Canberra Lifeline’s monster book bonanza, the Spring Bookfair, …

… is on from Friday 18 to Sunday 20 September. The money raised is used to support Lifeline’s busy 24/7 telephone counselling service. Last Autumn’s Bookfair raised more than $500,000; the upcoming Bookfair will be even bigger!

I have been a Lifeline volunteer for 8 years, sorting, pricing and packing books in the huge warehouse. But I’m not alone; over 200 volunteers process the thousands of books donated each year by the Canberra community. The books come from many sources: older folks downsizing; people moving interstate; deceased estates; libraries; recyclers; or just ‘too many books’.

There are dozens of different categories, and each has one or more sorters. I do environment and conservation, including climate change and protected areas; agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Before the books land on my desk, they go through a primary and secondary sorting process to ensure they reach their correct location. It works well thanks to our team of experienced sorters.

Most of the warehouse volunteers also work at the Bookfair where they are joined by other ‘Bookfair only’ volunteers.

Of course, in addition to the hundreds of warehouse and Bookfair volunteers, are the 300 or so counsellors who work the phones; Lifeline is a big operation.

For the past few Bookfairs, Lifeline has offered some Canberra authors the opportunity to promote and sell their books at the sale. With over 12,000 prospective buyers expected, it’s a great marketing opportunity for the writers. In return, the author donate a percentage of their proceeds to Lifeline.

So, guess what? This Bookfair, I am one of the two locals invited, and I’m very excited to have been given this opportunity. It will include doing radio interviews, thus spreading the word about our books more widely through the Canberra community.

To make me more visible – it will be crowded! – my book designer, Debra, is just putting the finishing touches on a design for a 2.4m banner which, hopefully, will attract people to my little book desk. Many people enjoy train travel as much as I do, so even if they don’t buy the  book, I’m sure I have lots of interesting conversations over the 3 days.

I hope to see you there.

Rainbow and scaly-breasted lorikeets’ feeding time at Currumbin Sanctuary on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane, is the featured photo; it’s a parrot frenzy, with more than 300 screeching wild birds flying in to feed; a great experience.

Happy travelling!




Bill, Bruce and Paul 28-08-15

I’ve climbed the mountain!

I drove to Sydney last week to deliver another 200 books to my distributor – Woodslane at Warriewood. I stayed on for an extra 2 days to do some marketing, starting with Dymocks stores at Macquarie and Chatswood. I then crossed the Harbour Bridge to pay homage to the mecca of Australian book shops – Dymocks on George Street – which has proudly stood on its site since 1930. The shop is huge, about 10 times the size of your average suburban shopping mall store.

‘Would my book be here?’ I asked no one in particular, searching high and low through the maze of travel books. I couldn’t see it; my spirits plunged.

I spoke to a staffer, asked about the book, showed him my copy.

‘Aha’ said Christian, ‘I know that one; it’s over here’ he said, plunging back into the maze, with me hot on his heels.

‘There they are’ he said with a flourish, pointing to four copies on display. My spirits soared; I had climbed the mountain!

I told Christian about my dream, that one day, Bill, Paul and I (with me in the middle of course), would one day be together, side-by-side, in a famous book store, just hangin’ out.

I had no sooner finished telling him about my little fantasy, than Christian had books flying in all directions, setting up the ‘dream’ photo. He even took the photo with his very nice smart phone. So that’s how my new FB cover photo came into being.

I floated out of the store, but my big high was short-lived as I hit the chaos that is George Street: oodles of pushy pedestrians, numerous noisy buses,  taxis racing everywhere, etc, etc.

I checked out Dymocks Broadway, then caught up with Kevin Evans, the CEO of the NSW National Parks Association, to organise a book review for the NPA’s quarterly magazine Nature New South Wales.

Kevin was pleased to oblige, so I was a happy chappie as I caught the train to Burwood for the fifth and final stop on my bus-and-train Dymocks tour.

The following day I did another four Dymocks shops – Neutral Bay, Lane Cove, Castle Hill and Rouse Hill – crisscrossing the city by car, a much more exhausting way to travel than by relaxing public transport.

