The Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata) is a signature denizen of the northern floodplains. Its range was once more southerly and extensive but hunting and habitat loss associated with British colonisation have reduced that range considerably. Nevertheless the IUCN conservation status for this species is “least concern” and it is still abundant across the north of Australia and into southern New Guinea. The Magpie Goose is a unique member of the order Anseriformes, and arranged in a family and genus distinct from all other living waterfowl. The white feathers in their black and white plumage are usually stained brown from spending much time with their beaks searching in mud for their favourite food, the water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis), a smaller but very sweet Australian form of water chestnut. The water chestnut and the magpie goose are both staple foods of indigenous people from the wetlands of north Australia. In the Arafura Swamps of central Arnhem Land indigenous people there developed a particular style of bark canoe to pole their way through the swamps to gather goose eggs towards the end of the wet season. Throwing sticks were also used to bring down birds roosting in trees and specialised goose spears with shafts of the cane grass Phragmites were used to bring down birds on the wing. Contemporary indigenous people from the Arafura Swamp area re-enacted much of their traditional goose hunting skills in the 2006 film Ten Canoes by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr. The photos above were taken in Kakadu National Park near the South Alligator River at the the start of the wet season.

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