I’m continuing last week’s political theme as our Prime Minister continues to amaze his already bewildered subjects. On Australia Day – 26 January 2015 – Mr Abbott made the bizarre announcement that he was awarding an Australian knighthood to Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of our long-serving Queen Elizabeth. I won’t discuss this in detail as my readers who do not live in Commonwealth countries will quickly look for something more interesting to read. Suffice to say, Australians were gobsmacked by this news as Phil the Prince is not highly regarded Down Under.
However, there was a time when Sir Prince Phil was one of our leading environmentalists, as the following extract from the Australian Conservation Foundation website demonstrates.
‘In 1963, distinguished entomologist Francis Ratcliffe was inspired by a memo from the Duke of Edinburgh. He consulted with his CSIRO colleagues and alongside conservationists and community leaders, worked to establish a national conservation body.
The memo was actually a request for help to start a World Wildlife Fund branch in Australia, but instead led to the accidental start of the Australian Conservation Foundation.’
So what’s that got to do with ‘Southern Cross Safari’? Plenty. I was staying in Albany, a delightful regional centre in the southwest of Western Australia.
‘I left for Two Peoples Bay [having just seen a rock parrot at Gull Rock.] Red-capped and ‘twenty-eight’ parrots along with western rosellas raised the day’s parrot count to four. Two Peoples Bay Road passed through farmland, then traversed a section of the reserve for a short distance, before returning to farmland. A long-tailed, canary-yellow parrot flashed across the road. ‘Wow, what was that?’ I exclaimed, stopping to check my bird guide. A regent parrot – my ‘parrot’ day just kept getting better.
When I noticed the timber guideposts and traffic signs were painted ‘nature reserve’ green, I realised I was back in the park. It felt like a well-managed area, a feeling reinforced when I came to a bright, spacious information centre.
It’s unusual for a nature reserve – in contrast to a national park – to have such a high profile, so I explored the display to find out why. It’s all about the noisy scrub-bird. In 1842, naturalist John Gilbert discovered the species in the Darling Ranges west of Perth, and also near Augusta. The following year, Gilbert found them near Albany, though it took him several days of waiting in dense scrub in the rain before [he] caught a glimpse of the elusive bird. He said no bird … has cost him so much in time and patience.
By 1920, after many failed attempts to re-locate the scrub-bird, scientists feared it might be extinct. However, in December 1961, Albany schoolteacher Harley Webster heard a call that really made my ears ring. Convinced it was the ‘extinct’ scrub-bird, Webster spent the next two days searching, confirming his suspicions on 19 December.
It was a fortuitous sighting; the state government was close to approving a townsite at Two Peoples Bay. The politicians were more interested in development than conservation, so despite intense lobbying, they approved the new town in 1962, leaving only a small area for the scrub-bird. News of the decision reached Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He asked the government to reconsider the decision. This royal intervention was successful and the town proposal was abandoned. The reserve, now covering nearly 5000 ha, was established in 1966.’
Prince Phillip subsequently became president of Australian Conservation Foundation from 1971 to 1976.
In the furore over Prince Phillip’s knighthood, there was no mention of his significant contribution to nature conservation in Australia during the 1960s and 1970s. In this little, obscure blog, I have now redressed this omission.