The Saga of Captain Billie Flint

My brother Matt and I were driving west from Lakeland on another Tangaroa Blue expedition, approximately half way to Laura when we noticed a black cockatoo flailing about in the long weeds and grasses, ducking from the attacks of a predatory hawk, so we decided to save it.

Matt said to just “go for it”, but I looked at him as if to say “so you want me to get bitten?”, so I grabbed a blue t-shirt ready to throw over the bird. As I got closer I realised that this was a very large bird with a very large beak, and it obviously had an injured wing. I threw the t-shirt over the bird’s back and folded its wings together as I was saying in calming tones “it’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you”. As I picked it up I was acutely aware of its sharp beak that was trying to bite something but my fingers were safely out of the way.

Matt had the back doors of the four wheel drive open and I placed the bird on top of all the bags and tents. The bird immediately looked up at the roof and felt safe from the predatory hawks, so we closed the doors and continued our journey. As we drove along the bird squeezed its way through the bags up to the front of the vehicle and sat quite comfortably above us in between the seats and luggage looking at where we were going!

We soon stopped at the Split Rock Indigenous rock art where we had a talk with the rest of the crew to work out what to do with the birdy. We realised that we would be traveling near a ranger station but that wouldn’t be for another four hundred and ninety kilometers, so the bird would just have to travel with us.

We picked up a fallen branch for the cocky to grip on as we were driving, it was quite funny, every time the four wheel drive hit a heavy bump the bird would squawk at us as if to say “take it easy, my wing hurts when you hit a bump”. We tried to feed it but it wasn’t interested, and we realised that it had a sore tummy probably from bouncing off a windscreen; I could give it a drink from a coffee cup which it happily chewed the edge of. Matt and I were the only ones that could get close, it would yell loudy at anyone else who tried.

So there we were, driving along, with this wild cockatoo in between us watching the road go past, sometimes walking up and down the luggage. A day later we finally reached the QPWS Ranger Station at Heathlands where Ruth and Peter, the resident rangers, brought out a cage and told us that it was a female and that they would have to drive her to Weipa, for Kirsty (a local wildlife carer) to diagnose her injuries.

At Weipa the prognoses was good – a fracture and not a break, which meant the bird had a chance to survive and fly again, but it would have to be flown to Cairns for treatment, one well travelled cocky ay! Anyway it’s six weeks later and we’re packing for the next clean-up in Mapoon, so this will be a chance to release the bird back to the wild at the same place where the bird lives.

Jeff picked up “Captain Billie Flint” from Boongarry Veterinary Surgery and drove to Mossman where the Mapoon clean-up crew were meeting, where she was an instant hit with everybody. We strategically packed the four wheel drive so that the bird could see where she was going and after many photographs and much fussing we were on our way, next stop Lakeland.

At Lakeland there were more photographs and fussing, as was to be expected, this bird is famous! An hour later we were nearing the release point and feelings of sadness were already showing as nobody was talking, it truly had been a journey for us and the beautiful red tailed black cockatoo.

We picked a release point a little way from the highway and as we took the cage out of the four wheel drive the bird was looking around and squawking, I think she recognised the sights and smells of the area and was calling to see if her flock was close by.

We opened the cage and the bird gingerly put one foot on the ground, looked around and then took off, and landed in the nearest bush. We had to see if she was ok, as she hadn’t stretched her wings for the last 6 weeks, and as we came closer she took off again and flew beautifully through the trees, landing on top of the tallest.

We got a real good sense of accomplishment and a job well done as the cockatoo disappeared into the distance of this vast land. As we departed and drove down the highway, we passed a large flock of black cockies literally just five minutes later, it wouldn’t have taken our bird long to find its flock, and those of us that had been there throughout the whole journey felt as good as the feeling you get from seeing the before and after pictures of a beach removed of all its pollutants…. TANGAROA BLUE…

Published by