I had a good hearing in all the Dymocks stores I visited, with some managers placing orders while I was there, and others saying they would wait till the Woodslane rep. visited.

All in all, it was a successful visit, but there is no doubt about the highlight: climbing the mountain with Bill and Paul!

Happy travelling!










My First Book Review!

Ian Fraser, well-known Canberra naturalist, author, blogger, tour leader and ABC radio presenter, is also a keen reviewer of natural history books (see http://www.botanicalbookshop.com.au/reviews.asp). I was delighted when Ian agreed  to review Southern Cross Safari. Here ’tis.

Southern Cross Safari; around Australia by bus and train

Bruce Gall, Redgum Publishing. 516 pages. RRP $35

This is the tale of a veritable odyssey, and a fascinating tale it is too. It’s a substantial tome moreover, but in the end I returned my library book in favour of Gall’s first venture into publishing. Put simply, this is the account of a journey round Australia, albeit with many detours, with a focus on visiting national parks and reserves, staying in hostels or pubs and using public transport as much as possible (though he hired cars where essential, until guilt got the better of him!).

There are many threads to the book, one of which is his scrutiny with a very professional eye as to how parks are managed, especially with regard to track maintenance and interpretation. Gall has excellent credentials for such observations, having worked in such major parks as Kosciuszko and Sturt and having managed one of the world’s great parks in Kakadu. Further, he has headed the park services of the ACT and Queensland. His observations on signage and track design and maintenance around the country (he is a Very Serious Walker) are sometimes complimentary, sometimes acerbic and always constructive. I hope park managers the country over study the book. However, these asides often break the flow of narrative and could perhaps have been assigned to an appendix, though this is purely a personal opinion.

Another thread concerns the strengths – more often weaknesses – of the nation’s train and bus systems to enable a traveller to get around the country and its reserves, a thread he often allows fellow-travellers, especially backpackers, to make observations on. Again, transport managers could well take note (especially in Tasmania it would seem!). Yet another thread concerns the nature and vagaries of hostel accommodation, a topic most of us don’t get a chance to explore, and gently astute observations on his temporary travelling companions abound.

It is whimsical, lively, astute, with flashes of humour – he’s obviously an excellent informal interviewer and note-taker – and philosophy. My only concern is that he, as a Canberran, omitted any mention of Namadgi National Park or the Canberra Nature Park! Don’t let that put you off though, this could be a minor classic – read it before the movie comes out though.

Happy travelling!

... clumps of botanical exotica ...

Update on photo gallery – and an ABC radio interview!

Know the feature image? Answer below.

For those readers who have a copy of Southern Cross Safari and are wondering about the photo gallery advertised in the book – it’s on the wayI I’m aiming to have it uploaded by 15 August and I think we will just make it. I had hoped to have the book release coincide with the photo gallery launch, but it didn’t quite happen. The first few chapters of the gallery look great and I think it will be an excellent companion for the narrative.

The other exciting news is that I had a radio interview on ABC 666 with presenter Louise Maher. Louise asked a wide range of thoughtful questions that gave me the opportunity to happily chat away. If you would like to hear it, click the link:


I know I keep saying I am going to get on with marketing and become a book seller, and so far it hasn’t really happened. But I think that time is fast approaching as I am running out of other jobs – and excuses – not to get on with it.

I do have a marketing strategy and am looking forward to having time to implement it, especially now with Father’s Day – good for book sellers – just around the corner. And then there is the big one: Christmas. So, yes, plenty of good reasons to get on with promoting my product.

Feature image is Sydney’s Botanic Garden.

Happy travelling




Stunning online photo gallery

I finished my last post saying I was about to start a new career as a book seller. Instead, I decided to set up a picture gallery on my website, to provide Southern Cross Safari readers with a fascinating visual journey to complement the written narrative.

The introduction on the website explains more.

‘The Southern Cross Safari photo gallery takes you on a stunning visual tour of ‘amazing Australia’, adding colour and context to the intriguing narrative. No longer will you have to imagine what karri forests or aquamarine coastlines look like: they, and numerous other activities and scenes are presented for you, arranged to match the text on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Within each chapter, the images are presented, (more or less), on a daily basis.

