For as long as he could remember, Paul had wanted to travel; to see new sights, to push boundaries, to explore. Don’t get me wrong, he loved his family, he liked his home, but he couldn’t help but feel there was so much more to see out there, far away across the ocean. Life can get a bit repetitive for an Adélie penguin. Waddling down to the water, having a quick snack of krill, waddling back up onto the ice floe. Day in, day out. The same routine. No surprises, no drama, no excitement.
Sometimes, at night, while his friends and family were huddled together for warmth, he’d make his way up to the higher ground, and stare at the moon and Southern lights. Occasionally, he’d see shooting stars arcing silently across the sky, and he would look down at his short, stubby wings, and flap them about a bit. “If only I could fly” he thought “the things I could see, the places I could go”.
Every now and then, the colony would get a visit from humans. Dressed head to toe in survival gear, they’d spend the day mooching around, writing things on their clipboards and taking pictures of the more photogenic penguins. The rest of the Adélies didn’t take much notice, but Paul was fascinated. He watched them closely, he studied their movements. “This is my ticket out of here” he thought. “Humans aren’t really that good at anything. They don’t have wings, they can’t swim well, they can’t even breathe underwater. Yet they’ve managed to explore the furthest reaches of our world. If humans can do it, why not me?”
So, one day, while the scientists were distracted by some science, Paul sneaked into a backpack and found himself being carried towards the ‘Aurora’, the Australian Antarctic Research Vessel. He’d spent ages preparing for this moment, learning to read from discarded notepads, perfecting his Australian accent from listening to the scientists. Now was his time to shine.
He planned to hide on the ship until they were far enough out to sea that the humans wouldn’t be tempted to turn around. A day later, Cape Adare had disappeared below the horizon and they were crunching through the pack ice in the Ross Sea. Paul decided this was the time to make his move. As a deckhand was passing by, he leapt from the backpack and shouted “G’day mate – nice ship you’ve got here” (He thought it was a good ice-breaker.)
Paul wasn’t expecting such an extreme reaction. He hadn’t realised how much of a stir the unexpected arrival of a talking penguin would have on the ship’s crew. Instead of polite conversation or witty banter, there was a reasonable amount of screaming and shouting, lasting several minutes. Eventually, after Paul had explained at length his plans to the Captain, he was granted safe passage. Unlike the team of scientists, the Captain had long realised that it’s best not to be curious. If a talking penguin asks for a lift to Hobart, well, if he’s not doing any harm, give a talking penguin a lift to Hobart. Don’t get too involved. It’s just a few years until retirement.
In the week it took to steam to Australia, Paul finalised his plans. He would get his pilot’s license and set up the first airline to take flightless non-migratory birds on holiday. He was on a mission. “Why not help these birds who, through no fault of their own, can’t fly” he thought “It’s not fair. If humans can’t swim, they take a boat. If they can’t fly they take a plane. If they can’t run very far or very fast, they take a car. It should be the same for animals. I’ll make it that way” .
It was hard going. To pay for his pilot’s course he took odd jobs, working on fishing boats, giving swimming lessons to kids, and occasionally going on talk shows (he’d become a bit of a celebrity locally). Although he found working the controls difficult with his small size and lack of opposable thumbs, there’s no problem that clever use of wooden blocks, tape and string cannot solve. And a year later, there he stood, license in hand, in front of his very own plane. He wanted to give his airline a distinctive name. One that said, “This is MY airline, and it’s GREAT”. So he settled on “My Great Airways”. It seemed right somehow.
And for the next few months, everything went well. He’d pick up Ostriches from Sub-Saharan Africa, Emus from Australia, Rheas from South America, Kiwis from New Zealand, Cassowaries from New Guinea, Penguins from Antarctica, Chickens from Britain, and Turkeys from Turkey. He’d take the birds from hot countries somewhere cooler for their holidays, and birds from cold countries somewhere nice and warm for their break. Word of his new business spread quickly. The birds couldn’t stop Tweeting about it. He got corporate sponsorship and ran the airline as a public service. He only took flightless birds and didn’t ask them to pay (although he once charged a lazy duck who didn’t want to fly himself. He told Paul to put it on his bill).
But after a while he started to get complaints. There were burnt penguins, baking in the African Sun, turning black and red. There were frostbitten ostriches, sliding down Antarctic ice floes with icicles hanging from their long necks. “Just take us home please Paul” they begged “We don’t like it here”. “It’s too hot” called the kiwis. “It’s too cold” boomed the emus. “We’re scared of flying” clucked the chickens. “I want a refund” quacked the lazy duck.
And Paul realised not everyone has the same sense of adventure that he does. There’s something comforting about the familiar, the routine, the everyday. There’s something refreshing about the expected. Not everyone wants to be a trend-setter, a boundary-pusher. Some animals want a quiet life. Sure, history will remember the first Kangaroo to try bouncing the first human on the Moon, the first cat to play the piano. But that life is not for everyone. Although some of the animals didn’t like their trip, it gave them a new sense of appreciation for what they had. And it didn’t stop them trying, in their own way, to make things just a bit better back home.
Paul hasn’t lost his sense of adventure. He still flies, but he’s a commercial airline pilot now. Maybe you’ve flown with him? If you hear a pilot with a strong Australian accent and see fresh mackerel being delivered to the cockpit, have a look. You never know.