Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology (AJE), Vol 1 (2011)

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Anecdote and anthropomorphism: Writing the Australian pied butcherbird

Hollis Taylor

Abstract


This paper surveys textual references to the Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis). We begin with my initial encounter with this songbird (in re-worked excerpts from the book Post Impressions), and then expand our review to aboriginal stories, historic ornithological reports and field guides, informal stories, archival Australian periodicals, children’s literature, literary references, and composers’ texts. Many of these reveal the tension between the superlative pied butcherbird vocal abilities and their ferocious hunting prowess. The paper shuns neither anecdote nor anthropomorphism as it attempts a new mode of interspecies narrative. I argue that anecdotes can contribute to an understanding of this understudied songbird. In inventorying pied butcherbird textual references, we find that our stories about them are ultimately stories about us as well—anthropomorphism seems to be an innate human proclivity. Reflecting on the lives of animals is of psychological, intellectual, and metaphysical significance for humans. 

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