness in Australian idiom is unclear – there’s some suggestion that it’s due to the galah’s propensity to migrate south (towards colder weather) during winter, although actual research shows that they’re pretty sedentary birds. More likely it’s down to their noisy, squawky calls and slightly ludicrous colours. Either way, it’s gone global as an ocker insult thanks to Home and Away.

As with our first bird of the month, galahs are one of the rare birds that seems to have benefited from European settlement, with land clearing creating vast swathes of their ideal open habitats and the provision of water for stock dramatically expanding their range (although they remain absent from the very northern tips of the country).  They’ll eat basically everything – fruit, seeds, bugs, grass, grains – whatever’s going. Their sexual politics are a bit confusing – they pair up for life, suggesting a pretty conservative outlook, but there are records of inter-species love, with galahs breeding with sulphur-crested cockatoos, little corellas and Major Mitchell’s cockatoos. Freaky.

The Big Galah by Adam EalesPeople regularly ask me what my favourite bird is and, as impossible as that question is, I’ve often answered the galah. It’s not as spectacular looking as the king parrot or crimson rosella, but there’s just something so unlikely about the pink and grey stylings that galahs get around in – it doesn’t really seem like it should occur in nature. There’s also their playfulness – galahs are well regarded as pets, but even in the wild you see them mucking around and seemingly just having fun. Watch a flock of galahs next time they fly over – they dodge and weave for no real reason, squawk just to hear the sounds of their own voices and seem to be having the time of their lives. Of course I’m anthropomorphising them, but life as a galah just looks like great fun. They’re common around Melbourne and spotting a flock flying over Princes Park on my walk to work gives my spirits a lift – they’re a very cheerful creature.

Their raucous mischievousness is seen by some as charmless – my partner Cindy called them “the dude-bros of the sky” when I told her I was writing this. There’s also their rather unfortunate portrayal in this ACT health campaign, which is terrifically insulting to one of our natural icons. They have been known to get hammered on fermented over-ripe fruit, but they seem like pretty lovable drunks – sure they’d laugh at their own jokes and slur their words a bit, but nobody would mind, they’d all be having too much fun.

I’m giving them 5 feathers – they’re a national treasure.


I was hoping that Michael and I would get into our first proper dust up and I would get the chance to call him a flaming galah (because it would make Alf Stewart proud), but here we are again in agreement over a particular bird’s general excellence. And really how could we not be, who on earth doesn’t like the wonderful cheeky clown that is the galah? New test to discover whether your acquaintances are actually androids from the future: ask them if they don’t like galahs.

No matter how glum I may be at any time, spotting a few of these candy-coloured fellows chirruping among themselves on power lines, or fossicking about on a grassy verge at the side of the road is enough to put a smile immediately back onto my po-faced dial. They’re just so sweet.

JJ Harrison I started thinking about my feelings about them more deeply, however, I started to feel slightly off about the sweeping designation of a ‘galah’ meaning someone who is foolish, stupid, or somehow lacking in various graces. This seems like a horrendous cop-out to the bird in question. There is the fact that parrots are among the most intelligent of all birds, probably only outstripped by the corvids (and even that is an argument likely to produce much teeth-gnashing and invective spewing from bird nerds). In captivity galahs are well known for their highly developed skills in picking up speech – look at this little guy who can whistle, sing, meow and say complete sentences that correlate with his owner’s actions and speech. I hardly think that this is the behaviour of a stupid animal.

And then there is the fact that galahs are some of the most visually striking birds in the country. No, they don’t have the eye-popping flash of rosellas or king parrots, but that kind of bright ostentation is too vulgar for them. Better to dress their wings in grey, crown their crest in dusky white, and have the soft rose flush of their breasts carry the indication of their cheery personalities. They’re like that friend we all have who is happy and always joking and laughing, and that’s what you remember most about them, to the point that when they show up to a fancy party or dinner in super fine duds, tasteful and understated yet perfectly cut and tailored with one bright accessory that completely expresses their quirky, kind personality that your mouth drops open in shock as the realisation steals over you that not only are they the most fun to be around but they’re also the most together person you know and it’s been in front of your face the entire time and aren’t you just a bit of an idiot. What I’m saying is that galahs are total secret GQ motherfuckers and we are all chumps.

Anyone who doesn’t think the galah is a 5 feather bird needs to be catapulted into the sun.

Jeeze Michael, I really hope we disagree next month, all this cordial agreement is giving me indigestion.

Bird: Galah

Michael: 5 feathers

Hayley: 5 feathers

linkspam is feeling better when you say linkspam

I have been completely overwhelmed with my blogging for MQFF (look at my name all over that blog!), so there are no new blog posts yet today, though if you check back later in the week perhaps you will be surprised! Instead, have some things I have read in between movies:

March in March marks the birth of a new kind of activism; an article by Van Badham about a new phenomenon in Australia, and how different sides of politics (and the media) have reacted to it.

Celeste Liddle on being ‘black’ and fair-skin privilege is a whole world of YES EXCELLENT, a great article.

