Just as well Geoff was driving from Port Arthur to Devonport. As I kept spotting all sorts out the window forcing photo stops galore, we needed a driver with their eyes fixed on the road.That was never going to be me!
I’d also argue that we needed a dedicated lookout as well. Not just to keep an eye out for photo opportunities and darting wildlife, but for us all to fully appreciate the journey as well as the destination.
To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t long after our last photo stop when I spotted this dam dotted with black swans. Coming from Sydney where I’ve never seen a wild swan of either sort, seeing so many black swans all at once was a definite thrill. So, this apparition was definitely worth stopping for.
Like so many things Down Under, things seen to be the reverse of what’s in Europe and the Black Swan was only another example. Indeed, for Europeans, finding the black swan was akin to finding the mythical unicorn.
You see, the black swan had long been used as a metaphor in mythology, referring to something which doesn’t exist. In AD 82, the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in of rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno (“a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan”). He meant something whose rarity would compare with that of a black swan, or in other words, as a black swan did not exist, neither did the supposed characteristics of the “rare bird” with which it was being compared. The phrase passed into several European languages as a popular proverb, including English, in which the first four words (“a rare bird in the land”) are often used ironically. For some 1500 years, the black swan existed in the European imagination as a metaphor for that which could not exist.
In 1697, The Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh made the first European record of sighting a black swan, when he sailed into, and named, the Swan River on the western coast of New Holland. The sighting was significant in Europe, where “all swans are white” had long been used as a standard example of a well-known truth.
Governor Phillip, soon after establishing the convict settlement some sixty years later and 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) away at Botany Bay on the east coast, wrote in 1789 that “A black swan, which species, though proverbially rare in other parts of the world, is here by no means uncommon … a very noble bird, larger than the common swan, and equally beautiful in form … its wings were edged with white: the bill was tinged with red.”
Taking black swans to Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries, brought the birds into contact with another aspect of European mythology: the attribution of sinister relationships between the devil and black-coloured animals, such as a black cat. Black swans were considered to be a witch’s familiar and often chased away or killed by superstitious folk. Indeed, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the sinister and seductive black swan, Odile, is contrasted with the innocent white swan, Odette.
As I’ve mentioned before, Geoff is Tasmanian and grew up with a “pet” swan at home for some years. I’m not sure of the exact story but I think Charlie was an ophan swan who adopted Geoff’s mum. Charlie used to make himself quite at home, coming into the house for food.
Anyway, I thought you’d appreciate seeing so many black swans in one spot and what a thrill it was for us. I hope you might get the opportunity to experience it yourself one day.