The cassowary is a bird most Australians are wary of, and understandably so.
They’re as close as you can get in this day and age to the legendary prehistoric velociraptor and can cause as much damage - or so it’s said - if cornered.
Even people who try to domesticate them from chicks may fall foul to their natural instinct. Is it this air of danger that gives us this fascination? It is, after all, a surviving dinosaur living right here in Australia.
Art by Sandra Temple (Rainforest King)
A True-blue Aussie Bird
Sure, the cassowary isn’t as elegant as, say, a rainbow lorikeet or a delicate bee eater - but it is still just as beautiful. It’s perhaps more along the lines of one of the more unusual fringe characters of lanky Australian birds like its distant cousin the Emu, or the White Ibis (which you probably know better now as it’s more urban nickname; the Bin Chicken).
There is something about its untouchability and harshness that make it uniquely part of this end of the planet and, to that extent, something that we are proud to call ours.
Part of the Ecosystem
Regardless of how you feel about them, cassowaries are an integral part of rainforest ecosystems. They can distribute seeds like no other animal can, and are responsible for keeping many fauna species alive.
This, in and of itself, is enough to deserve our respect and leave them to their business. Rather than trying to dominate their environment, or try to tame or domesticate them, it’s much preferable to enjoy them as artists' subjects.
Cassowaries in Art
Two of our artists certainly think they're beautiful to admire; Tracy Church’s monochrome cassowary profile in her piece 'Cassowary' shows elegant detail that most of us, daring or not, will ever get to see up close.
This artwork is currently available on a mug and a laptop sleeve. As Tracy says in her artist's profile: “I want children, in particular, to understand rather than fear, the unusual behaviour of many of our native birds.”
To this end, the artist has made the perfect choice of subject in the cassowary, a species we have been told to fear since we became familiar with it.
Tracy’s mentor, Sandra Temple, another of our featured artists and recipient of 5 Best Australian Wildlife Awards, also captures the cassowary up close in her piece Rainforest King - available as a print.
Sandra’s colour portrait shows both its fury and its beauty: a keen and wary eye offset by the spectacular and glossy plumage, it’s battered casque is a testament to a life of pushing its way through thick rainforest growth and defending its young. In one single image, Sandra shows the cassowary’s beauty in all its strength and ferocity.
Support Our Cassowaries
Sadly, these artists' depictions may be all we have left of cassowaries at some point in the future. Like many of our native fauna, they are an endangered species.
Development of natural habitat and the introduction of humans and domesticated pets into once serene areas are a threat to their survival.
As fearsome as they may be one-on-one, even the cassowary is defenceless against the destruction that humans can bring about; habitat destruction, hunting, climate change and poaching.
Something as feared and fierce as the cassowary is undoubtedly deserving of a place in art, particularly so in Australian wildlife art. The incredible depictions created by our artists inspire something beyond beauty: they are beautifully dangerous.