Pop Culture Rewind: Bin Chicken U Out

How the Ibis transformed from pest into a cultural icon


Words || James Booth

As quintessentially Australian as a jam lamington or a sweaty, vegemite sandwich left in your school bag for too long, the Australian White Ibis has become a cultural touchstone. Not only on Macquarie’s verdant campus, but have become a key representation of the trashy millennial in our meme driven culture.

Growing up in the peak of suburbia, I always remember thinking that our wildlife was so gorgeous incredible in Australia. Doubly so, when you consider that I was set on becoming a zoologist until I actually started studying Science at University in 2014. So naturally I would find seeing an Ibis as a very exciting experience, not only did they represent a figure in the Egyptian mythology a little history buff like myself was obsessed with, but they were so graceful when I’d watch them waddling in the local creek. 

I very vividly remember crying because I thought a flock of Straw-Necked Ibises were so incredibly beautiful. So you better believe I got a rude awakening when I first encountered an Ibis in the CBD, what can only be described as trash birds intent on eating everything they damn well find on the ground. So here I am to explore the duality of our favourite meme-ber of the Australian ecosystem. 

The Bin Chicken

Perhaps one of the greatest terms millennials have coined is “bin chicken”, although I am also partial to “trash pigeon” for our glorious feathered friends, and refers to the tendency of Australia’s favourite trash bird to go dumpster diving. Like your unwashed, hippie friends the Bin Chicken has managed to adapt its long beak, made for finding food in wetlands, to explore the deepest crevices of bins and consume as many leftover donuts and banana peels as possible. 

Dumpsters are like an all you can eat buffet for our scavenger friends, free-standing bins a simple trip to the maccas drive through. It is no wonder their nest smell so bad, when all they eat is processed trash – side note: has anyone ever seen a baby Bin Chick? Or do they emerge from the bin as a fully formed trash pigeon, ready to scavenge for leftovers? I guess we’ll never really know. 

“Hey? Are you going to finish that?”

I must confess that some of the funniest memories of mine are watching Ibises steal food from unsuspecting people. One of the finest features of our last campus hub, and our new campus common, lies in the over confident Ibises ready to snatch the fries and sandwich combo out of your inferior, human hands.

The ability of Ibises to scavenge our waste and thrive as a population outside of their traditional habitat is admirable at best, and frightening at worst. Particularly due to their lack of engagement with our financial system in exchange for goods, can they stop free-loading and get a savings account lie the rest of us already?

Or maybe they really are beyond us on that front. When Climate disaster takes us all out, the Ibis is surely going to assert itself as the rightful ruler of this planet, and remove the need for currency. 

The Great Barrier “Beef’

The exact moment that Ibises transformed from annoying or scary pests into genuine meme fodder can be attributed to two facebook groups in 2016. The “beef” between the “Ibis Appreciation & Recognition” and the “Silly ibises performing unusual activities” groups saw a great separation in our society between those who appreciated the bin chicken, and non-believers. The former wished to spread appreciation and recognition for the ecological survivors who were able to so expertly live alongside us, even after we destroyed and polluted their wetland homes. The latter seeking to cast shame on Bin Chickens for their silly behaviours and smelly bodies.

The boost in popularity saw millennials truly embrace the bin chicken as the representation for our own inner darkness, and I for one am outraged that the Magpie won bird of the year in 2017 instead of our renowned Bin Chickens.

The Ecological Refugee

In all seriousness though, we did actually destroy the habitats of Bin Chickens and they’ve moved into our cities as a means of survival. Bin Chickens are a sign of the way in which nature is always adapting to the changes we make to it. Lack of resources in their wetlands caused the need for emigration to our cities, and I for one believe their wild antics exist out of a need to survive in a tough modern world.

Moreover, the bin chicken should serve as not only a meme but a representation that you too can survive anything that comes your way. Just like the ecological refugee that is the Bin Chicken, you should adapt to the changes in the world and also eat some leftovers to minimise food waste!

At the end of the day, the Ibis has solidified itself as an iconic Australian cultural touchstone. I personally cannot wait until we get a “Big Bin Chicken” erected for tourists to enjoy, and will continue to fight for fact that the Ibis is a true representation of us all – beautiful animals who have to drink the bin juice to get by in this world.