5 Mar 2016

Bush to take over CBD museum


Dawn… and I can hear a shuffling sound, then something like the quiet hush you hear from the wings before a concert. A moment’s silence and then the sound swells… a rabble of sparrows with loud chatter, exchanging stories… what happened in the night, and plans for the day ahead. A light rain means the grass seeds will be soft.

Now others start in: the soft tinkling of thornbills, the lower zitting of a wren, and the high psirrups of silvereyes eating plums from the tree on the corner. All this a nearby treble to the deep double whoop of a koel, high in a plane tree a few streets away. 

These songs quieten as the liquid piping of a magpie fills the moist morning air. The throbbing of a pigeon provides a steady bass.

It’s summer and 6am in Canberra’s Ainslie. I have just moved house from a few suburbs away, and am surprised to discover different morning sounds. No more wattle bird, currawong or turtle dove, but there… I can hear a chuckling friar bird. This one must be a late riser. I don’t miss the plaintive early-morning cry of my neighbour’s captive quail at all.

Each of us is enriched and enlivened by the natural world that surrounds us. In a different, wonderful way, every day. We take it for granted. It’s our habitat.

A new and inspiring exhibition is about to take over the main galleries of Canberra Museum and Gallery. Bush Capital: a natural history of the ACT will draw together objects, images, sounds and much more from the habitat where I write, ‘suburbia’, and five other habitats besides. This will be a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves all-at-once in the diversity, beauty and curious nature of our natural world. It is also an opportunity to reflect on our own place in this environment.

Social History Curator, Rowan Henderson, has worked hand-in-glove with local naturalist Ian Fraser, and with the support of experts and enthusiasts across the ACT, to shape this intriguing exhibition.

We of the human species have been slow to recognise the limits and superb balance of the natural systems that surround us. We’ve been even slower to see our local commitments as part of the global community’s responsibility to preserve the quality of life we enjoy today for future generations.

As a community, a jurisdiction, and a region, we in the ACT are stewards to some of the highest quality and most diverse ecosystems in the world. We also host some of the most threatened species and ecosystems. Community action, together with the work of the ACT Government, has blessed us with some protection and improvement in the health of these ecosystems and the species they harbour. There is much to feel proud of. However the continued health of our environment now depends on our ability to act effectively in a broader regional and global context.

We know a better appreciation of our immediate environment can enrich our understanding of ourselves, but it is an urgent and relatively new necessity that we now understand how our local ‘patch’ interacts with the whole of our planet.

In conjunction with the exhibition CMAG will screen live tweets from @CBRNatureMap, a citizen-led portal for the reporting, mapping and identification of local plant species – rare, common, native and exotic, as well as reptiles & frogs, birds and butterflies. And there is a range of exciting programs we have planned with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service that will take place both inside, and outside of, the museum habitat.

Bush Capital: a natural history of the ACT promises to be a fascinating introduction to the patches in our neighbourhood, some of which you may never have encountered before. CMAG would love to hear from you about how it inspires you to appreciate them, and to ask how we can better preserve their future. I encourage you to listen to the birds outside your window. What do they ask?

Bush Capital: a natural history of the ACT is at CMAG from Sat 12 March 2016.

IMAGE: Julian Robinson, Australian Raven