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Saturday 11 February 2012

The Cockatoo and the Good Companion Typewriter

In 1943, Cornelius the cockatoo kept cigar-chomping Qantas air traffic controller Geoffrey Allen company in the isolated outpost of Batchelor in the North Territory, Australia’s “Top End”. (Qantas, by the way, stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service.)

Indeed, the pet cocky looks as if he’d like to have a tap at Allen’s Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter.
Believe me, the cockatoo must be one of the world's cleverest and most communicative birds.
Allen was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force in Batchelor, under the command of Charles Eaton of the No 79 Wing, four squadrons which flew Beaufort and B-25 Mitchell bombers and Beaufighter heavy fighters in the Pacific War.
Batchelor is 61 miles of Darwin, a city which was attacked in February 1942 by the same Japanese fleet which bombed Pearl Harbour.
The establishment of an air base at Batchelor provided another vital link in monitoring war-time civilian air travel. This enabled Qantas to resume its flying boat services, which had been halted by the fall of Singapore in February 1942.
Young cockatoos and rosellas at Batchelor Resort
Qantas flew American-built Consolidated PBY Catalinas from Western Australia to what is now Sri Lanka. This service linked with the British Overseas Airways Corporation service to London. That 3500-mile non-stop sector was the longest flown at that time by any airline, with an average flying time of 28 hours. Passengers received a certificate of membership to The Rare and Secret Order of the Double Sunrise, as the sun rose twice during the flight.
It may surprise some who identify the wonderful cockatoo with Australia that the bird’s name is actually Malay. It is a 17th century derivation of kakatuwah ("vice" or "grip") from the Dutch kaketoe. The cockatoo's strong beak can crack nuts and chew through thick cablewire.
In Australian slang, a person who is assigned to keep watch – such as Mr Allen guarding the night skies in Batchelor in 1943 - may be referred to as a cockatoo.

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