The Cry of Crows at Dawn

crows IIThere are those in Altona who will tell you crows are a bloody nuisance. Noisy and smart, they pillage the waste bins in the lane behind the Pier Street eateries that have sprouted in step with the gentrification of what was long a working-class dormitory by the water. The local magpies despise them and the contempt is mutual, each side blitzing the other when opportunity and numbers confer a momentary advantage. This morning, while the maggies remained politely abed, crows of differing species were garrulous with grievance.

It was the crowd without a doubt that set off the avian protest, the throng that assembled and grew through the hour before dawn outside the RSL on Sargood Street, then ambled rather than marched to Civic Parade and the Hobson’s Bay town hall, where a perpetual flame dances in the garden and the wind. They were quiet, taciturn even, right down to small children who might normally be counted on to shriek and dash about and prompt thoughts of modern parenthood’s light touch of supervision. Such noise as there was in the pre-dawn dark amounted to the scuffing shuffle of soft-shod feet, but the crows noticed even that and made their objections known.

Outside the town hall they could observe from their communal roost behind the adjacent bowling club how the Dawn Service crowd was growing. A thousand people – at least that number and probably more – spilling into the carpark that is the crows’ home turf and closest hunting ground. It is where they daily unpack the municipal rubbish bins, litter the ground with drink cans and all the other lunchtime detritus excavated and discarded in the quest for scraps of pie and sandwich crusts. Did they object this morning to the presence of so many at such a strange, unlikely hour!

Crossword aficionados know that an assembly of crows is called a parliament, and it takes no great wit to grasp the metaphor. As the bugler played his tribute to the dead of many wars they caw’d and screamed to shame the most raucous Question Time, tried to drown his notes and almost did, at least a hundred dry-throated critics voicing the discordant racket of their disapproval.

When a groovy vicar intoned his Anzac Prayer their bedlam was near deafening, so much so that it was hard to catch the plea that a hipster Yahweh bless asylum seekers and Aborigines, and further, that He bestow His beneficence upon those who were imprisoned “for protesting war”.  The crowd, unlike the crows, maintained its silence as the po-mo pieties rattled on. If there was a prayer for khaki’d gays, and there may well have been, no human ear would have caught it above the feathered din.

And then the service was over, the Eternal Flame left once more alone to flare above the mound of wreaths left by all who cared to place them, from the local kindergarten’s moppets to the shopping centre traders and the boys from our suburb’s scout troop.

The crows departed too, now that dawn had come and set their day in motion. A black cloud of them rose in a huff, heckling as they departed those who had disturbed their sleep. They decamped first to the roof of the newly built block of “luxury living apartments” overlooking the railway station, from there departing in small squads and larger platoons to go about their daily business. You didn’t need to be a magpie to think ‘good riddance’.

The stroll back to where we began, to homes in most cases or the RSL’s breakfast buffet and neighbourhood coffee shops for others, shed the solemn, instinctive silence of an hour or so before. The ankle-biters gambolled amongst their elders’ legs. A young man paused briefly to de-mute the ring tone on his mobile phone. Two women in the forties giggled when one told the other how much she was looking forward to a feed of bacon and eggs.

At the newsagent’s the piles of newspapers were shrinking. It is nice to have something to read with coffee and toast, although not on this morning The Age, which served as a reminder that crows are far from the only critics of what drew so many at such an hour to gather beneath an umbrella of hush. There would be more naysayers on this day, as always. What look-at-me poseur can resist the opportunity to flash a contemptuous faux empathy, broadcast the signal that their awareness of war’s horrors is more acute, more knowing than that of the jingo’d sheep who rise before dawn to stand in grateful silence. They would infest Twitter, as always, and some perhaps would clip from The Age cartoonist Leunig’s latest bid to be noticed and acclaimed. Just the thing to grace the door of a Northcote refrigerator. Here it is, his annual paint-by-numbers exercise in the predictable — a cartoon approved, if you can believe it, by an individual whose office door bears the title “editor”.


Crows, the feathered kind and otherwise, are with us always. One species’ cries can be endured, as those at the Dawn Service congregation managed to do. And the other? No matter how loudly the screams – and scream today they are and will –  they are best ignored, no matter how hard they posture and parade the hollowness of virtue and souls.

  • Tony Tea

    Point of order.

    The parliament of owls object to the murder of crows.

