Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to work at the British Library Sound Archives as part of a staff exchange with the NFSA, researching the curatorial and archival methods used to support their highly successful ‘Natural Sounds’ section. I worked closely with the section curator Cheryl Tipp and returned to Australia with a heavy amount of information and a plethora of ideas regarding the development of our own sound collection within these specialised genres.
One of the Australian communities I discovered whilst on the exchange is the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group (AWSRG). The group started in 1988, when a group of passionate individuals such as Bob Tomkins, Fred van Gessel and Bill Rankin got together for a few beers and to discuss their mutual passion for birds and the recording of their calls.
Fourteen years later the group had grown to the point that an official committee was formed and today, they have become an internationally respected private source for Australia’s vast collection of birdcalls.
Despite the high levels of expertise to be found amongst its members (including audio engineers, biologists, senior lecturers and professional sound recordists) the group is accessible to anyone with similar passions. Group members also include visual artists, musicians and those that simply love listening to the sounds of birds as they sip their morning coffee. All are welcome and have the opportunity to engage with the group’s expertise via the presentations and communal activities at their annual meeting.
Last week I was delighted to head up to Julatten, in Far North Queensland, for their annual meeting at the Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge. I arrived after lunch on the first day of the meet having experienced two flights, a bus trip and two taxi rides for a total nine hours of travel, just in time for the opening address from Fred van Gessel. I must say that I have never before had the pleasure of attending a conference in such a setting. The plenary was to be found surrounded by native trees and local wildlife, with a visual backdrop of tangled vines, giant leaves and scurrying bush turkeys. As I listened to Dr Dave Rentz present his recent discoveries amongst the Katydids species entailing his findings of ones that are as-yet undescribed, my ears were drawn to the call of a distant barn owl, the squabbling of rainbow lorikeets nearby and the chirps and splashes from a birdbath with its constant stream of bathing customers.