The barking Kookaburra
(Chapter 1 to 4)
A thunderstorm had just passed over the little farm house. You could
still hear a faint thunder, rolling up the valley of Tantaraboo. The rain had
dumped lots of water onto the backyard with its tiny vegetable patch and dozens
of flower pots. The vegetables and the flowers weighed down by heavy water drops
looked sad, as if they were crying. But soon they would suck in the water, stand
up straight again and look more beautiful than ever before.
Not so the little bird standing between the lettuce and the carrots. It
was soaked, its feathers pointing away from its shivering body like crooked
“What the blooming tail is it, mate?” Buddha asked. Buddha was the black
cat who knew almost everything. He knew instantly what kind of baby bird it was
he was looking at. But he pretended not to know, because he wanted to tease the
dogs. The dogs would not know the answer, Buddha knew that. In his opinion dogs
knew nothing and they definitely were stupid.
“I don’t know,” Hoover answered. Hoover was the neighbour's dog. “But it
looks like lunch to me,” he quickly added and leaped forward, his mouth wide
open. Just before his fat paws would crush the little bird, Ajax unexpectedly
made a dart for the bird, picked it up and threw it into the air.
“It's a great toy,” Ajax said. Ajax was the other neighbour’s dog. He
wagged his tail, swayed his bottom back and forth, ready to jump and catching
the bird midair. Ajax was not aware of Stelze sneaking up on him from behind.
Stelze was the dog who belonged to the farm, like Buddha, the cat. She placed
her big paw on Ajax’s tail as he jumped.
“Ouch!” he yelped and fell flat onto his snout.
“It is not lunch and it is not a toy,” Stelze said with her deep and firm
With a splish-splash the soaked bird landed on her snout.
“It’s a baby bird,” she now said as softly as she could.
Buddha rolled his eyes. “It's a kookaburra, mate. Kookaburras are part of
the group of birds called kingfishers. Kookaburras live in woodlands and open
forests. They are birds you only find here in Australia and also in New Guinea.
They eat fish, frogs, lizards and snakes.”
“Yuk!” Ajax said, shaking his head.
“Yum!” Hoover said, licking his lips.
Buddha started to yawn. He seemed to be bored with lecturing the dogs
about Australian bird life. But looking closer you could see that he enjoyed it.
“Yeah, mate,” he concluded, “it is a bloody kookaburra.”
“It's a baby,” Stelze said again, her eyes crisscrossing, trying to focus
on the kookaburra sitting on her snout. Stelze was a very tall dog. Her legs
were longer then the longest stilts. And because she was a Doberman dog of
German origin, her name was Stelze, the German word for stilts. She actually was
not as stupid as Buddha liked to portray her. She was an old dog and her long
life had taught her a lot of valuable lessons. She was smart and wise. She knew
what was bad for her and she knew what was good for others. She had a big heart
for all creatures of the world. “Do you have a name?” she asked the kookaburra
as gently as possible so she would not scare it.
“Pirate,” the kookaburra peeped, his eyes wandering from Hoover to Ajax
and back to Buddha.
Stelze could sense that Pirate was a bit scared. “Don't worry about them,
Pirate,” she said. ”They are my friends. They won't do you any harm. Ajax just
loves to play. Hoover is always hungry and just eats anything that has flavour.
But by now they know that you are neither a toy nor a sandwich.” She looked at
Ajax and Hoover with stern eyes. “Don't they?”
Ajax and Hoover nodded.
“And Buddha is not interested in birds. He's too busy telling us dogs how
stupid we are. Am I right?”
Buddha did not even look up. He rolled his eyes and yawned once
“I am Pirate,” Pirate said again, now more proudly.
“And you look like one too,” Ajax and Hoover said at the same
Pirate indeed did look like a pirate. All around his left eye, in a
perfect circle, grew black feathers. At either end there was a thick line of
black that went all around his head. It looked as if he wore a black eye patch,
like real pirates do.
“But I am sure he is not as naughty as real pirates are,” Stelze said.
“After all he is still a baby. He cannot fly yet.”