I am an actor, by Rani up at Peril, is a meandering piece about being an Asian in the Australian acting world. (Anecdote and personal aside: The day Rani auditioned for a reoccurring role on Neighbours I flipped my shit)

Having strong feelings about There and Back Again: Or, how I quit programming and returned, an on gender and performativity and femininity by Misty De Meo, a trans woman.

American but also Malaysian and about representation in the mainstream media, The media’s shameful Malaysia Airlines coverage: Gawking at a foreign disaster was an interesting read on the damage that can be done by the media and by our own disinterest.

On the Chinese media, China sees Obama girls, but not Xi’s daughter. My favourite part of this article is pointing out the media’s silence on Xi Mingze being a student at Harvard.

mqff viewing schedule

mqffbannerThe Melbourne Queer Film Festival starts in just TWO HOURS. This year I’m blogging for MQFF, so I’m heavily involved, and you can see my filthy penguin flipperprints over everything (check out the blog).

I love Melbourne’s festivals, as they’re often a great time to get involved in a community, learn more about a subject, or just love Melbourne a little bit more. And MQFF is definitely one of my favourite festivals all year round. And if you’re broke, there’s even $10 buck tix, which I LOVE the concept of.

Tonight is the opening night party, and there are still tickets to that: Any Day Now, starring your favourite and mine, Alan Cumming.  Also I will be wearing a tutu.

And I am super excited about so many films! If you’re still unsure, I wrote a list for Peril of Azn-interest films, and below is my personal list (note: I won’t end up seeing all of these):

G.B.F (Gay Best Friend)  (Saturday 15 March, 20:15): The summary starts “Move over Mean Girls and Heathers, it’s 2014 and there’s a new set of prom queen wannabes and they need a gay best friend;” I don’t need to know anything else.

Quick Change (Saturday 15 March, 16:00): I have seen the first five minutes of this movie and it looks adorable – sadly my screener was having issues and I failed at seeing the rest. This Filipino movie is about Dorina, a trans woman who makes a living selling homemade cosmetics to other trans women. She does a runner when a client has a bad reaction to some of her cosmetics.

Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (Sunday 16 March, 20:30): This is a comedy and I need the laughs.

OUT in the Line-Up (Sunday 16 March, 15:00): Australian documentary. Queer surfers.

52 Tuesdays (Tuesday 18 March, 18:00): Filmed every tuesday over a year, this film (not a documentary) follows a teen as one of her parents transitions, and I am super into the conceit of this film.

Bad Hair (Wednesday 19 March, 18:00): Not totally sure what this movie is about, but I do know Junior wants to straighten his hair and I’m intrigued.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (Wednesday 19 March, 21:00): Taiwanese movie about discovering one is gay after being established with a family. Allegedly a comedy of errors. This usually wouldn’t be my thing but it’s the only Mandarin-language movie this year.

Noor (Friday 21 March, 18:00): A Pakistani trans man goes on a road trip to find a place where he belongs. Hopefully adorable.

Zoe.Misplaced (Sunday 23 March, 15:00): Melbourne lezzie drama. All good.

I have reviewed Soongava, so I won’t be seeing that again, but it was very interesting.

SEE YOU THERE. Come say hi, I’ll be there most days of the festival.

In Conversation with Jung Chang at The Wheeler Centre

Last night the Wheeler Centre cruelly made me choose between being queer and being Chinese. Not really, of course. I’m Chinese no matter what, and I’m pretty damn queer. But  I had to choose between Alison Bechdel and Jung Chang, and Jung Chang, Chinese biographer, banned on the mainland but so beloved everywhere else, and lacking the connotations of Amy Tan, was always going to win. Jung Chang has written a new  biography of Cixi, Dowager Empress, scourge of China; Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who launched modern China. This biography has been written exclusively using first-hand accounts, and I’m so excited to get my hands on it.

look at this cutie!
look at this cutie!

Jung Chang is an excellent speaker. She has a wealth of adorable stories, a way of turning the most tragic anecdotes into amusing moments, and a lovely way of speaking (and not a little bit of familiarity, with her Chinese words thrown in amongst her accent and her pauses). She tells of being sixteen in 1968, and committing to paper her very first piece of writing, a poem. At the time, being a writer was certainly enough to have one sent down, and that very evening, as she was lying on her bed composing her work, the Red Guards busted in for a random inspection. Desperate to hide her evidence, she tore up the pieces and flushed it down the toilet, and there her writing career stalled for a decade. Everybody laughed, though it’s ostensibly a story of how difficult life was under Mao. Chang just has a way of telling it.

Wild Swans (and her Mao biography) are banned on the Mainland, but Jung Chang herself is not, merely blacklisted. She fought to be able to visit her mother for fourteen days in every year, and while she’s in country (in Chengdu, mostly), she refrains from talking about her work, publicising, and even seeing her friends. Chang shrugged. It is the price of being a writer, she said, and I lack the words to express how this makes me feel, but I’ll try. One of the hardest things for me, when I write about identity (and you know how I love to write about identity), is how much of my family to bring into it; how much of what can hurt me to bring into it. And I love how matter of fact she is of it, how accepting of her situation. This is the fence upon which she sits, and that’s just how it is.