The gallery covers most, but not all, of the trip. Let’s face it: not every day of travel has ‘picture postcard’ weather, and not everything is ‘photogenic’. Batteries go flat, cameras break down, and copywrite, cultural and privacy issues preclude the use of certain images.

That said, over a thousand photos made the cut. I hope you enjoy the gallery.’

Choosing the photos has been quite a task as I have some 20,000 images, but it’s also been fun reliving the trip. My website designers set a maximum of 600 pics but I couldn’t bring myself to delete enough images to meet that limit, so we raised the total to 1000 and I’m fast approaching that generous limit. The above photo of the Three Sisters in Blue Mountains National Park is from the photo gallery.

I have done 15 chapters so far and It will take about 3 weeks to finish processing the images for the remaining six chapters. The designers will then weave their magic, so I expect the final product will be finished by mid August – then I’ll become a book seller!

The other BIG news is that I delivered 200 books to my distributor (Woodslane) in Sydney. It was great meeting the people who will be handling the sale of my book. I was very pleased to see they have given the book a full-page promotion in their latest New Book Releases, dated September 2015 (https://www.woodslane.com.au/Book/9780994173102/Southern-Cross-Safari).

Woodslane distributes to all major booksellers and many independent stores in Australia and New Zealand, so your local bookshop should either have it, or be able to order it for you. If you are not able to get to a store, you will soon be able to order it  through my website. Alternatively, if you prefer ebooks, go to Amazon, Smashwords or Google Books.

Happy travelling



The long gestation is over; a new book is born

I am delighted to announce, that at 5.50pm on Wednesday 27 May 2015, two pallets of books entered my life. After quick checks – cover colour ok; no inverted text; no pages missing – the books were pronounced saleable. Author and publisher are both doing well. So now, when people ask whether I have a family, I can reply ‘Yes, I have 3 boys and a book!’

There were, of course, several last minute hiccups in the printing, which turned out for the best. For example, when progress stalled while designer Debra and Griffin’s Emma tried to sort out why fractions weren’t printing, I decided to do another final proofread of the already finally proofread document.

The errors one finds when proofreading a travel narrative are intriguing. For example, an incorrect or misspelt place name would only be picked up by readers who live there or are familiar with the place. So, if Bill Bryson incorrectly named an American town, I wouldn’t pick it as an error unless it was obviously misspelt. But if he said ‘East Fuggville’ instead of ‘West Fuggville’, I wouldn’t know it was wrong, but by golly, those West Fuggers certainly would – watch out Bill!

Introduced errors – the ones you make when editing – are a pain in the butt, especially if they are last minute changes because they may escape further scrutiny and get printed. Having done countless hours of editing, rewriting and proofing – and introduced errors several times in the process –  I am well aware of these dangers. When I find an error in a book I am reading, I usually pause to think about how it may have occurred. Often I think it was most likely a last minute change, or the consequence of an earlier change, the editor not realising the potential for flow-on effects.

Simple typos are the worst errors, as every reader will pick them up and wonder why you didn’t! I wrote most of Southern Cross Safari on an ageing computer. Well, that’s not quite right; it was new when I started, but obsolete by the time I penned the final words. Along the way it went on strike, telling me my document was far too big for spell check to work, so from now on I should use a dictionary – or words to that effect. I now use that cheeky laptop for picture storage.

So my last, fast, furious proofread did yield some errors, mainly small ones, but one, along the lines of the Bryson example above, a biggie – was my face red! I’m sure the book will still have mistakes, but hopefully only small ones that most people will read over.

So, the writing/printing/publishing finishes, and the marketing begins – last night! I donated one of my newly minted books to the silent auction at the ACT Conservation Council’s annual fund raising dinner. It sold for $75, well in excess of its $35 RRP, which is a good sign for the future. I also sold several copies to friends who had patiently waited through the birth pangs, so overall it was a good start to my new life as a book seller.

Happy travelling.








A Parrot in a Pear Tree

I have a little book – just 10 x 13 cm – called ‘Bush Birds of Australia’ by Allen Keast. It describes 51 of our native species. Inside the front cover, is a date, ‘7-7-67’, written by me, beside which I recorded that I had seen 18 of these species.  It was the beginning of my fascination with birdwatching.

