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How my family came to own Orpingtons
This is a recounting of mateship and mischief that my siblings, cousins and I grew up hearing.
Like so many, my Father served in World War II.
In 1947, around the beginning of the Northern Summer he found himself in Kent, in a village, sitting listening to roosters’ crow. He had never heard such ‘bellowing’ and depth of sound in a ‘chook’ and investigated. What he found was a property filled with different colours of the largest birds he had ever seen. He approached the owners to enquire about them.
As it happened, the birds were Orpingtons.
My Father particularly liked the ones he was told were Cuckoo. They were slightly smaller than the coloured birds but he very much liked them. Upon enquiring if the owners would consider selling him two cockerels and a few pullets to take with him back to Australia, he was informed there were no young old enough to survive a lengthy sea voyage. But was told if he returned at the end of Autumn he could have his pick. Sadly, my Father advised he was being transported home within the month as his ‘stint’ (as he always called it) was up. He was offered a warm evening meal, over which these birds were discussed at great length. My Father explained he had birds back in Australia, (Leghorns), but nothing so wonderful as the birds this family owned.
So sadly he departed expecting never to see this welcoming family nor those large birds again.
My Father could not stop thinking about these birds he had seen. He admitted years later he had become obsessed with them in those few short days.
The following week he got his ‘Orders’ to return to Australia at the end of that same month.
Wanting to see these birds again, he arranged a transport; and went to this ‘village’ to have one last look, taking a mate with him.
He knocked on the front door, no answer. He walked around the back, knocked on the back door and called out, still no answer. Then proceeding to the open run style pens to admire the birds; it appeared no one was at home. Some of the Cuckoo pens were very near the fence.
Without thinking, both my Father and his mate grabbed a number of these Cuckoos and also one, as my Father put it, “Mighty fine looking Black pair”, and put them in the back of the transport. The birds equalled one rooster, two cockerels, five pullets and five hens, and that Black pair. There were numerous Cuckoo pairs and trios left, including a lone rooster, a cockerel and a number of unmated hens. My father wrote a note, he and his mate also left 20 pounds sterling (every ‘cent’ they had in their possession) on the back porch table, all held down by a rock. In this note he apologised for ‘taking’ the birds, explaining he had fallen in love with them, and that he felt ‘compelled’ as he was leaving the country never to return at the end of that month. In the note it asked forgiveness. To this day we don’t know if that note was read, nor if he did in fact receive the asked for forgiveness. In the note he also assured the family the birds would be well cared for.
He admitted to us, when telling this ‘War Story’, he only really wanted a few and never considered taking as many as they did. This mate had grabbed some for HIS mate (my dad) as well! So they agreed they would share what survived the long trip to Australia.
And they did share, right up until my Father’s mate of that day, an ‘unofficial Uncle’, passed away in 2004.
Fortunately, suprisingly, all the birds ‘stolen’ for that 20 pounds sterling survived the trip. Both my Father and his ‘companion in crime’ were somewhat lighter of frame upon their arrival back in Australia though, having had to share their rations with the birds during the journey.
The recounting of how they ‘hid’ the birds on that transport ship and kept them clean and fed is another story altogether! Told well on a number of occasions by my ‘Uncle’.
Although not certain, we believe the English family’s name was Clarke, as my 'Uncle' mentioned this name a few times over the years.
So this is how I came to grow up with Cuckoo and Black Orpingtons and have been involved in caring for and breeding them my entire life.
For as long as I can remember my family had these unusually patterned birds running around. Some were kept in pens, changed to new birds every year or so, they were the breeding stock. I learnt early on what was needed to care for them. Also what birds should go together to produce ‘copies’ of these original ones from England.
When circumstances dictated, I took over the ‘flock’. I was also fortunate enough (but sadly, being from his deceased estate) to acquire the bulk of the flock of my Father’s ‘companion in crime’, and our unofficial Uncle. Both men are now sadly missed.
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