The audience was a delightful mix; I love looking into a queue to see a whole lot of Chinese people, not just older but younger, too, my age or so. Lots of middle-aged to older white people, some others. Sporadic mutters and giggles when the interviewer first pronounced ‘Jung’ as if it were a ‘Y’ sound,* and second repeatedly pronounced Cixi incorrectly (Chang just kept saying Cixi until it sounded okay, and admittedly 慈 is not the most easy of sounds). But then, a sign perhaps of the white audience? Laughter when Chang related of how difficult it was for Cixi to get Chinese people to go overseas, to get a Chinese person to be ambassador to foreign countries. The first Chinese ambassador to the USA was an American. But Chinese people were afraid: afraid of being kidnapped, afraid of being killed. And there were giggles from the audience, as if this isn’t something truly to fear? (Clearly they’ve never been a Chinese person in a Western country)

funny story: the first airbrushed photo in chinese history
funny story: the first airbrushed photo in chinese history

When asked if Cixi’s history had been influenced by any thing in particular, Chang demurred, explaining the misrepresentations. What she meant to say was, surely, misogyny. Just like Wu Zetian.

When Cixi was young, she had a eunuch lover. Eunuchs were always despised, though Chang suggests they should be figures of sympathy. Cixi instigated a canal cruise for her lover’s birthday: there were dancers, and singing, and revels. This caused an outcry, because EUNUCHS and LADIES MAKING CHOICES, and her lover was put to death, the dancers were sent off to be prostitutes, and Cixi had a breakdown.

I loved the way Chang told of Cixi’s reforms, from the sweeping societal, through to the court etiquette, and how Cixi, who loved curiosities, never rode in a car – because the driver couldn’t bow AND drive at the same time. I also loved that she waved at foreign photographers, because she had heard that foreign monarchs did that (very different from the tradition of being hidden from view all one’s life, as Chinese royals were).

I was most interested to learn about Cixi, but as an endnote, I also learnt about George Morrison, whom Wikipedia tells me was also known as ‘Morrison of Peking’ or ‘Chinese Morrison.’ He came up because a man in the audience asked if Morrison, from Geelong, was in Chang’s new book, noting that he features predominately in many other biographies of Cixi and of the period. “No,” said Chang, after a pause. It wasn’t a ‘trying to remember’ pause – it was an awkward pause, a ‘how do I say no?’ pause. Morrison, says Chang, didn’t speak Chinese. He got a lot of his information from Backhouse, a man who claimed to be Cixi’s lover and who claimed that on her deathbed Cixi told him “never let a woman rule.” It had better not surprise you, reader, to learn that he was a giant liar.

This was a free (but booked out) event at the Wheeler Centre. If you’re in Melbourne, The Wheeler Centre is a great way to see/hear some awesome stuff, for free or for cheap! Get to it.

*!! This tweet from the Wheeler Centre tells me that Jung Chang pronounces her name Yoong! Which is super interesting that she’s chosen a pronunciation that’s so different from the pinyin/romanisation. How non-standard! I apologise for making fun of the interviewer for that.

Secrets & Lies

Secrets & Lies is Australia’s attempt at a Broadchurch/The Killing style of mystery, self-contained but with a focus on the impact of murder on a community.  I enjoy a good (fictional or historical) murder, and I was intrigued by the Brisbane setting and the fact it was picked up for an American remake before it had even aired.  I am far too Gen Y and cool to watch live-to-air TV, plus my house doesn’t have an aerial, so I hit tenplay.  Which I mention just because I approve of legal streaming television in general, and this was a good service with a nice, crisp stream, so well done, Channel 10.

The official blurb:

Secrets & Lies is a gripping six-part series that tells the story of Ben Gundelach (played by Martin Henderson – The Ring, Little Fish, Bride & Prejudice and Devil’s Knot), an everyday family man who finds the body of a young boy and quickly becomes the prime murder suspect. 

My blurb:

Manpain. No sympathetic adult women.  One person of colour, unsympathetic.  The hero has never read a detective novel ever, and is following the How To Look Totally Suss playbook.

Nevertheless, the mystery is interesting and I like the setting, so I’m probably going to keep watching.  And blogging.

I’m also going to keep on pointing out the incredibly white cast, because WOW, that does not look like Brisbane, even the upper middle-class river-side suburbia part of Brisbane.  It’s just so typical of Australian TV that no one even stops to think about diversity.  And if anyone dares to point it out, they’re accused of racism.

And I really hope the writing of the women pick up, because so far they’re pretty two-dimensional.  Don’t go looking for an Antipodean Sarah Lund here, because all the cops with speaking roles are dudes.

But like I said, the mystery is interesting.  I’m kind of hoping that the hero turns out to be the murderer, but I think we’re too deep inside his head for that sort of twist.  I am, however, going to predict that he’s the dead child’s father.  STAY TUNED.