Laugh, Kookaburra!

Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!

If you just read the above words to no tune, I apologize to your childhood for missing out. I think I knew the kookaburra song before I knew Australia existed. And once I was cognizant of Australia’s existence, there were always three songs in my musical repertoire to represent the country: Waltzing Matilda, “The Veranda Song“, and the Kookaburra Song.

Naturally, it was my childhood expectation to see this bird, that infamous Giant Kingfisher known as the kookaburra – in the wild AND laughing – should I ever visit the land down under.

I didn’t think this was too much to ask for. 

But by day 15 of the 17-day Australia trip, we had only spotted ONE of these beasts. It sat high up in a tree. Doing nothing. I was better off marching back into one of the million Aussie gift shops and gawking over the plastic kookaburra figurines, no?

A boring, un-laughing kookaburra.

A boring, un-laughing kookaburra.

Okay, okay… if I’m completely honest, I burst into excitement over that ONE boring kookaburra. I snapped a photo per second and rolled my tongue to try to incite its infectious cackle. I’m sure the passersby labeled me a complete nut. Yet it was still a childhood dream falling short from the moon. Laugh! Kookaburra, laugh!

Adding frustration to the situation were the poolside bartenders we befriended.

“Where can I find a laughing kookaburra around here?”

“I just saw heaps on my walk to work. You should walk through the area over there,” as he pointed far off in the distance, over a hill toward the employee housing.

Then the other chimed in, “Or if you’re cooking on the beach, they’ll take your tucker right off the barbie!”

Well, great. There were no barbies in my future. But hopefully that didn’t mean there weren’t any laughing kookaburras?

A tad dreary and a bit rainy described our final “travel-free” day in Australia. We braved the weather for a bush walk. An hour into the upward trek, Eric stopped suddenly. “LOOK!” A kookaburra spotting! He was quite a distance away, hanging out between the trees. Then another. And another! There were several kookaburras, swooping through the bush, calling at each other. Calling, not laughing.

We waited. And we waited. No laughter. Admitting defeat, our ascent continued.

Eventually we encountered a clearing with a picnic table and a trash can (I mean, rubbish bin) adjacent to an ATV trail. We stopped for a rest, then… KOOKABURRAS! Dang birds, teasing me! Instead of swooping someone’s beachside barbie, they anticipated someone’s hillside picnic. That’s when a kookaburra glided toward us and roosted in a tree. He threw back his head… and then laughter! Joyous kookaburra laughter!

Oh, how that sound set me in fits of joy! That’s what I wanted, that boisterous chuckle, that vision of Australia’s unique wildlife packaged in one sound.

I captured it too. The video is embarrassingly blurry (clearly too excited = clearly no focus), but that gleeful guffaw surpassed my childhood imagination of a kookaburra encounter.

They say laughter is a universal language. If this is true, I’m glad that I finally conversed with a kookaburra.

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