I’d call myself a birdo; everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve kept lists. Back in 1967, our Beecroft home had a double block and our large, colourful garden was a mecca for birds, both native and introduced. I first saw crimson rosellas there, though mum called them mountain lowries. A more common parrot was the rainbow lorikeet, but unlike the lowries, they never landed, instead screeching overhead, top gunning through the tree tops, from roosting sites to feeding grounds.

The migratory welcome swallows were always welcome, a pair arriving each spring and building a mud nest in one of the corners of our front verandah. I assumed it was the same pair coming back each year, but only another swallow would know! I would sneak a look at the eggs and fledglings whenever an opportunity arose. After 4 years, the corners all had nests, so we had to knock them down to ensure our annual visitors kept coming. But if no corners were available, would they have just given one of the existing nests a makeover? – interesting thought! Indian (red-whiskered) bulbuls and blue wrens also nested in our yard.

Peewees and wagtails were also regular visitors, as they are now to my Canberra home, and yes, over the 2.5 years I’ve lived here, I have kept a bird list. It now tallies 83 species, which shows the wide range of habitats nearby, from a lake just 50 metres from my back gate, to a forested nature reserve about 200 metres distant. Sightings 82 and 83 deserve special mention.

Three large Manchurian pear trees dominate my front garden. They shelter the house from wind and rain, but being exotics, are rarely used by native birds. I was surprised to hear an unusual call coming from deep in the foliage on March 2 this year. It was a strong, single note, repeated every 15 seconds or so: it sounded like a warning. I was naturally intrigued, so investigated. The caller was impossible to miss: an adult crimson rosella.

But what was this lone parrot in a pear tree calling for? I followed its gaze and was amazed to find the streaky brown chest and bulbous eyes of species 82, a wide-awake boobook owl. The boobook’s ‘morepork’ call is one of the most familiar night sounds in the Australian bush, hence its popular nickname: mopoke. However, I had not heard the call since moving here, so to find the owl camped in an ornamental pear was a real treat. I decided it was probably a ‘teenager’ searching for a place to live, and had been caught short by the dawn. However, Master Mopoke was not intimidated by Mister Rosella, and stayed put till the sun had set and it was safe to decamp. It didn’t return!

On April 2, my morning dog walk reached the summit of Mount Percival, in the nearby  reserve (‘Winnie’ was leashed, of course!). I had approached from the south, so to see a mob of birds I heard calling to the northeast, meant looking directly into the sun. However, in a few seconds, species 83, a young wedge-tailed eagle glided, not so gracefully, into view, while being hassled by several raucous magpies. The wedgie did not enjoy the attention, quickly ascending and leaving his victorious tormenters behind.

As with the boobook, I had not seen a wedgie since moving here, though had seen them almost daily when on the farm – with a wing span of 2.5 metres, they are hard to miss! I decided it  was also a youngster looking to make its way in the world, though that world won’t include Mount Percival if the maggies have anything to do  with it!

So who will species 84 be? And when will I see it? Ah, the joys of being a birdo!

Happy travelling!














Printing prices and plagiarised wit

I note, with some angst, that it is many days since I last posted. Where does the time go? Well, in this case, it goes to finding a printer for ‘Southern Cross Safari’, my environmental travel narrative.
Most of the people involved in the production of the manuscript – author, editors, designer, map maker, formatter, proof- and beta readers – either live in Canberra, or once did, or have some connection with the National Capital.
So I was keen to find a local printer to maintain this strong Canberra connection, particularly as ‘Canberra’ is one of the threads running through the book.
My first discovery was that digital printing, while good for short runs of little books, doesn’t get much cheaper per unit book for long runs. As I wanted a long run for my big book, we – designer Debra and I – then inquired about offset printing. We found that for long runs (>500 to 1000 books depending on the printer), offset was the way to go.

About this time, I was offered a distribution contract with a Sydney-based company. The standard commission is 30 per cent of the book’s retail price, meaning I would be paid $10.50 for books sold at the RRP of $35. This was useful information as I could now compare potential income with the cost of printing. Unfortunately, the best local printing quote I could get devoured most of the commission, and as a financial venture, was not worth proceeding with.