“I am not a baby. I am the most dreaded pirate in the world”, Pirate
said, puffing up his chest. “All the creatures in the bush fear me. Watch out
for me! Or I will come and give you a hiding until you beg for your life. And I
can fly.” He flapped his soaked wings, splashing the water into Stelze's eyes.
She instantly closed them and bit her tongue so she would not growl. Ajax,
Hoover and Buddha burst out laughing.
“Stelze hates water,” Ajax shouted.
“That's your first shower for years. It was about time,” Hoover
“I once heard a saying that standing in the rain will make you look
beautiful,” Buddha said, pretending to be bored. But one could spot a tiny smirk
on his face.
“Why are your ears so big?” Pirate asked and jumped onto the top of
“They're her bed,” Hoover quickly said. “She uses the left ear as her
mattress and the right one as a blanket.”
“No, they're her wings,” Ajax joked. “Watch out, she'll fly away any
“She might give you flying lessons,” Hoover added.
They both were rolling on the ground laughing. Pirate was jumping up and
down on Stelze's head. “You are funny,” he said, peeping wildly in between. “You
make me laugh.”
“Kookaburra's laughter sounds different to me, mate,” Buddha said. “Their
laughing call is raucous and crazy.”
“Yeah, you're right,” Ajax and Hoover agreed. “When kookaburras laugh it
sounds like a bunch of monkeys having fun.”
“Why don't you laugh like a real kookaburra, mate?” Buddha
Pirate went quiet all of a sudden. He stopped jumping, his wings now
hanging down from his tiny body as if they had become too heavy to ever spread
again. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Where is your home?” Stelze asked, her eyes rolling, trying to catch a
glimpse of Pirate sitting on top of her head.
“I don't know,” Pirate answered.
“How did you get here without flying?” Buddha asked.
“I . . . I don't know.”
From Outer Space
In the evening, after Ajax and Hoover had
gone back to their own homes and Buddha was on the roof top watching the stars,
Stelze lay down on her couch out on the veranda. Pirate quickly curled up
between her long legs and fell asleep in an instant. His feathers were now
fluffy and shiny, his stomach full. Because everybody insisted, Buddha had
agreed to share his dinner with Pirate.
eat dog food. They eat fish. It was you
who said that,” the dogs had lectured him.
Pirate loved it. He
sunk his strong beak into the mushy fishy bits and swallowed them as if there
was no tomorrow. Earlier in the evening Stelze had wondered where Pirate could
sleep tonight. Maybe she would lift him up onto the lowest branch of the gum
tree in the backyard. But she quickly dismissed the idea. What if a feral cat
sneaked up on him and grabbed him? She thought about scratching some leaves
together to build a nest under the house. But what if a snake sneaked up on him
and bit him? Pirate had to sleep on the couch, between her legs.
Stelze did not take
her eyes off him. At one stage she tried to hum a song she heard once on her
master's radio. She thought that would comfort Pirate. But Buddha was yelling
down from the roof top:
“Hey, mate! Your
howling gives me the shivers. Are you trying to scare us all to death?”
So she stopped humming
and instead licked Pirate's feathers clean, gently and carefully.
“How is he doing?”
all of a sudden Hoover asked.
“Holy bone!” Stelze
whispered. “You gave me a fright. What are you doing here so late at night?”
“I couldn't sleep.
So I asked myself why don’t you wander up here and see how Pirate is doing.”
“He is doing fine.
Hoover sighed and rested his snout on the couch, very close to Pirate.
“You're not trying
to snatch him away from me, are you?” Stelze growled.
“No! No! No!”
Hoover insisted, “I'm not eating my friends. Friends are for life. You have to
treat them with love and care.”
“That's something I
have never heard coming out of your brain before. Who told you that?”
“I did, mate,”
Buddha yelled from the roof top.
sighed, “Pirate is indeed a poor thing. It must be hard for him not to be with
“Perhaps he doesn't
have any. Where he comes from there are no such things as parents,” said Hoover.
“What a lot of
offal! Where do you think he comes from?” Buddha yelled from the roof top.
“From outer space!”
