Thursday 3 September 2015

Australian Natural History: Monarch of the Western Skies by C.K.Thompson (1946)

Monarch of the Western Skies was the first book written by C.K. Thompson that we owned. I came across it at a secondhand shop more than ten years ago and picked it up not knowing anything about the author but as it cost less than a dollar, I thought it was worth trying. It became my eight year old boy's favourite book for a long time and was also enjoyed by all the other children. Since then we've had the pleasure of reading some of his other books and I don't hesitate to snap up any books by this author when I come across them.

C.K. Thompson wrote most of his Natural History books for children around 1940's to 1950's and unfortunately they are now out of print. He wrote without sentimentality but with an intimate knowledge of the Australian landscape and its fauna. I've just finished reading aloud this wonderful story of a wedge-tailed eagle to Moozle as part of our Australian version of Ambleside Online Year 4 and I think that this book and Warrigal the Warrior (the story of a dingo I wrote about here) are the two best books by C.K. Thompson that we've read so far.

Monarch of the Western Skies follows the life of 'Wedge-tail' from the eyrie on the fringe of the western plains whilst under the care of his dutiful parents and continues to follow him over the course of his life as an adult bird of prey - the world's second largest eagle.
We not only learnt about the wedge-tailed eagle in this book but also about a number of other animals native to Australia and others, such as rabbits and sheep, which are not.  Rabbits were first brought here by Governor Phillip in the First Fleet, mostly to be kept as pets, but in 1859 a ship arrived from Europe with 24 wild rabbits for a Victorian land owner who let them loose on his property so he could chase them and shoot them for sport. 
Six years after the rabbits were let loose, the owner had killed over 20,000 but he thought that there were still about 10,000 more running around.
In our story, Wedge-tail was singled out as being responsible for killing a lamb and measures are taken to try to shoot him. But he has an ally who had witnessed the destruction inflicted by rabbits and understood the role the eagle played in keeping down their numbers.

None of them the sheep were over-burdened with brains, and as long as the Eagles made no attempt to interfere with them, the woolly animals were content not to initiate any moves. Not for a single moment would any of them have considered attacking these visitors f on the clouds. Being sheep, they were not built that way. But one or two of them did vaguely associate these Eagles with something unpleasant, though they did not know what caused the mistrust. Deep thinking is not a characteristic of one of nature's stupidest animals. 

Wedge-tail did not like crows. He regarded them as so many parasites that hung around an eagle after he had caught his dinner, hoping to collect the scraps, and so win a meal without having to work for it.

Another bird that annoyed him, for a different reason, was the magpie...
They were pests but he could understand their and appreciate their urge to protect their heir homes - not that he would ever gave despoiled one. He had no desire to attack a magpie. That bird was a gentleman compared with a crow.
Fierce bird that he was, arrogant and intolerant where his own rights were concerned, Wedge-tail did not in the least mind when a couple of tiny yellow-tailed thornbills attached their pretty little nests to the bottom of his eyrie. He knew that they did this to escape the attention of prowling butcher birds and other predatory slayers.

I highly recommend this living book. It makes a great read aloud and would interest a wide range of ages. I appreciate the author's knowledge, his literary style and the realistic but endearing portrayal of the animals he wrote about. I just wish someone would reprint them.


Erin said...

Don't have this one:) though do have some others by the author, excellent writer

Natilla said...

Hi Carol. I'd love to read this book when it is time to do it. Do you recommend it for year 4. What other reading for year 1 would you recommend? I don't have the Olden Bob's birds book neither Maggie the Magnificent. Have you read Willie wagtail book?
Thanks. Nat♡♡

Carol said...

Hi Nat, you could use Monarch for Year 3 & Warrigal the Warrior( for Year 4. I don't have the other two you mentioned but do have a couple of his other books. For Years 1 & 2 you could use 'A Treasury of Australian Nature Stories' by Leslie Rees. It has a selection of 5 of his stories. I wrote about one of them here: