A Letter To The Magpie I Tortured As A Child

Dear Maggie,

That’s what we called you: Maggie. We didn’t say it nicely. We didn’t sing your name the way folk singers have crooned a dozen songs about girls called Maggie down the years.

We hissed it. We spat out your name across the kerbless street. We called you Maggie, Maggerz, Maggot. We mocked you, and we were cruel.

Day after day, we taunted you in the big gum tree across the road. We waited for you to swoop, forced you to swoop by throwing rocks at your nest. And when you swooped, we retaliated with more missiles.

I remember the wind-beat of your wings, your outraged squawk, the thud of stone on your body. I remember our triumphant cheers when we connected.

A house on the street had a white pebble feature in the front garden. And then it didn’t anymore, because we threw all those pebbles at you.

In our outer western suburb of the nation’s capital, we were the boys from Lord of the Flies and you, Maggie/Maggot, were the beast. Except of course, as the famous novel implies, the Beast was actually us.

The magpie's net was in that very tree, over that humble house in the suburbs. Image: Google Maps.

And after a day of tormenting you, evening would come. And our mothers would feed us, as you fed your babies in the nest.

And after a spring of tormenting you, summer would come. And we’d ride our bikes down to the Murrumbidgee River and swing into the muddy water from rope swings on the Casuarinas.

In winter, the distant Brindabella Ranges would be covered in snow, and we’d scream downhill on our bikes to school. Our skinny thighs would freeze, but we had no choice. Wear long pants, and you’d be brutalised by big kids who grew up to be roof tilers and football stars.

And then spring would come again. And Maggie, you would swoop us as we screamed downhill on our bikes. And this was the worst crime imaginable, because back then, our bikes were our transport, our currency, our lives. Nothing, but nothing, was more important than our bikes.

So of course, we'd retaliate. After school, we'd find a new pebble garden to denude. And the stone age would recommence.

Sorry, mate. Image: Getty.

I think of you today Maggie for a few reasons.

I think of you because I was swooped the other day in the park by one of your cousins.

I think of you because my own kids are at an age when there’s peer pressure to do all sorts of bad stuff, and I hope they’re strong enough to resist.

I think of you because my old primary school principal died last year, and I remember he used to administer the cane to misbehaving kids, and maybe we mistakenly thought violence is the solution to a problem.

Or I don't know, maybe that's just an excuse. Maybe we were just little rats.

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I think of you because I read this week that some Queensland kids caught a magpie and set it on fire, and I know that me and my neighbourhood mates were no better.

And I think of you because a grown man in South Australia killed a wombat this week with glee on his face and stones in his hand. Just like we pelted you with stones, Maggie.

The only thing I can say in my defence -- and it's not much -- is that I was young. It really is a flimsy excuse but it's all I've got.

Anyway, what I mostly want to say is sorry. We were the worst kids in the world. You were a lovely bird doing what birds do naturally. You warbled beautifully. I hope the babies of those babies that you nurtured are still warbling today.