It was Ajax’s voice.
“Holy bone,” whispered
Stelze. Her heart was pounding.
“Holy lunch,” whispered
Hoover, pulling his tail between his legs.
“You gave us a
fright,” said both.
“I couldn't sleep.
So I asked myself why don’t you wander up here and see how Pirate is doing,”
said Ajax and jumped onto the couch. “Hey, listen! I have the proof that Pirate
is from outer space. Do you remember the thunderstorm this afternoon? Do you
remember the lightning? Well, that wasn’t lightning. It definitely was not. I
mean it was kind of a lightning. But in fact it was the engine of a UFO. It sends
out a bright light, as a disguise, so you can't see that it is a UFO.”
yelled down from the roof top. “There aren't any UFO's.”
“Yes there are,”
“Mate, it is
scientifically not proven,” said Buddha. “And who knows better than me that
they do not exist? I have been watching the night sky all my life and have not
seen a single one so far.”
“Will you guys shut
up,” Stelze interfered. “Your stupid argument will wake up Pirate.”
definitely fell out of the sky,” Ajax now said quietly.
Hoover agreed. “And we only first saw him after the lightning. Maybe it was a
sorcerer or a wizard who brought him here. He performed magic with his wand.
They have sort of a flashing light, haven’t they? Maybe Pirate was originally a
“Or a rock,” Ajax
“Or a worm,” said
“Oh you dogs are so
stupid. It makes my claws cringe,“ Buddha yelled down from the roof top. “There
are no UFO's and there are no sorcerers. Get it, mate?”
“Oh yeah, Mister
Know-It-All. Do you have a better explanation why he's here?” Hoover and Ajax
“Not yet, mate. I'm
still thinking about one. That little bird didn’t come from a different
“No, he comes from
the furthest star away,” said Ajax. “From the edge of the universe.”
“Hang on,” Hoover
interrupted. “Since he’s a pirate he must have arrived on a huge pirate ship.”
“A schooner that
would be,” Buddha corrected him. “A pirate’s ship is called a schooner. It was
the pirate’s favourite ship in the Caribbean. . .”
“Let's stop right there,”
said Stelze. “We will find out where Pirate comes from and we will take him
back there. But right now he needs to sleep. He still is a baby.”
The next day, long before the first sun beams
hit the couch on the veranda, Pirate woke up. He did not open his eyes yet. He
felt the warmth and the softness of Stelze's legs around his body and snuggled
up to them, one last time. He felt so comfortable that a deep sigh came out of
his beak, from deep down in his belly. Finally he jumped up like a spring and
hopped onto Stelze's forehead.
“Wake up!” he
peeped. “Let’s play.”
Stelze did not hear
him. She was still snoring.
around. What he saw seemed strange, but at the same time very familiar to him:
the backyard with its tiny vegetable patch and dozens of flower pots; the gum
tree in the far corner; the veranda with its sun bleached timber decking; the
couch with its ripped cover and Stelze. Somehow Pirate felt a bit strange about
himself too. He couldn't really say what it was that made him feel safe being
around Stelze. She definitely was not a kookaburra, or any other bird. However
her ears were as big as grown up kookaburra wings. Pirate could not imagine
that Stelze would ever manage to fly with them. They were too fluffy. He took a
good grip with his claws on Stelze’s forehead and leaned forward. He stretched
his neck as far as he could and grabbed the tip of Stelze's ear with his beak.
He lifted it up. It was very hard work. The ear was heavy and Pirate had to
step backwards, at the same time making sure he did not fall off. It cost him a
lot of effort and he surely was losing strength. Soon his beak could not hold
onto it any longer and he let go. Stelze's ear slipped back like a wet towel
falling off a rack and landed over her eyes with a slap. That looked too funny.
It made Pirate laugh, but all that came out of his throat was a weird and
Compared to Pirate’s
beak, Stelze’s mouth was an odd shape and texture. Pirate’s beak was pointy,
hard and strong. Stelze’s mouth was round and the skin as soft as the feathers
under a bird’s wing.
