This is a follow on to my last blog entry where I wondered about the history of Cookie the Swan.

Cookie, the Swan
(also known as Cooky, the Swan)
(and also known as Cocky, the Swan)
(and also known as Wacka, the Swan)

A certain librarian, who shall remain nameless to protect his reputation as a serious professional, has kindly done some research for me. At the risk of turning this blog into a collection of swan stories (swan songs?), here, for the historical record, is an account of the life and death of Cookie the Swan.

Thanks for the info, Frank! (Oops. Thanks, "nameless librarian".)

The swan was known to the Council as "Cookie" (because that's what they put on his plaque). The Age called him "Cooky", and in one article "Cocky". Council workers called him "Wacka".

The story was covered by Melbourne's papers in seven short articles from 20th May to October 1972.

The headlines ran as follows:
  • Cooky dies horribly
  • Police probe swan's death
  • Cooky will not be forgotten
  • Cooky to get plaque

    ACH20061001-175534websmall Cookie's memorial drinking fountain
    Cookie's Memorial Drinking Fountain
In Alexandra Gardens, this drinking fountain bears a plaque with the words:

In Memory of "Cookie"
The Black Swan
Who lived in these gardens
From 1967-1973

The historical record is uncertain on a number of points.

I think it's safe to say that there was a swan. In fact, the Age states that "The swan was one of the best known tourist attractions on the Yarra River." (It was a much neglected river in those days.)

It lived from some time in the 1960s until it was murdered in the early 1970s. The memorial drinking fountain records that it lived from 1967 to 1973. The Age reports that he died sometime in the week before 20th May 1972. So the fountain has certainly gotten the year of death wrong. As a result it's hard to have a lot of confidence in the date of birth.

The Age reported...

"[He] was well known by peak-hour tram drivers and motorists who stopped nightly in Batman Av. to let him waddle across the road.

"Moomba crowds remember him, too, from the day he interrupted a rowing race and made skiers dodge as he crossed 'his river'."

Council worker, Morris ("Mocca") Ryan said...

"He used to follow us around like a lamb. We'll all miss him."

The sad story followed...

"Cooky was strangled with a necktie and had both his wings and a leg torn from his body."

"Three 'down and outers' were discovered mutilating Cooky."

A tie. Not "the" tie. Given that Cookie was killed in 1972, the tie was likely to have been wider than this, and more colourful

(Those were the days: even "down and outers" wore ties that they could use in the event that they needed something to strangle a swan.)

After allegations that the Police didn't take animal crime seriously, the Chief Police Commissioner, Mr Jackson intervened. He took a personal interest: "The police had received numerous calls about the swan's death." He ordered a full investigation into its death.

The body had been found in Public Toilets in Flinders Park. The council's gardeners buried him in a shallow grave "behind the lavatory block". That's probably somewhere in Melbourne Park Tennis Centre now, near the Rod Laver Arena and the Margaret Court Court (sorry, Margaret Court Arena).

Flinders Park.gif
A map of Flinders Park from the mid 1960s. Robinson's Street Directory 3rd Edition.

Kevin John O'Reilly (28 years old in one news report, 29 in the next) (sheet metal worker in one report, unemployed in the next) was charged with cruelty to an animal and killing native game "during the closed season". I'm not quite sure how that second charge worked: as far as I can tell, duck hunting season (when it used to be held in Victoria) tended to start in March/April and run through to June, so May would have been right in the middle of the usual bird hunting season. I assume swans had been permanently dropped from the list of permitted birds by 1972.

O'Reilly said "The only reason I killed it was because I wanted to eat it. Me and two mates had been wandering around all day with a flagon of sherry. I thought we would catch it and take it to the Indian sisters in Gore St to cook it for us."

(Side note: I had a friend who used to live in Gore Street.)

ACH20070722-172001-websmall2 The Crime Scene
The Crime Scene

Despite the Commissioner's vow to take the crime seriously, the charge of cruelty was dropped. O'Reilly was jailed for three days on the charge of killing native game during the closed season. The only reason he was jailed was "because he couldn't pay a fine of $15". It doesn't look like the other two 'down and outers' were ever charged.

Four months later, the Melbourne City Council got in on the act. Torn between fiscal responsibility and pandering to public sentiment, Councillor Colin McDonald said...

"an 'inexpensive' drinking fountain bearing a plaque for Cooky would be built on the south bank of the river - probably near the rowing sheds where Cooky used to roam."

It wasn't even a new fountain...

"The drinking fountain has been in storage for some time [since being removed from its original location at the MCG's Northern stand] and the [parks and gardens] committee believes it would be an appropriate memorial for Cooky."

A photograph of a swan that's not Cookie. But this swan might have known Cookie or been related. I took this photo in the Botanic Gardens in 1983, and swans live for between 12-30 years if they aren't murdered.

Comments (6)
Anthony Holmes January 2nd, 2008 05:48:09 PM

1) Cookie the Swan, in memorium
Anonymous Librarian 3/01/2008 9:00:56 AM

Anthony - just a quick correction. It wouldn't have been obvious from the scans I sent you, but only "Cooky's killer goes to prison" and "Cooky to get plaque" were from The Age, the rest of the articles were published in The Sun.

2) Cookie the Swan, in memorium
Anonymous Librarian 3/01/2008 9:06:02 AM

I knew that collection of street directories would come in handy!

Nice article.

3) Cookie the Swan, in memorium
Anonymous Librarian 3/01/2008 2:09:23 PM

Oh, "Police probe swan's death" was Age too.

4) Serifs
Anthony 3/01/2008 4:35:56 PM

Ah, yes, the serifs make it clear. All the Age headlines had stylish serifs, whilst the Sun's headlines are sans serif. Which only leaves the question as to why two of the Sun's headlines were upper case whilst two were mixed case. Presumably it signified the relative importance of the story on its page. 'COS WE ALL KNOW THAT UPPER CASE IS MUCH LOUDER.

Or did two of the san serif stories come from the Herald, meaning that each paper gave Cooky/Cocky two stories each?

5) Google, Yahoo, AV, Live Search
Anthony 3/01/2008 5:11:12 PM

By the way: I realise that Cookie's story is a mindbogglingly small part of Melbourne's history. But hundreds of people walk past Cookie's "inexpensive" drinking fountain every day. I'm often surprised by the search terms that people enter into Google etc., that lead to my site. For example, there's a very small trickle of people who come to the site after searching for information about Deborah Halpern's Angel sculpture (in Birrarung Marr).

I'm wondering whether anybody walks past Cookie's drinking fountain and later decides to google him...

Time will tell.

6) Newspaper of Record
Anthony 3/01/2008 5:20:56 PM

For the record (so Comments 1 and 3 make sense), I originally wrote:

"The source for most of this story is that Newspaper of Record: The Age. The swan's story was covered in seven short articles from 20th May to October 1972. The Age's headlines ran as follows:..."

But I've since changed the article to read "The story was covered in Melbourne's newspapers...".

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