Here at the Dictionary of Sydney we like to give you insight into those seminal moments in the city’s history, the patterns and forces that shaped our city, influential people and events… or in the case of today a foul-mouthed pet cockatoo, Cocky Bennett.
Because Cocky wasn’t just any bird. Most cockatoos live to around 80 years old but Cocky’s life apparently spanned the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of this time, about 78 years was spent travelling the world with Captain Ellis trading in the South Sea Islands – perhaps where Cocky originally picked up some of his bad language.
When Captain Ellis died, Cocky changed hands through the Captain’s family, and ended up at on the Georges River at the Sea Breeze Hotel on Tom Ugly’s Point in Blakehurst. A popular pitstop for fishermen and ferry traffic, this is where Cocky really became centre stage. Perched up on the hotel’s front verandah he would screech at people passing by and greet incoming patrons.
People soon figured out that Cocky got even more loose tongued if you gave him some of the drinks on offer. One of his trademark sayings was ‘If I had another bloody feather I’d fly!’ This was particularly amusing to the pub’s punters because poor Cocky looked ‘more like a plucked chicken with wrinkled skin’. He got worse with age, the huge tip on his upper beak growing so long he could only eat mashed food, his skin a leathery grey on a scrawny body.
Despite his looks, affection for him never waned. Each year piles of birthday cards would be sent from his admirers. At the bottom of his cage at the Sea Breeze Hotel, there was a collection box for St George Hospital which raised enough funds for three beds. Cocky’s generosity did not go unnoticed; a plaque commemorates his contribution.
On his death in 1916, there was an outpouring of grief. His obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald described that though he had been absolutely featherless for the last 20 years he had still been as chatty as ever and had indeed become the ‘venerable cockatoo’. Hobart’s Daily Post took the tribute even further: ‘Sydneyites were as proud of Cocky as they are of their harbour, and not to have seen Mrs Bennett’s pet was taken almost as a slight to the city’.
Read more on the Dictionary of Sydney here:
Catie Gilchrist, The Cocky Bennett Story, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/the_cocky_bennett_story
Alison Grellis, Blakehurst, https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/blakehurst
Minna Muhlen-Schulte is a professional historian and Senior Heritage Consultant at GML Heritage. She was the recipient of the Berry Family Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria and has worked on a range of history projects for community organisations, local and state government including the Third Quarantine Cemetery, Woodford Academy and Middle and Georges Head . In 2014, Minna developed a program on the life and work of Clarice Beckett for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight Program and in 2017 produced Crossing Enemy Lines for ABC Radio National’s Earshot Program. You can hear her most recent production, Carving Up the Country, on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen here. She’s appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Minna!
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