“How does she catch
a worm with that?” Pirate asked himself, pulling her lips. Both claws pushing firmly
against Stelze’s snout he used all his strength and stretched the gummy lip almost
over his head. There was this hollow smack, like the sound of a popping cork,
as the lip flicked back and Pirate fell backwards, landing on his bottom.
Stelze opened her
she asked, “did you hurt yourself?”
She pulled her
tongue over Pirate’s chest, licking away some dust stuck between the feathers. Pirate
thought it was a funny game.
“Yeah!” he shouted
and surrendered himself to the tickling of the tongue. He squealed and shrieked
and thought this was sheer bliss. Stelze’s tongue made its way up to his head.
Pirate, still on his back and his legs helplessly kicking the air, stared at
the huge tongue hovering above his face. It was as wet as a dripping facecloth.
“No!” he yelled.
But it was too late.
The tongue landed on his face with a smack like a whale’s splash into the
ocean. It buried him under its warm and spongy flesh. Pirate held his breath.
“Yuk! Yuk!” he
choked as the tongue slid over his beak and eyes, leaving a soaking trail of
“Having a morning
bath, mate?” Buddha said amused as he placed himself on the couch’s arm rest.
“Babies are all the
same,” said Stelze. “They don’t like to be washed.”
“I am not a baby
anymore,” Pirate insisted. “I am the most dreaded pirate in the world.”
Ajax jumped onto
the veranda. He was panting:
“I did it. I have
won. I am first again. Great. Absolutely fantastic. Nobody beats me. I am the
fastest dog in Tantaraboo. Good morning, everybody.”
Shortly after, Hoover
jumped onto the veranda. Rather, he dragged himself up. His tongue was hanging
out of his mouth and nearly touching the ground.
“I nearly won”, he
panted, “I nearly won by the skin of my teeth. But, at least I came second. That’s
pretty good. Good morning, everybody.”
“How can anyone be
so brainless,” said Buddha, rolling his eyes. “Speaking of brain, I thought
last night about our strange fellow Pirate. The fact that he does not know
where his home is and how he got here means that he is suffering amnesia.”
“Ahm . . . what?”
the dogs asked.
“Is that the name
of the UFO he travelled with?” Ajax asked.
“It is the name of
the planet he comes from,” Hoover corrected him.
Buddha threw his
front legs over his head.
“Amnesia is the medical
term for loss of memory. Pirate can’t remember a thing. It’s like he has an
empty wall in his head. Someone or something has taken off the pictures.
They’re gone. He’s lost them all.”
“I haven’t lost
anything,” said Pirate. “I’ve never had anything anyway.”
Buddha pointed at
him and shouted:
“See what I mean?”
“How can he lose
his memory?” Stelze asked.
“Probably got a
hefty knock on his head, mate. Or had a bad adventure he prefers not to
“Did you?” Hoover
Pirate shrugged his
“Let’s go and search
for your memory,” said Ajax. “Us dogs are champions in sniffing things out.”
Hoover added. “Let’s start in the backyard. It might still be there.”
Buddha raised his
voice. You could hear that he now was on the brink of losing it.
“Hold your breath,
you . . . dogs! A memory is not a thing hiding under a rock. His memory got
lost in his brain, mate. He has to find it himself.”
“As a matter of
fact it is a brilliant idea to search for Pirate’s memory”, Stelze now
declared. “We will take him on a walk through Tantaraboo. Any tree, rock or
creek we’ll come across he might recognize it, and it may trigger his memory.
Step by step he will remember where he came from.”
Sword of Gold and Silver
Their walk took them to the many secret
places in the valley of Tantaraboo. At the western end they came across the
hollow gum tree. A fire had gone through the area many years ago. The tree withstood
the flames. But its core burnt out completely. Now it was hollow. A gap led
inside the tree where it offered enough room for three dogs and a cat.
“We call it the
cave,” Stelze said to Pirate. “Do you recognize it?”
Pirate shook his
head but said:
“A cave! There must
be a treasure in there.”
Hoover looked at
him in surprise.
