How a feather became a weapon of choice

IMG_1981 (2) blue eyed honey eater

It started with a shocking confrontation, my first reality that life was not all about fun and games, learning and sharing, rainbows and sunsets, and cute cuddly furry animals.,

From memory, I believe I was only about three years old; I was very young, when I stumbled onto a shocking scene. I had wandered out from my designated safe place, the tiny yard at the back of our farm house into the larger yard. Beyond that small yard, was a much larger yard.

The larger yard housed many smaller yards, and stables, a dairy, storage sheds, food storage, chook pens, horse training facilities, and multiple yards housing horses and cattle. A road ran through the centre of this yard, leading out to further paddocks beyond. The road was lined on either side with kennels and working dogs were chained to each kennel, when they were not on the job. There was an outhouse, for use by the staff and many workers employed on the farm.

I was not allowed out into this larger yard. It was a dangerous place for a small child, if unattended by an adult. Sometimes cattle and horses were run loose in this area, as they were being moved from the loading ramps to the paddocks and yards. Not all the horses and cattle were quiet or domesticated, some were wild beasts, unfamiliar with their new surrounds, and they could run amok, causing danger to anything in their path.

Someone must have left the gate open, and I wandered out into the large yard. There I was met by a shocking scene. Near the wood pile was my eldest brother, he was holding an axe, and a chook was being held with its head on the chopping block. My father was standing near my brother, instructing my brother how to wield the axe, to chop off the chook’s head. My brother was about age six or seven at the time.

I was frozen, I did not know what they were about to do, but it looked interesting. Then I watched the axe come down on the chook’s head, and the chook’s head went flying about a metre away. I saw the blood gush from its body, and the blood gush out from the neck, near its head.

I let out an almighty scream. The twin murderers were taken aback, unaware of my presence until they heard my screams. “You have killed the chook I screamed, how could you”. “You’re monsters”, I wailed as I burst into tears. “I am telling mummy on you”. I started to turn to go back to the house to tell my mother, when my brother grabbed the bloodied chook’s head, and chased after me. He had the bloodied head raised in his hand, with blood dripping down his arm, as he chased me.

“I will rub the blood all over you if you tell mum”, he said, as he ran in front of me and blocked my escape. “I am keeping the chooks head, so don’t tell mum, or you’ll get it”, he said threatenly. “Are you going to tell mum”, he said. “No I replied”, I promised.

I ran back into the house, and into my bed, and sobbed and sobbed, for what seemed like hours. Poor Chooky, I thought, as she became affectionately known to me in my memory. What a horrid death, I hated my brother, and my father. I refused to speak to either of them for the rest of the day.

I did not understand why they had killed the chook, had it done something wrong, had it been naughty, I thought. It never occurred to me that we would actually eat the chooks body. I did not know where all to food came from. I knew about vegetables, we grew them in the garden, and my mother had explained to me, they were good for me. I did not know about the meat on our plates, it was not something I was fussed about, but we were encouraged to eat our greens, and to clean up our plates, before we were allowed to eat dessert.

When we sat down for dinner that night it was the first time I had to look at my father and my brother, the murderers. I did not want to look at either of them, and diverted my eyes to anywhere, except in their direction. When mother, or the housekeeping started to bring our plates of dinner to the table, I glanced up as she put my plate in front of me. It was then that I caught my brother’s eye. I noticed that he winked at me, and nodded to the plate. I did not understand, I did not get it; I shrugged my shoulders in disdain.

Then I heard him say, “oh good, we are having poultry tonight, my favourite”. Poultry, I had heard my parents use that word. Then I remembered in the context they had used it, when they also referred to the chooks, the rooster and the chickens. I knew the chooks laid the eggs for breakfast, and mother used them for cooking. My parents had taken me to the Chook House to collect eggs sometimes. I liked the chooks, and the tiny chickens were so cute, we had to be careful we did not stand on them. The Rooster was different, he was to be admired from a distance.

