What’s in a name? The renaming of the pink cockatoo is no small thing in Australia’s violent history | Andrew Stafford

The pink cockatoo has had a couple of names over time. The daddy of Australian ornithology John Gould knew it as Leadbeater’s cockatoo, just like the scientific title given to it in 1831, Cacatua leadbeateri. This was named after Benjamin Leadbeater, the London naturalist and taxidermist whose title additionally commemorates Victoria’s faunal emblem, Leadbeater’s possum.

Sir Thomas Mitchell, the surveyor basic of New South Wales from 1828 to 1855, referred to as it the red-top cockatoo. He was awestruck by its magnificence. “Few birds more enliven the monotonous hues of the Australian forest than this beautiful species whose pink-coloured wings and flowing crest might have embellished the air of a more voluptuous region,” he gushed.

It was for this lavish description that the pink cockatoo, now formally categorised as endangered, was renamed Main Mitchell’s cockatoo in 1977, after a survey of members of the Royal Australian Ornithologists Union (now BirdLife Australia) – a vote which the organisation’s public affairs supervisor, Sean Dooley, describes ruefully as “a bit of a Boaty McBoatface moment”.

It was definitely unlucky to call such a good looking chook after a mass killer. In 1836, on the euphemistically named Mount Dispersion, Mitchell encountered the Indigenous Kureinji and Barkindji individuals on the banks of the Murray River. His account of what occurred there, unsparing in its brutality, stands in stark distinction to his rhapsodic description of the cockatoo:

“It was difficult to come at such enemies hovering in our rear with the lynx-eyed vigilance of savages … Attacked simultaneously by both parties, the whole betook themselves to the river, my men pursuing them and shooting as many as they could. Numbers were shot swimming across the Murray, and some ever after they had reached the opposite shore.”

It’s due primarily to this incident – Mitchell’s starring contribution to Australia’s frontier wars, for which he solely ever obtained a gentle rebuke – that BirdLife Australia has not too long ago reverted to utilizing the previous title pink cockatoo in official correspondence. It’s a part of a push by the organisation to look at the utility of eponymous names extra usually.

In a latest paper for the ornithological journal Emu, the environmental scientist Stephen Garnett argued that chook names ought to be culturally and socially inclusive. Widespread names are a historic reflection of the ability buildings of society. Naming locations and their fauna after their colonial conquerors is essentially the most bare expression of dominance and possession.

Should you’ll forgive the phrase, the reversion to pink cockatoo represents the tip of the spear within the wider revision of Australian chook names. “It’s the easy one, because it’s the most contentious,” Dooley says. There was little or no pushback. “A few people have harrumphed and said that this decolonising of names is political correctness gone mad. But that’s only one or two voices.”

He factors out that pink cockatoo has been the predominant white Australian epithet given to the species anyway, beginning with the RAOU’s first official guidelines in 1926, and Australia’s first discipline information, Neville Cayley’s What Hen is That (1931). There are a lot of First Nations names for the cockatoo, the most effective recognized being the Wiradjuri wijugla, whimsically anglicised as “wee juggler”.

The extra sensible drawback with eponymous names (and others reflecting their colonial origins: emperor and royal penguin, princess parrot and so forth) is their lack of utility. They inform us nothing concerning the species. Even the multihued Gouldian finch – an iconic species named not after John, however his spouse, Elizabeth – is healthier described by the choice, rainbow finch.

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The query of utility may probably name into query the usage of colloquial names akin to galah and willie wagtail. However such names are an entrenched a part of the Australian vernacular, used affectionately for a few of our most acquainted species. The truth that willie wagtails are in decline, like a lot of our commonest birds, ought to give us all pause.

The reversion to pink cockatoo will turn into remaining with the discharge of BirdLife Australia’s subsequent Working Listing of Australian Birds. That can take a while. “If you’ll excuse the pun, we’re trying to get all our ducks in a row,” Dooley says. Within the digital age, it’s sophisticated, with numerous databases and apps needing to be up to date.

At the very least widespread names, in contrast to scientific names, are topic to vary. Spare a thought, if you’ll, for Anophthalmus hitleri, a Slovenian beetle pushed to the brink of extinction by collectors of Nazi memorabilia. Extra not too long ago, a Panamanian amphibian, Dermophis donaldtrumpi, in addition to a Californian moth, had been named after the previous US president.

In response to New Scientist, these names had been bestowed paradoxically, with the intention of drawing consideration to Trump’s appalling environmental legacy. It notes that whereas these scientific names stay immutable, any ironic motivation is more likely to be forgotten sooner or later.

The renaming of the pink cockatoo, however, is an act of remembrance and respect. And that’s no minor matter.

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