The Impending Extinction of Natural history

To: Jim Davis <>
Subject: The Impending Extinction of Natural history
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2000 18:23:49 +1100
Dear Lawrie Conole and Jim Davis,
I was very pleased (while also saddened) to read the piece by Dr Ronda
Green which you forwarded. It confirmed what I have noticed over several

As a member of a local conservation society, I have spoken quite often
to groups of young people (Scouts, Guides, Cubs, school groups etc)on
nature, birds and conservation in our district. I am always astonished
at how little the average child and teenager these days seems to know
about the natural world.
I am pushing 60 and grew up in an era when children were allowed to run
about with friends on summer evenings catching cicadas. My brother was
by no means alone in his pastime of rearing Emperor Gum Moth
caterpillars - so that several times we had the pleasure and real
excitement of hearing the adult scrape its way out of its cocoon, then
we saw it emerge crumpled and bedraggled, and then expand its wings to
its amazing perfect state. We collected tadpoles and established them in
tanks and ponds and some at least survived to frog stage (all right, I
know this is now illegal in Victoria). We collected Chinese Junks (we
were seldom stung more than once) and saw them make egglike Cupmoth
cocoons. We knew about casemoths, bull-ants, 'tarantula'spiders (ie
huntsmen), droptail lizards, greenhood orchids, possums, blackbirds and
magpies. We knew how to catch yabbies. We knew birds by names now
obsolete, such as Cranky Fan. All this in a perfectly ordinary suburb. I
was lucky in having parents who shared these interests, but many of my
contemporaries were just as knowledgeable without parental assistance.

Of course we didn't have TV then! (though Crosbie Morrison on 3DB radio
and the ABC's radio schools programs was extremely popular). 

Most of the Scouts etc I have spoken to had no idea that one COULD carry
out studies of what a caterpillar will turn into. Some had seen emerging
butterflies on TV, and that was all. They were quite well-informed on
things that you could watch on TV, crocodiles, whales etc, and one or
two had a fish-tank full of tropicals at home. None recalled having
Nature Study as such in primary school. 

Some of this is doubtless due to the availability of TV and computer,
and a social climate in which it is considered dangerous for children to
explore the world unsupervised. The disappearance of the backyard is
tragic. It's very sad, because to paraphrase Ronda Green, it's what you
learn out of class, in your own time and of your own accord, that sticks
with you in natural history. 

We must find ways of reaching children and teenagers. Those of us who
are parents and grandparents know where to start. But how much are these
subjects followed up in schools these days?

Anthea Fleming in Melbourne

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