The Real Ibises of Macquarie University

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Illustrations || James Booth

IAN

Ian divides his days between strutting the main courtyard and digging through the JR Richards bins out the back of the hub to make ends meet. “It’s hard you know,” he said, inexplicably speaking from that hooked bill of his. “Occasionally I’ll get like, a half watermelon from Boost, or an abandoned Crunch platter, and those are the days that really remind me why I’m doing this.”

Ian’s stalking ground was once limited to the main courtyard out the front of the hub. He says his main tactic was to hang around people slightly too close and slightly too long, encouraging them to move on from their food before finishing it. “It was a tough life, but if I kept the honking down, people mostly left me alone. That was before I found this sweet little spot, though.”

Ian’s ‘sweet spot’ is the low-foot-traffic alleyway populated solely by the industrial waste bins for the university hub. “I was starting to get old, I’m in my teens now, you know, and I figured I ought to settle down somewhere. See that – ?” He nods over the other side of a carpark to a weirdly pungent swampy area this interviewer had never noticed before, “that right there is where I’m going to raise my family.”

“My grandma used to tell me about the days we ate nothing but live crayfish and mussels from the muddy, pungent banks of the Macquarie Marshes.” Ian says looking off into the middle-distance with his terrifyingly deep, beady eyes. “The way she described it was like some kind of paradise.”

Ian ruffles his feathers lightly, pushing the scent of rotting garbage towards me in an almost unbearable wave. When asked why he chooses to raise his kids on a University campus as opposed to, say, a wetland, Ian becomes irritated, “What wetlands? You seen a bloody wetland lately, lady?”

IRENE

Irene was just two years old when she was kicked out of home. “Things just weren’t working out, you know,” she says. “I had to leave.” Displaced, hungry and confused, Irene headed east, approximately 700 kilometers, finding refuge in a Bunnings carpark in Blacktown, Sydney. There, she scavenged for dropped sausages and sodden bread crusts leftover from Saturday sausage-sizzles. Life was tough for the pubescent bird (ibises reach sexual maturity at the age of three).

“You grow up fast,” says Irene pensively. “It definitely leaves its mark on you.”

Now 21, Irene spends most of her time on the lakeside of the Macquarie University campus. Given that the uni was built directly on top of the Mars Creek wetland, it feels somewhat close to home. A key difference, Irene insists, is the food. “I was on a protein-rich paleo diet in the marshes,” she says, shaking her bill. “But now all I’ve got is cold chips and the occasional bit of brioche. So carb-y.”

“I guess, I just feel misunderstood,” she muses, staring at her reflection in the muddy waters of the lake. “Nobody really gets me.” Her beady eyes are black, soulless.

Despite her grievances with the location, and the ongoing resonances of childhood trauma, Irene does admit to taking grim pleasure in pooing on students from the trees hanging over the pedestrian crossing on University Avenue.

“Yeah, I’d say I’m a pretty good aim by now.”

IRVING

“Ibis?” Irving the ubar Ibis takes a drag from a crumpled and slightly damp cigarette, and exhales. “I haven’t heard that in a dog’s age. It’s ‘bin chicken’ now. Or trash rat. Bin-juice guzzling shit. Take your bloody pick. I had a life, you know. Wife. Kids. Job as a fisherman. You people took it all away.” His beak snaps for emphasis, rupturing his already weakened cigarette. “Shitting fuck!” he yells, drawing attention from students enjoying a break from class. Irving is two and a half schooners down from drinks left on tables, and he’s getting aggressive.

A few more schooners and a cold burger later, Irving calms down. “My wife left me not long after the Apocalypse. She didn’t like who I’d become. Said it wasn’t the man she’d married.” He turns to the table behind him and yanks a sandwich out of a girl’s hand, swallowing it in two bites. Ignoring the commotion behind him, he returns to me and
says, “what you humans don’t get is that you do what it takes to survive. Peck a baby in the face for its juice box. Don’t ever wash so people won’t come near you. ‘I don’t know who you are anymore’ she said. I’d become a survivor.”

Irving has a determined look in his beady eyes. “I haven’t seen her since. Maybe she and Irving Jr died. Maybe they’re still going. Sometimes I wake up and think I’m still next to her. I can smell her, feel her warmth, her love. Then the fog fades and I’m in a dumpster with a used condom over my eyes. Reality hits me like a hangover and all I know is the truth: she’s gone, and I’m not.”

A fork flies from nowhere and hits Irving in the head. “Fuck off, bin chicken!” taunts a student. Irving doesn’t appear to react, but from the corner of his beady eye, a tear begins to form.


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