I had heard the rooster crowing, calling us to wake up in the morning, and thought he was a very smart and intelligent rooster. But I had also seen another side to the rooster, which scared the daylights out of me.

I had seen the rooster chasing my older brothers, or the farm dogs on several occasions. Rooster chasing something was a frightening sight. Running at a very fast pace, and flapping his huge wings in full flight mode, screeching the loudest noises, and trying to peck at whatever was in his path, was a sight to behold. I used to pray to God, that Rooster never chased me, or that he would never be out of his Chook Pen, when I was in the big yard.

Back to the dinner. It suddenly dawned on me; maybe that was Chooky on my plate. I dared not ask. I caught my brother’s eye again, and again he winked at me. I sat there in silence. I ate my vegetables, but did not touch the meat.  Suffice to say I did not get dessert that night. We were not allowed to leave the table until everyone had finished eating, and dessert was not allowed, unless the first course had been consumed in full. I sat there and watched the others eat their dessert. No amount of cajoling by my parents could persuade me to finish my plate. It may have been the very first time that I had refused to eat my dinner.

We eventually were sent to bed and tucked in. I had nightmares about what I had seen that day. I was not to know this was the beginning of years of childhood nightmares and terror, at the hands of my siblings.

The symbol of the chooks bloodied head was replaced with a feather. From then on, and for years later, my siblings would use a feather, to frighten me, bully me, threaten me, and control me. The feather, to me, represented murder, a bloodied chooks head, and some form of terror. Later the feather was simply a reminder of the chook.

As word spread between my siblings, they watched with humour and enjoyment, how just the threat of having a feather on them, would be enough to frighten me, and make me run away. Alternatively they could use the feather to bully me, make me help them to do their chores and whatever took their fancy.

It seemed like forever, but it may have been a week or two before my parents became aware of my unusual behaviour. I started keeping to myself, and staying away from my siblings. I did not share in their games and activities; I tried to remove myself as far away as possible away from same siblings.

I do not recall my older brother Brian being active with the feather threat, nor do I recall seeing him holding a feather, a ploy the other siblings used, as a reminder to me. Brian may have tried it once, but on seeing my reaction, I believe he empathised with me, and never again threatened me.

Of course my parents were horrified when they eventually heard the truth, and the circumstances surrounding the story of the feather. They instructed my siblings they were not to have feathers on them, nor to use a feather threat against me. They were admirable words, but it all fell on deaf ears, when my parents were out of sight.

Mum even went so far as to buy some Chinese chickens for me. She said they were not really feathers, as they did not have the bone like structure in the centre of the feather. She encouraged me to pat them, to feel for myself. I never did. They still looked like chooks with feathers. My mother was quite concerned about my phobia.

The feather phobia took on a whole new meaning as I grew older. For example, when being attacked by the Magpies and the Plovers. Those are stories of their own, for a later date.

I love and admire birds and our feathered friends. I have learnt to live my life without the feathers being much of a problem. I currently do everything in my power, to attract the wild birds to my patch. I feed a group of birds in my tiny backyard daily. They are mainly Sparrows, about 30 of them, together with two pairs of Black Birds, a pair of Turtle Doves and the intermittent and occasional pair of Eastern Rosellas.

A small park sits in the centre of my street. It is here that I encourage the larger birds.  A family of Magpies used to rule the roost here; they chased the intruders and visitors away. My brother used to feed the Magpies and the other birds, but the Magpies were becoming far too familiar for me. Wanting to walk right up to my front door looking for the food, or running at me when they saw me coming into the park. So I stopped the feeding regime my brother had started, and only kept a dish of water available for them. As the Magpies lost interest and the food habit, other birds arrived in the park. Now there are numerous Honeyeaters and a variety of birds. It is no longer the sole domain of the Magpie family.

I also use the water dish for an ulterior motive. It is a great location for me to photograph the wild birds. Again the story about the wild birds in my patch will be another story.


My fear is best described as pteronophobia, which is simply described as, a fear of feathers.  and not to be confused with  Ornithophobia, which is a fear of birds.


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