A racing pigeon has just completed an extraordinary 8,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from the United States to its new home in Australia.
But no one’s cheering.
Cyrus, the feathered friend in question, wasn’t really expecting birdseed and a ticker-tape parade, although it wasn’t averse to the idea in principle. Still, he felt a little more enthusiasm from his hosts might have been in order.
Even Captain Cook hadn’t achieved half as much, boasted Cyrus to the less-than-welcoming party. But there were no cries of admiration, not even a half-hearted chorus of Waltzing Matilda as would have been any hero’s due.
Not this time. Now, he was getting the silent treatment, the murderous stare and, more unnervingly, the calm, Hannibal Lecter-like appraisal.
In the absence of proper documents, Aussie hospitality is fraught with grim, even sinister, overtones. And murder was what surely lay at the heart of Cyrus’ immediate future.
To the chagrin of pigeon-huggers the world over, Canberra decreed that the avian adventurer was to be killed and possibly tossed on the barbie without so much as a “No worries, mate.”
It explained its escape.
Cyrus was appalled. When he’d exhaustedly crossed over into Aussie airspace for the first time, he’d been met by a dove which had greeted him with a courteous “G’day, how you doing mate?”
He’d been assured that he’d chosen the right place for a new home. So long as one liked vegemite and disliked poetry, this was the lucky country with an over-achiever’s share of pigeons.
Cyrus would feel right at home, he was told. Indeed, homing pigeons, like boomerangs, were some of the country’s biggest exports.
Cyrus had little memory of what transpired after his escape.
Kevin Celli-Bird – no relative of the fatigued flier – said Thursday he discovered the weary bird, that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on December 26, had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29.
Cyrus’ feat attracted the attention of the Aussie media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. It was peopled with humourless people with right-wing eyes and thin lips that were pursed in perpetual distaste. They’d been the ones that had first accosted him, the ones with the fishlike gaze of a Hannibal Lecter.
To these people, Cyrus was a prima facie case, a textbook model for capital punishment. He was from the US which always elicited an aha anyway because it was a hotbed of pestilence. But what clinched it beyond all reasonable doubt was its name.
Cyrus rhymed with virus and there was no getting around that. It was as open and shut and final as that.
All that was needed was to catch the bird. Posters offering rewards for the undocumented immigrant sprang up. “A bird in hand is usually dead,” it gloated as if to underscore the point of it all.
But Cyrus was far from dead. Mr Calli-Bird said the pigeon had regained its strength in his backyard and looked capable of, well, resisting arrest.
The quarantine cops have since changed tack, urging Cyrus to turn itself in because “all was forgiven.”
Cyrus disagreed courteously. He wasn’t sure if, in Australia, forgiveness came before or after the barbeque.