    • Lawrie Ayres

      Thanks for making that correction. Otherwise it was well written story and summed up the ordinary Australian approach to something as important as ANZAC day. But there are always those that belittle all efforts apart from their own. I never thought Leunig much of a cartoonist since he cannot draw and he is not funny which are two criteria for a cartoonist. He is a typical leftist and probably other leftists think he is OK. I also note the leftist comedians on the ABC are also not funny and think using foul language is humorous. Come to think of it have you ever seen a leftist smile? Mao, Pol Pot, Che, Lenin, Stalin a true murder of humour free crows just waiting for a corpse or two to pass by. Between them they made over a hundred million.

    • Dave Carter

      Putting aside the solemnity of the occasion-
      This mash-up of Official Collective Nouns illustrates one reason why I argue against Official Collective Nouns in the first instance. What started as poetic turns of phrase- a Crash of Rhinoceroses, a Pride of Lions, a Business of Bees- is made ridiculous, and anti-poetic, by canonisation. I think the now-official list was taken from correspondence between Carpenter and Lewis, and those two certainly were in friendly intellectual competition first, and had no thought of writing content for unimaginative pub quiz authors a century later.
      My other reason is the ridiculousness, even diametrical unsuitability, of many of the Official Poetic Pairings. A Crash of Rhinos? No, the proactive wardens of the bush are notoriously sneaky, especially so given their bulk.
      But these two here are the worst of all. A Parliament of Owls? Never existed- owls the world over are solitary, in new family groups of three or four at most, and territorial. A Murder of Crows? The cruel-beaked Corvus genus is a scavenger, and a cowardly one at that. Given their relationship to the death bit of nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw, A Forensic Pathology Field Unit of Crows would make more sense.

  • Ilajd

    Sandal wearing tosser looked in the mirror and drew what he saw.

  • whitelaughter

    Have enjoyed the Dawn service as a place free of SJW rubbish. If the taint has spread to your local service, heading to another service next year is the obvious option: after venting to the RSL of course.

  • [email protected]

    A parliament of crows? Please, Roger – that would be a parliament of owls. A murder of crows is what you should have said. Must do better.

  • lloveday

    The Prayer of Remembrance (Anzac Prayer) was omitted from the Dawn Service at the Bali Consulate.
    I checked with mates who attended at Forbes, Queanbeyan and Brisbane and it was said at all 3, as it was at our informal, packed house, Service at a Bali pub later in the day, and at Villers-Bretonneux (a rare event, my watching the ABC).
    Orders from Bishop or a unilateral decision by the Consul-General, who 2 years ago said Anzac Day was a celebration?

  • [email protected]

    Blessed be the raven, the wiliest of the winged.

    Here at feeding time they topped the pecking order: ravens, then magpies, mud larks, pigeons.

    One day an ibis turned up.

    Now its ibis, ravens, magpies, mud larks, pigeons – and me.

  • Jody

    This is Schubert’s version of Die Krähe (The Crow) from his dark, last “Winterreise Lieder”:

    • Jody

      The lyrics to Schubert’s lied:

      “The Crow”

      A crow has accompanied me
      Since I left the town,
      Until today, as ever,
      It has circled over my head.
      Crow, you strange creature,
      Won’t you ever leave me ?
      Do you plan soon as booty
      To have my carcase ?
      Well, I won’t be much longer
      Wandering on the road.
      Crow, let me finally see
      Loyalty unto the grave !

  • en passant

    There are photos of a smiling Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler & Mao. Probably as they enjoyed watching a murder.

    It is only today’s totalitarians who never smile, despite some claiming to be ‘comedians’. Kathy Griffin, politicians Fauxcohontas & Mad Maxine Waters, the Hogg ipglet (whose 15-weeks of fame only lasted 10-weeks), Leunig (someone pays him for his inane, pointless doodles? There is a chalk artist on Southbank with more talent in one crayon than Leunig has ever had in his boxfull of colours), Deveny, the Sudanese towel-topped muppet who fled our racist shores (only to return almost immediately).

    Of course, they do not smile; they are totalitarians without total power and that is frustrating and infuriating. They will smile when they have returned the rest of us to primeval nature, without electricity, fuel, houses, farms and civilised culture. Once we are all reduced to their desired level of misery, then they will smile. After all, once we proles are all equally miserable, they can then change the rules to make sure they have all the luxury for themselves.

    Billy Connolly swears a lot, but he IS funny and relevant.

    • Jody

      Meh; not so much.

  • rodcoles

    “They will smile when they have returned the rest of us to primeval nature, without electricity, fuel, houses, farms and civilised culture.” Surely it is up to us to ensure this cannot happen.

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