Heed the message of the black cockatoo

• Paddy Cullen

PADDY CULLEN is coordinator of Save the Black Cockatoos

I WAS walking in a bit of Cockburn Wildlife Corridor bush in Hami Hill recently, with giant Tuart Trees and Banksia in brilliant full flower. 

Up above white-tailed black cockatoos flew, calling just before the rain. 

This is part of Wadjuk Noongar lore, and many believe the birds are harbingers of rain and also give messages from their ancestors. 

I got a powerful thrill as they landed all around me in a dense patch of hakea for a feed.

These birds have a magnetism like nothing else, but they are now absent in a third of their range and their silence in the landscape is also a message – a message that we are failing to ‘Care for Country’, which Aboriginal people have done here for 50,000 years. 

Two species of black cockatoo are becoming more reliant on this area for survival as development goes on unabated in the Perth Peel area and their numbers are declining dramatically. 

A third species is an occasional visitor but is seen less often as its conservation status has recently gone from endangered to critically endangered.

Once earmarked for an extension of the Roe Highway, over 150 locals got arrested trying to save this patch and hundreds more have planted damaged areas, revitalising this vital wildlife corridor between the Beeliar Wetlands and Manning Park. 

This vegetation is so important it is labelled by the federal government as a critically endangered threatened ecological community. 

Sitting between these areas is another wetland, a Wadjuk Noongar massacre site. 

The McGowan government took up the plight to save this place from the road and got into government on a massive wave of support, but now the government has backflipped on that commitment with new maps replacing green with new housing over much of the area. 

Quick dollar

The quick dollar mentality is called good business, but it is a form of disaster in the area which is a hotspot of endangered species in an official global biodiversity hotspot. 

What we have is something incredibly special to the world, on par with Sumatra, the Congo, and the Amazon, and with the right planning, we could use this area to showcase both Wadjuk Noongar culture and biodiversity to the world. 

But it seems we are intent on throwing it all away. 

Australia already has the title as the country with the fourth highest extinction rate in the world and in the next 20 years we are facing what scientists call the extinction canyon. 

Acknowledging this, the federal government has released a report calling for zero extinctions and for 30 per cent of the land to be protected in natural habitat. 

But this idea is not being translated to Perth and the South West where over 90 per cent of this global biodiversity hotspot is either cleared or degraded and it seems we haven’t finished the job yet. 

This year we threw out the Green Growth Plan which would have saved many important areas of woodlands and wetlands, but it was ditched because it didn’t align with housing projects. 

WA’s environment and climate change minister was recently at the United Nations COP 27 Climate Conference, where he was told by the general secretary of the United Nations that we are on a highway to hell with our foot pressed down hard on the accelerator. 

Lifting our foot off the pedal can’t be done by reducing emissions alone, we need to combine this with the protection of carbon stores, and the richest carbon stores are the most biodiverse areas. 

If we want our children and grandchildren to have a liveable world, we must turn things around and it is up to all of us now to stand up for every generation to come so that the call of the black cockatoos will not die out in two decades, as some predict, but go on calling out their massages across our forests and woodlands for another 50,000 years. 

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