IF, LIKE ME, you have very few better things to do with your time, you may have noticed the humble Australian white ibis going through an image makeover in the last four years. It has transformed from being considered a nuisance in the city, reviled and despised as a dirty and smelly menace of the commons, to a kind of cult hero – a re-imagining that emerged from meme culture, where ibises are mascots of trashiness, icons of the self-deprecating and ironic humour of aligning oneself with things associated with literal garbage.
In February 2018, the Australian ‘blogservational humour’ site Brown Cardigan posted an Instagram story of an ibis walking along a Sydney sidewalk, accompanied by the first few saccharine lines of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ (‘Making my way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and I’m homebound’). The bird’s long-legged strut and feathers the colour of dirty snow gave it the look of a businessman hustling between meetings. Just a few months earlier, the ibis very nearly topped The Guardian’s 2017 poll for Australia’s favourite bird, with the results announced around the same time some legend started a Kickstarter campaign for an inflatable ibis pool float just in time for summer. Meanwhile, 7 News reported on the trend of Gold Coast schoolies getting as their first tattoos a cartoon of a ciggy-smoking ibis. An ad for the ABC this year had comedian Sam Simmons praising ABC presenter Yumi Stynes as a ‘beautiful ibis sitting on the bin of hope’.
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