Subject: publicity
From: Lawrie Conole <>
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2000 21:47:45 +1100
Hugo wrote:

> As far as Birds Australia is concerned, we have been doing exactly this for a
> while.  Getting Bill Oddie to publicise the Twitchathon happened about ten
> years ago.  Many of the celeb names suggested by people as likely candidates
> have already been approached by us.  Look again at our current appeal
> brochure where Gus Nossal and Julie Nihill appear.  I am sure that there will
> be others in future.  I hope that other developments such as regular spots on
> various shows will come about - we are working on them and are not ignoring
> their potential.  I emphasise, however, that all this takes sustained effort
> over time.  It will not happen overnight.  Bird awareness needs to be grown.

As inevitably happens, this discussion has meandered all over the place, on the
topic and off.  I think there are a few points which haven't yet been
addressed.  Apologies in advance - I've been bed-ridden for 6 days with a nasty
virus, and may not be quite at the top of my powers (spelling, syntax, logic,
etc.), but here goes.

I think birding and natural history are both suffering from frighteningly low
recruitment of young people.  This hasn't been a little blip, but rather a
long, serious decline.  Speaking as someone on the cusp of 40, but who started
in my teens, I think people like me with a tearaway youthful interest are rarer
now (not absent, just rarer).  When I conducted my field guide survey on
Birding-Aus a couple of times over the last years, it was evident that the
average age of online birders was something like 50-55.  Go to a few society
meetings, and it seems even higher.  That's fine - I'm not planning age
restrictions! - but clearly unless we can lower the average age, birding has
little or no future.  I love Gus Nossal as much as the next guy, but neither he
nor Julie Nihill (from the 'Blue Heelers' TV show I believe) would inspire me
to take up birding if I was an inquisitive 15 year old looking for a serious
hobby.  Gus and Julie may appeal to those who already are in BA, or are already
sensitive to it.

Some of the other proposed icons of the Oz media/entertainment establishment
that have been proposed are exactly that - establishment.  John Denham's
efforts are laudable over the years, but set the nascent teenage naturalists
alight - I think not.  As much as it might hurt some of you to hear it, if a
few youngsters found out that the lead singers of Spiderbait, You Am I and Korn
were birder/naturalists (none are as far as I'm aware), that would generate
more youth interest in 30 minutes that good ol' JD could get in a decade.

Youth should be a major recruitment target, and any campaigns should be
realistic and relevant.  Trotting out celebs that the older set recognise will
not do the job!

Being a naturalist (including a birder) does involve a degree of fanatacism,
and a large range of field skills to learn.  It seems to me that that
enthusiasm has largely been diverted into the 'environmental' movement.  OK,
that's intrinsically fine as well, except that where is the future baseline of
expert naturalists who can make accurate observations about biota in the
field.  Most environmental activists I've met are utterly passionate about
saving our ecosystems, but are largely unaware on a personal level of what goes
on inside them.  This is evident on occasions when presence of politically hot
species (large owls, etc.) are claimed for sites where they're most unlikely to
be, but merely as another weapon in the defence.

I know people bristle at the concept of elite individuals (smartarse twitchers
seems to be a handy universal putdown), but we do need 'gun birders' and 'gun
naturalists' out there [derivation from 'gun shearer' - ie. a very good one,
way above the rest].  I've watched the glib putdowns of twitchers in this forum
over past weeks, and can only conclude that such insecurity arises from some
combination performance anxiety, ignorance or carelessness.  The reason that we
know so much more about the avifauna of Australia now than we did back in the
1980s is due largely to the work of highly skilled birders that others seem
lazy enough to group as mindless, self-interested twitchers.  Of course such
egocentric twitchers exist - so what - there aren't many.  Many of the others
are birders who know some serious stuff about birds, and share it.  The ease
with which some here on this list stroll up to the high moral ground to pay out
on twitchers is pathetic, and annoying.  Pick a real issue, or take on the
problem individuals directly.

Perhaps some of these gun birders could themselves become iicons in time, and
if promoted carefully, could do more for the image of birding that some of the
non-birder promotions.


L A W R I E   C O N O L E
3 Gezireh Street, Pascoe Vale South, Victoria 3044 AUSTRALIA.
Phone (03) 9354 2484; Mobile (0419) 588 993
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