Cockatoo Illustration Shows Australia Wasn’t a ‘Dark Continent’

June 27, 2018

A 13th-century illustration of an Australasian cockatoo debunks the myth Australia was “a dark continent” and reveals trade routes around the country’s north were flourishing as far back as medieval times, a study shows.

Researchers found the illustration in a manuscript that was either written by or belonged to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

It is the oldest-known European illustration of the bird, found in a book dating from between 1241 and 1248, and pre-dating other European illustrations of cockatoos by 250 years.

The manuscript includes 900 drawings of falcons and other animals kept by the emperor. Four of the images are of a white cockatoo — a gift from an Egyptian sultan to Frederick II.

Heather Dalton from the University of Melbourne, who contributed to the research published in the journal Parergon, said the find challenged “the British view” that Australia was “a dark continent”.

“The significant thing is that this parrot provides a window to a world of quite busy trade to Australia’s north,” she said.

“The discovery of these images … highlight the fact that during the medieval period, merchants plying the waters just to the north of Australia were part of a flourishing trade network that reached west to the Middle East and beyond.”

Dr Dalton said while many scholars were aware the Sultan had given a “white parrot” to Frederick II, few were aware there were surviving images of the bird.

The research team looked at the details, such as the shape of the crest and the colouring of the cockatoo, and concluded it was likely a female — either a sulphur-crested cockatoo or a yellow-crested cockatoo.

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