Author: Daniel Lunney,Pat Hutchings,Dieter Hochuli
Publisher: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
DOWNLOAD NOW »
On 3 November 2007, the Royal Zoological Society of NSW held its annual forum, with the topic being The natural history of Sydney. It has remained as the title of this book. The program contained the following introduction as the theme of the forum and it has remained as the theme for this book: “Sydney has a unique natural history, providing a home for iconic animals and plants while remaining a global city. It captured the imagination of prominent naturalists and inspired visits and collecting trips to the infant colony of New South Wales in the late 1790s and early to late 1800s. From these collections flowed great descriptive works detailing the new and unusual animals and plants of the antipodes. Gould, Owen, Huxley, Peron, Banks and many others recounted new and evocative flora and fauna. Many collecting trips for the great museums and institutions in Europe began in Sydney. Sydney still continues to engage naturalists and those grappling with the current drama of climate change and conservation. The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, founded in Sydney in 1879, is a product of the grand 19th century tradition of natural history, with a particular emphasis on animal life. Sydney is also home to some of Australia’s oldest and finest institutions, such as the Australian Museum, the University of Sydney and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Throughout Sydney, there are places where the natural habitat has not been supplanted by urban growth, and the interest in Sydney’s endemic flora and fauna remains strong. This forum draws on a magnificent interdisciplinary vision while continuing to employ all the modern tools in the investigation and communication of Sydney’s natural history. It reflects a resurgence in local history and pursues the natural history of our harbour-side city in a modern framework.” The day of the forum was a captivating display of the diversity of the fauna of Sydney, both native and introduced, and its varied habitats, and of the diverse ways of appreciating natural history, including the history of natural history. Also on display was the depth of scholarship lying behind each of the presentations. The subject clearly has a profound hold on many professional biologists, historians and those keen to conserve their local area, but if the day is any guide, there are vastly more people living in or visiting Sydney who have more than a passing interest in this topic. The subject matter ranged from the history of institutions engaged in natural history, through animal groups as diverse as reptiles and cicadas, to ideas on how to see Sydney as a natural setting. Other papers dealt with the use by Aboriginal peopleof the native biota in terms of fishing and being displayed in rock paintings, before the arrival of the colonists. There is little doubt that this theme could run to 10 volumes, not just this one, but the diversity of ideas, skills and organisms displayed in this one book will serve as a guide to what lies beyond these pages. A considerable effort was made by each author to present their material as both interesting and accurate. The material is built on lifetimes of sustained effort to study, record and communicate findings and ideas. It is also built on the lifetime work of our predecessors, who laboured to find and record the natural history of Sydney. We are indebted to their efforts. This book records not only the outcome of a successful day of presentations, but more importantly the lifelong scholarship of those authors in each of the specialist fields. Not only have the authors been absorbed by documenting the biodiversity, they have included studies, or intelligent speculation, on the factors which have impacted on this diversity since Cook sailed along the NSW coast in 1770. The Macquarie Dictionary, e.g. the revised third edition, defines ‘natural history’ as ‘the science or study dealing with all objects in nature’, and ‘the aggregate of knowledge connected with such knowledge’. This makes natural history of wide interest to the entire community of Sydney, both residents and visitors. However, we have specialised to the extent that we have focused principally on fauna, the RZS being a zoological society. Nevertheless, plant communities are recognised as part and parcel of the natural history of Sydney, as is a sense of the geography of the city, with its magnificent harbour, sandstone backdrop and spectacular national parks surrounding the city. Also of great importance is how others in the past have seen the natural history of what is now called Sydney. All these ideas are captured in this book. One of the strengths of being a naturalist, i.e. ‘one who is versed in or devoted to natural history, especially a zoologist or botanist’ (Macquarie Dictionary), is the opportunity to look across the individual disciplines, be it a specialist in birds, mammals or polychaetes, a taxonomist, or an ecologist or writer. Their advantage is the ability to see the richness of a place such as Sydney. Consequently, most botanists and zoologists have one or two highly specialised skills, but a keen interest in the broader picture and can thus appreciate the importance of, for example, cave art or fish diversity in the harbour, and recognise that the vertebrate fauna of Sydney has changed over the 222 years since European settlement, and no doubt the invertebrate fauna has changed although it is less easily assessed. Our aim in this book is to draw attention to the natural history of Sydney for scholars, as well as those who have the task of looking after a particular area, such as within a local government area, or a particular taxon, such as reptiles or fish, and those who have the opportunity to conserve areas, taxa or institutions through their employment or legislative responsibilities. It is also for teachers and lecturers, colleagues in other cities and towns in Australia, and those with a keen interest in managing our urban wildlife, our cultural heritage or promoting the profound value of our natural heritage within a city landscape. It also displays the importance of museum and herbarium collections in documenting the changes since 1770.