I had to look beyond the ACT for a more competitive price, so approached Australia’s two biggest print houses, MacPherson’s in Victoria and Griffin in South Australia. Both were competitive but Griffin more so, hence got the job.

I am now  waiting to check the printer’s proof copy before production can begin in earnest. Nearly there!


Now for something different.

For just $2, I recently purchased a second-hand book, Richard Huggett’s ‘The Wit of Publishing’, at Canberra’s famous Lifeline Bookfair. Although a slim book, its 160 pages recount scores of humourous anecdotes about all aspects of publishing.

One of my  favourites – with a local flavour – concerns the late Monica  Dickens, an English writer and great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens.

‘Monica Dickens was signing her latest book in Australia. She took care to find out the name of each customer. A horse-faced woman thrust a copy into her hands, and announced what the author naturally took to be her name. “Emma Chizzit”.

‘Thank you’ said Monica Dickens, and wrote, ‘To Emma Chizzit, with best wishes, Monica Dickens.’

Slightly disconcerted, the woman repeated her name, and it was only after several  angry repetitions, that the author realised that the woman was enquiring after the price.’


Meanwhile, back in contemporary Canberra, we are only one month into autumn, but it feels like winter. We’ve already had a light frost that the basil and tomatoes screwed their leaves at, and today is a miserable, murky, drab affair with a chilly inside temperature of just 16. So, it was ‘flick, flick, flick’ this morning, and on went the in-slab heating. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be as warm as toast – but not as edible.


Happy travelling












Chapter 3 – Rainforests and glitz: Sydney – Coffs Harbour – Gold Coast – Brisbane

Here’s a sample of the real thing – hope you like it.

‘The sleek XPT (eXpress Passenger Train), resplendent in blue, white and yellow livery, was waiting at Central Station. The day’s journey would start with a nostalgic ride through the 22 stations to Beecroft, the names learnt long before the periodic table. For many years I travelled this way to school, then university. Would today’s trip trigger forgotten memories?

First the trains, in those days rusty red and single deck, with green vinyl seats and manual doors – Sydney’s famous ‘red rattlers’, and boy, did they rattle! Hot in summer even with doors and windows open; cold in winter even with doors and windows shut; you couldn’t help but love them. Open doors meant potential disasters. Boys would dare each other to play ‘chicken’ with approaching trains, hanging out with just one hand on the railing, pulling themselves back at the last second.

The memories began here at Central: a summer stop for Sheffield Shield or tests at the Sydney Cricket Ground; in autumn, the Royal Easter Show; in winter, alighting for the rugby league match of the day.

In 1963, I took my girlfriend Peta to the rugby league grand final – it was her first game. St George (Saints) were contesting all three grades. They won third grade, victors over Canterbury, then pipped South Sydney in second grade. And then came the big one, St George versus Western Suburbs for the first-grade title. The crowd erupted as the teams ran onto the ground. Peta turned to me with a worried look and said ‘Those Saints players must be getting tired by now’.

Redfern reminded me of four years of study, alighting here for the 15-minute walk to university, past ancient terrace houses, wrought-iron fences and scraps of garden in Lawson and Abercrombie Streets. The XPT then raced through the inner suburbs – Newtown, Petersham, Summer Hill (where my brother Neil went to school), Croydon, Burwood (where my three sisters kept the family name on the school roll for many years) – before taking on passengers at Strathfield. I thought about a skinny blond kid in short pants and boater hat, getting off here to catch the bus to prep school. Then, coming home with friend Michael, spending a threepenny bit on a raspberry jam and cream tart at the station’s refreshment room – it almost made school worthwhile.

A strong, friendly voice startled me.

‘Mind if I join you?’ asked a fit-looking octogenarian.

‘Please do’ I said, clearing my stuff off the seat.

Col was a talker; I’m a listener. My nostalgic trip was only half over but my new friend was already in full flight. How could I quietly reminisce while absorbing Col’s interesting stories? I compromised, my eyes gazing out the window, my ears tuned to Col – not easy.

