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Cassowary carnival: Queensland town celebrates a famous flightless bird

Save the cassowary

Mission Beach in far North Queensland is gearing up for its biggest event of the year: a festival celebrating the iconic southern cassowary, which also seeks to preserve the species as native numbers dwindle.

This September will see the third iteration of the Mission Beach Community Cassowary Festival take place. Held at Mission Beach in Far North Queensland, the festival is the biggest local event of the year, and the biggest of any dedicated to the cassowary in the world.

This year will see the community event bring together young and old in a carnival atmosphere to celebrate the cassowary, but also work for its protection and preservation, as the native population of Australian southern cassowaries shrinks.

Valerie Boll is an anthropologist and conservationist with Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation (C4). Originally from Eastern France Valerie Boll has lived in the area for a decade, advocating for cassowary protection and conservation.

Valérie Boll wearing her cassowary costume
Valérie Boll wearing a cassowary costume

She says this year’s festival promises to be larger than ever as it grows in popularity. Coinciding with the beginning of school holidays it is anticipated that parents and students will attend en masse.

“The cassowary festival brings together the whole community showcasing the flora, the fauna and also the reef,” says Boll. “In addition, it has an educational purpose.”

Mission Beach is surrounded by World Heritage rainforest, home to many southern cassowaries, the largest bird in Australia and second in the world only to the ostrich.

Cassowary sand sculpture
Cassowary sand sculpture

Boll says unfortunately the unique and iconic bird is now considered an endangered species. As its habitat shrinks, so too does the cassowary population.

The main reason for the loss of the cassowary habitat is human activity, says Boll, including the proliferation of fences for agricultural reasons and property subdivisions, as well as roads that fragment the cassowary’s natural environment.

“The majority of cassowaries die in collisions with cars as roadkill. Feral dogs and pigs are also listed as major dangers for this flightless bird,” Valerie Boll says.

One of the objectives of the Mission Beach Community Cassowary Festival is to raise funds to help map the native bird’s habitat and support the conservation efforts spearheaded by C4.

According to C4’s website, estimates suggest the total Australian wild population of the Southern Cassowary sits between 1,200 and 1,500 adults.

The festival’s main event is the cassowary parade, a spectacle enhanced by a sustainability forum, music, and entertainment by local and guest artists.

Cassowary in its habitat
Cassowary in its habitat

And, one of the most anticipated attractions of the day will be the Gunduy Midja (Cassowary Shelter), a large cassowary-shaped installation.

‘Gunduy’ is the Dirju name for cassowary and ‘Midja’ is the traditional shelter made by the Dirju and Rainforest Aboriginal people of the Wet Tropics of North Queensland.

This year’s version of the shelter promises to be more spectacular in size and design than previous years. It is a variation on the crowd-pulling sculpture seen at the Ephemera Exhibition on The Strand held in Townsville earlier this year.

The Gunduy Midja is a collaboration between Dirju artist Leonard Andy and textile artist Nina Dawson. The sculpture aims to highlight the importance of the endangered cassowary to the Dirju and Rainforest Aboriginal people’s culture, and to educate people about its important role in the rainforest’s ecosystem.

Andy and Dawson have worked together for many years and decided to collaborate on the Gunduy Midja to raise awareness about the plight of the endangered bird.

Leonard Andy and Nina Dawson in front of the Midja
Leonard Andy and Nina Dawson in front of the Midja

Just a few days out from the Mission Beach Cassowary Community Festival, the town is already bristling with activity as locals put together their costumes and props, all looking to outdo each other and claim prizes for the best designs.

Mission Beach School children have also designed road signs, already on display on the roads leading to and into Mission Beach calling on motorists to slow down.

Boll also says festival visitors should slow down when they come into town for the festival, as they might just see the elusive cassowary in the wild.

Save the cassowary on a coconut
Save the cassowary on a coconut

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