Prior to coming to Australia in 1973, I went into a bookshop in Cambridge
and asked them if they had any Australian field guides.
"Yes", they said, and handed me a copy of "What Bird is That?". I thumbed
through it. "No", I said, handing it back, "I mean a field guide", and went
on to explain what I had in mind. They had nothing else, so I bought it,
determined to have a guide of some sort in my hand from minute one on
About three weeks later, they mailed me Slater's hardback Volume 1 -
Non-passerines asking if I'd be interested in it. "Oh yes, indeed!" I said,
with some gratitude. That was exactly what I had in mind. "Where's the other
We all had to wait a bit longer for the Slater passerine volume, but I
discovered later that every other Australian home seemed to have a copy of
What Bird is That? As a field guide, it just simply wasn't. The
illustrations were woefully small, and weren't ever designed to highlight
'field-marks' as we now understand them. Furthermore, there was virtually no
text descriptive of the actual birds, though quite a bit about distribution
However, it had been doing its job for somewhere around forty years when
there was little else, and in the subsequent thirtyish years I've come to
respect Neville W. Cayley both as a naturalist and an artist. Many of his
original paintings are quite simply magnificent - though when reduced to 3cm
on a plate in a bird book, they do tend to lose rather a lot..... (When
looking at the original paintings, do bear in mind that there were two
Neville Cayley's of course, father and son).
But to this day, when somebody rings to tell me they've seen a Palm Cockatoo
or an Eastern Bristlebird in their Lockyer Valley garden, or a Varied
Lorikeet on the Toowoomba escarpment "What Bird is That?" is invariably
implicated. But, as I said, so many people have the book, that it's doing a
job, at a certain level, and can serve to prompt people to want to learn
more and to develop their interest further.
I agree with Bob Forsyth that it's a useful and interesting book to have -
perhaps these days it just does a different job.
Lockyer Valley, Queensland.
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