After Strathfield, sadness: Arnott’s biscuit factory, closed, a faded sign still proclaiming There is no substitute for quality. Back then, delectable morning aromas of biscuits baking would waft through the carriage, leaving passengers breathing deeply and smiling appreciatively.

North Strathfield, where I first went to school, blurred past, as did Concord West, my first home. And then Rhodes, a riverside suburb that was once an industrial area with chemical factories fouling land, air and water, the stench sickening. As we approached, doors and windows would close and we would take deep breaths, cover our noses with hands or shirtsleeves (ladies used hankies) and try not to breathe till we had left the station. The stink was gone but the malodorous memories lingered. We crossed Parramatta River, then sped through Meadowbank, West Ryde and Denistone, deserted as ever. Next, Eastwood, where my friend Chris lived and my dad had one of his shops. Epping followed, a station I knew well. I had changed schools, trading boater for slouch hat, and bussing from Epping to North Parramatta. The station had also changed, now a major terminus for the Chatswood line.

We approached leafy Cheltenham, crossing the motorway where Devlins Creek had once trickled through rocky bushland – a favourite haunt for small boys catching tadpoles and yabbies. Next the tennis club, the social hub for me and my siblings. My old home was midway between Cheltenham and Beecroft, where I lived after Concord West. The house, ‘Linden’, could be seen from the train and we would wave to mum as we rattled off to school.

‘I used to live up here, Col’ I said, ready to point out one of my fondest memories. It was not to be. The dense bamboo, where neighbour Moya and I built our cubby house, had spread and was now obscuring the house.

I loved living next to a busy railway line, spending many happy hours recording train numbers from my perch on the front gate. Although not aware of it at the time, I witnessed the decade-long change from coal to diesel. I still remember the ungainly Garratt, the most powerful steam train built in Australia, and the elegant, bullet-nosed C38 class locomotives, hurtling past in a cloud of smoke.

Long lines of small, rickety carriages, loaded with sad, bleating sheep, would clank past on their way to Homebush abattoirs. Even if you didn’t see them, you knew they were passing – by the agricultural odour! I always counted carriages – it must be a boy thing, I still do. On the longest trains – 55 to 60 carriages – the engine would disappear around the bend into Beecroft station before the guard’s van came into view.

The train guard – what a job! What did they do? What were they guarding? I imagined a man in shabby uniform, sitting at a table, having nonstop smokos while reading newspapers. The van would be cold in winter, hot in summer, but what a way to earn a quid and see the country. I wanted to be a train guard.

As we slipped past the village green – the local park with its ageless gums and much-loved play equipment – my mind slipped back to 1954. Australia was in a tizz over the visit of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip. Beecroft Primary School was next to the park. The Queen was to pass on the royal train; we were to line up and wave joyously. Mrs Paton told us to wear our best uniforms, as befitted ‘meeting’ Her Maj. I wore my Persil-white shirt, pressed grey shorts and shining black shoes, my hair slicked back in a cyclone-proof layer of Brylcreem – I knew a little dab’ll do ya, but I really laid it on for our Queen.

After play-lunch, we crossed to the park for the grand occasion, skipping and laughing and waving our little Australian flags. We lined up at the railway fence; with every passing train, the excitement mounted – we did a lot of practice waving! As a veteran trainspotter, I wondered what sort of train the Queen would be travelling in – steam or diesel? I heard the familiar sound of a diesel labouring up the Beecroft incline, and there it was, the royal train – no old-fashioned steam engine for Elizabeth, no soot in the eye for the Queen of Australia – two diesels, painted royal blue with yellow stripes, proudly pulling its majestic cargo. ‘Wow, blue diesels!’ I cried. My eyes remained riveted on the colourful engines till they slid around the bend to Beecroft station.

It was then I caught sight of a hand, a white-gloved hand, a royal hand, waving to its happy little subjects gathered in the green. As we returned to school, the chatter was ‘Did you see the Duke?’ or ‘Wasn’t she pretty?’, whereas for me it was all about blue diesels, not blue bloods.’

Happy travelling.

Arise Sir Prince Phillip …

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.

Happy travelling.