The birds turned out to be much more resilient than the sailors turned pirates, so the tale goes.
The birds turned out to be much more resilient than the sailors turned pirates, so the tale goes.

Pirates chase winged fortune

Some experts claim rosellas were first bought to New Zealand from Australia by ship in 1910.

Not so says the one surviving member of the four-man crew that sailed across the Tasman in 1967 with a boatload of birds.

Sitting round a table at the local pub in Sydney, four cruising sailors, down on their luck and looking to make an easy buck, took the advice of a nearby bloke, deciding to ship parrots to New Zealand.

He told them since Australia wouldn't allow the birds to be exported they would be worth fortune; just buy the birds for a few dollars and then sell them in New Zealand for up to $50 each.

Considering this a brilliant idea, an all-out effort was made to find the money to buy a boat. Some $4000 later the four sailors owned a boat; a 33-foot trimaran built of quarter-inch ply.

Next was the job of finding the birds. At the time local gun clubs were using native birds for live shoots so it was a matter of finding a local trapper and exchanging a few quid.

Loading the birds quietly was going to be a problem so the sailors chose Port Stephens where there was a mental hospital located right on the shoreline.

Using creative thinking and possibly a certain amount of wit, the sailors figured the birds would squawk a lot while being loaded even under the cover of darkness.

If the inmates started bellowing about hearing the noise, the sailors hoped the inmates would never be believed. How this group of rag-tag sailors safely got to New Zealand is still a mystery, even to them.

It was 10 days of hell.

The boat was full with what seemed like a countless number of birds; cockatoos, rosellas, finches and at least one Major Mitchell, all crammed into cardboard boxes.

It had no inboard engine, no head, no sink, really nothing down below. The sailors had no idea about the destructive nature of the birds.

The birds gradually ate through the boxes and then starting eating the ply yacht.

Then the birds, hundreds of them, sat there staring at the crew as the crew stared back at them.

One bright spark on board was heard to say several times; 'I hate those f**g birds'.

The response from the other crew was; 'they probably f** hate you'.

Then, with the help of the birds and the weather, the boat started to break up.

As it flexed through the gale force winds, the rugged, pissed-off birds hung on tight to the deck and rigging while the crew looked on in horror.

Food became an issue for the birds and the sailors.

When the bird-food ran out the crew feed them left-over muesli.

Then one of the crew refused to stay on the yacht.

Deciding early on in the trip that he couldn't stand the smell of the birds he took to the dinghy staying there all the way across the Tasman, waves crashing over him.

The problem was; he was the cook.

Arriving into Doubtless Bay on the north island, the sun came up and the boat was becalmed.

The remaining 300 or so birds all started squawking, yelling and chewing through their cages.

Those lucky enough to have already got free of their cages, on sighting land from their perches along the spreaders, took off.

The others just kept yelling.

From Doubtless Bay the sailors sailed the boat down to Auckland where they tried to sell the remaining birds.

Armed only with a copy of Gould's book on birds, they tried to outsmart the local dealers by holding an auction.

Finally all the birds were sold off including the Major Mitchell which just avoided being strangled by one of the sailors in response to the bird bitting him on the nose.

As for the trimaran ?

It was by then totally trashed.

There were big holes where the birds had eaten through it.

So the sailors decided on one more bright idea; using too much petrol in the oil and with the mast taking off, they blew the boat up and claimed on the insurance.

On returning to Australia, the lead 'pirate' said he started to like birds, eventually buying a parrot for company.

So the tale ends.

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