Georgie the Charismatic Cockatoo
By ALEC SMART
The Friend in Hand Hotel at 58 Cowper St Glebe has an unusual house guest who is a favourite among the regulars. Georgie the cockatoo has her own perch by the bar where she enjoys chatting with the locals and at night she roosts in the upstairs master bedroom.
Bar manager Mark with Georgie the cheeky cockie. Photo: Alec Smart
The sociable sulphur-crested cockatoo is very popular among the clientele and also appears on the bar’s logo, signage, Instagram and Facebook, and is featured in a large wall mural in the dining area of the hotel’s restaurant, the Fork In Hand Bistro. The upstairs bar/function room is also named after her.
Georgina is 14 years old, and considering the expected lifespan of a domesticated sulphur-crested cockatoo is roughly between 20 to 40 years, Georgie could either be a teenager or middle-aged.
However, this breed of cockatoo can live as long as humans - up to 70 years or more with good health and proper living conditions.
Friend in Hand manager, Mitch Hunt (who in 2014 lost a bet on the outcome of a State of Origin rugby game and as a result had to watch the second match from the confines of Georgina’s cage!), confirmed the breed’s longevity. “I have heard that they can live to over a hundred!”
Does Mitch think Georgie may be still be chatting with the Friend in Hand punters for another 50 years?
“To me/us she is still just a baby and has many years left to live.”
I met Charlie, allegedly Winston Churchill's ex-parrot, at a garden centre in Surrey, England, in 2005, still swearing at Hitler 40 years after her owner passed away!
Does Georgie speak any cuss words and if the bar had a swear jar, would it be filled regularly?
“No,” Mitch declared, “but if you are around she will say on the odd occasion “want a beer?” Or a good old Aussie “G’day mate!”
Georgie first arrived at the Friend in Hand when she was two, but for nearly a decade everyone thought she was a he and called her George. That was until Monday 9 Oct 2017 when the much-loved cockatoo went missing.
Friend in Hand Hotel, corner of Cowper and Broughton streets, Glebe. Photo: Alec Smart
It was not the first time the friendly parrot had gone missing. Three years earlier, on the morning of Saturday 20 Sept 2014, she completely vanished.
Although Georgie spends a considerable amount of time in the outdoors beer garden, and liaises with neighbourhood wild cockatoos, hotel owners Michael Byrne and his brother Peter searched the entire hotel premises with no success, and were perplexed as to the cockie’s whereabouts.
“He's well trained and sometimes he would disappear and we would see him fly across the road or he would be playing with the wild birds outside,” Peter told the Daily Mail.
The silence is what alerted them that something was really wrong. “He’s a bit of a character with a great personality. Georgie talks to everyone and the locals are always teaching him bad words to say,” Peter revealed, so it was out of character for the bird to hide quietly unless she was asleep.
But when they replayed the hotel’s CCTV camera footage, a more sinister explanation was revealed.
An unknown man, dressed in white T-shirt, jeans, white sneakers and a reversed green baseball cap, walked into the bar earlier and befriended the cockatoo.
After half an hour of devotional attention to the affectionate avian, he seized his moment and stole Georgie, strolling out onto the street with her perched on his forearm.
After a fruitless search driving around looking for the culprit with the kidnapped cockatoo, the Byrnes rang their local radio station and posted an appeal on Facebook.
Phone calls soon started coming in and eventually, just before 1pm, the parrot pincher was spotted at Wentworth Park Greyhound Stadium, a mere 450 metres from the Friend in Hand, with Georgie on his hand.
'We confronted the bloke,” Peter revealed. “He was very calm and gave George back. I don't know why he took it. He didn't say why.”
So, in Oct 2017, when Georgie went missing again, there were fears of another avian abduction.
“We were in a panic running around the pub looking for the bird in every corner of the room,” Michael Byrne told Daily Telegraph.
Eventually, a less alarming but initially implausible answer presented itself: George was laying an egg!
“I stuck my head inside the log where he spends time,” Michael recalled, “and there it was nesting with an egg!” Michael at first thought the white object was a golf ball placed there by a prankster, but eventually it was confirmed that he was a she – and so George was renamed Georgina (Georgie).
This identity interchange is not the first time a cockatoo at the Friend in Hand has hoodwinked its human hosts. A previous ‘male’ resident, Joe, was later found to be female and her name changed to Josephine. “That is correct,” Mitch confirmed, “before Georgie was Josephine (Jo).”
Is there perhaps something in the hotel’s liquid refreshments that contributes to this sex-swapping? Have they experienced similar gender-bending with human customers? “It could be the beer, it could just be the magic of the Friend In Hand!” Mitch considered.
“In the inner west you get all the best walks of life, so any sexual orientation they are, they’re more than welcome to be themselves inside our walls.”
Bar manager Mark with Georgie the cheeky cockie. Photo: Alec Smart
In June 2019 the Byrnes sold the hotel to former Wallabies front rower Bill Young. Ironically, the Young clan were previous owners of the Friend in Hand, and had themselves sold it to the Byrne family 36 years earlier.
Georgie stayed behind and settled in with the new owners the Youngs (who, incidentally, own several other hotels, including the historic Wisemans Ferry Inn).
Has Georgie any distinguishing personality traits?
“She is cheeky as they come,” Mitch revealed. “Better watch the steak on your plate or the patty in your burger!”
When I visited the hotel to meet Georgie, Mark the barman told me an amusing food anecdote. “One time Georgie saw an abandoned plate with leftover spaghetti bolognaise, so she dived in for a meal. Later I had to clean her but the tomato sauce stained her feathers pink, so she resembled a galah!”
The Friend in Hand, situated on the corner of Cowper and Broughton Streets in Glebe, is one of Sydney’s oldest licensed venues. It has been a watering hole and hotel since it was licensed to trade on 1 July 1857, serving the labourers and stevedores of the nearby wool warehouses, foundries, docks and sandstone quarries.
Friend In Hand Hotel
58 Cowper St. Glebe 2037
Ph: 02 9660 2326
* A cockatoo is any of the 21 parrot species belonging to the family Cacatuidae.
* Among the largest (and noisiest!) of the parrot family, cockatoos share many features with true parrots, including a curved beak, a moveable crest, and ‘zygodactyl’ feet (with two forward-facing middle toes and two backwards-facing outer toes, to better grip onto branches).
* Whilst most humans are right-handed, most cockatoos are left-footed.
* The word ‘cockatoo’ is derived from the Dutch kaketoe, which came from the Malay kakaktua in the 17th century.
* Cockatoos’ diet consists of fruit, flowers, seeds, tubers, corms and insects and they often feed in large flocks, particularly on the ground, when there’s safety in numbers.
In October 2021, Young Hotels launched a social media campaign titled ‘Don’t Forget the Birds’, featuring six T-shirts, each with birds from their respective hotels. Among them, Wisemans Ferry has two ducks, Hotel Concord a magpie, and Palace Hotel a fairy wren.
The Friend in Hand, of course, features a cockatoo.