“There is no treasure
is. Every cave has a treasure. Let’s go on a treasure hunt.”
through the gap.
recognize it,” said Stelze. She was disappointed. “He obviously didn’t come
through here when he got lost.”
“I didn’t know
there is a treasure in there,” Hoover said, still baffled. “I wonder what kind
of treasure it could be.”
“A big fat bone,
for sure,” said Ajax, wagging his tail.
Hoover pricked his
ears. Saliva was dribbling out of his mouth.
“Let’s go and find
themselves through the gap, disappearing too into the cave.
“Wait for me,” Stelze
called and rushed through the gap as well.
Buddha stayed back.
He shook his head.
They hear bone and instantly lose their mind.”
Inside the cave it
was dark. Pirate could not see much. But he clearly heard the dogs sniffing
Find the treasure!” he called. “That’s an order.”
“Aye, aye captain!”
said Hoover, bumping into Ajax.
“Get your nose away
from my bottom,” he protested.
“I can’t smell a
bone,” said Stelze. “I don’t think there is one in here.”
“I found it,”
yelled Pirate. “I found the treasure. Yo-ho-ho!”
The dogs chuckled
as they saw the crooked twig Pirate had picked up from the dusty ground. He
proudly held it in his beak.
“It’s a sword. It’s
made of gold and silver.”
“Wow!” said Ajax.
“It’s the most
beautiful sword I have ever seen,” said Hoover.
“It must have
belonged to a king once,” said Stelze.
“Now it’s mine,”
said Pirate, brandishing the twig. “Pirates, avast! Look over there. It’s
Captain Crook from the ghost ship. He is attacking us. He’s after the sword.
Everybody take their weapons. Fight for your life.”
The dogs had given
up their hopes of finding a bone. Instead they now enjoyed playing along with
Pirate’s pirate play. Stelze danced on her hind legs, wrestling one of Captain
Crook’s bloodthirsty buccaneers. Ajax bit them in their legs and made them fall
over. Hoover had picked up a stick himself and swung it around, hitting the
“Take this,” he
shouted. “Take that. And this. And that.”
Pirate was the
bravest. He fought Captain Crook, piercing the gold and silver sword straight
into his heart. But Captain Crook did not cringe. He still stood on his legs
with a dirty smirk on his face. “He’s not dying,” Pirate shouted. “He and his
pirates are ghosts.”
invincible,” said Hoover.
“The darkness is
their protector,” said Stelze.
Ajax suggested it
would be best to lure them outside.
“The sunlight will
“Follow me,” said
He was just about
to jump through the gap when all of a sudden a hollow voice from above shouted:
“What was that?”
“A ghost?” Ajax
“I can’t smell
anybody,” said Stelze.
“It’s impossible to
smell ghosts,” said Ajax. “They don’t reek because they’re dead.”
The hollow voice spoke
“It’s me, Captain
Everybody was now
screaming. Pirate dropped his twig and hid between Stelze’s legs. Hoover pushed
himself under Stelze, trying to hide too. And Ajax jumped on top of Hoover, at
the same time squeezing himself under Stelze’s belly. Only Stelze had no one
she could hide under. She was shaking with fear.
The hollow voice
“I want my sword
“He’s a real
ghost,” said Hoover.
“What do we do
now?” asked Ajax.
“Someone has to
give him back the sword,” said Stelze.
“Not me,” said
“Just give me the
blooming sword, mate,” chuckled the hollow voice.
“Hang on,” said
Ajax. “I think I know that chuckle.”
“It’s Buddha,” said
“He played a trick
on us,” said Stelze.
Buddha was rolling
on the ground with laughter as Pirate and the dogs came out of the tree. Pirate
hopped onto his belly, shrieking and peeping:
“I was so scared.
That was so funny.”
“I had the best
time in my life, mate,” Buddha laughed.
else had a good belly laugh Stelze suggested walking on to the next secret
place. After all they were on a mission. They wanted to find out where Pirate
came from. Pirate grabbed the stick. He did not want to leave it behind. It was
his treasure. And so they marched on.ISBN 978-0-646-54287-4
COPYRIGHT Adrian Plitzco, Australia