This subject broaches an issue that I have thought about long and often since
migrating to Australia over 20 years ago.
It is my considered opinion that the Australian approach to its natural
heritage does little to foster any interest or enthusiasm in young children and
adolescents that can later grow to be an educated passion in the years to come.
When I look back at my childhood and the friends I have had over the years who
have shared an interest in various aspects of wildlife, they generally emanated
from simple childhood pleasures such as collecting feathers or shed
snake-skins, keeping chameleons or even having an egg collection. Often these
activities were mildly destructive - you cannot collect bird eggs or press
flowers with out harvesting them first but in the vast majority of situations,
parents would instill reasonable control and assure the interest was nurtured
but supervised and children outgrew that particular area of interest and
generally moved onto different things such as bird watching, photography etc.
Often the kids formed clubs at school, swopped snakes or frogs, and so the
passion would build and grow. Many of the most committed and effective
naturalists I know were hunters or shooters in an earlier life and their
subsequent knowledge and efforts have been enormously beneficial to
conservation and preservation.
The very strict control on Australians being able to pick up dead birds,
collect feathers, bones, skeletons or flowers does the country a disservice in
my view. The law in WA has recently been changed but for a long time it was
illegal for children to keep pet snakes, frogs or tadpoles or any of the other
harmless, un-endangered fauna that would go some way to developing a life long
interest in and knowledge of the wildlife in our local areas. Of course there
are always specific cases of dreadful things happening or harm being done but
generally the benefits far outweigh the bad and overall the outcome is a
massive plus for the environment and our wildlife.
It is quite difficult in this day and age to compete for the young mind against
all that is offered by sport, TV, internet, fashions and computers generally -
and still find the time and energy to develop an interest in our wildlife, the
environment and nature generally. I think it would be most beneficial if those
enquiring minds were able to collect feathers, keep a pet frog or snake or
start a basic egg collection. We should be actively encouraging these kids to
pick up dead owls, cut them up to see what they might have eaten, discover the
fantastic feather formations that they possess and generally get up close,
messy and discover all sorts of fascinating facts about them.
In my opinion, we are far too precious about our flora and fauna. Conservation
efforts would be far better served by having a much greater population of
individuals who have actually touched it a bit, know far more about it,
actually care about it and are prepared to do something to preserve it and this
is more likely to come from children who have had the opportunity to boil
smelly bones, skin rabbits, keep snakes and collect sea-shells etc It is very
depressing to talk to my sons' university friends and find that most would not
be able to identify more than half the birds found in the average metropolitan
garden, are scared of snakes & spiders and generally know nothing about their
natural surroundings at all.
I will finish by touching on two birding-aus matters that I think reinforce my
view. Firstly, the interest that young Jack has generated in this forum on his
birding trip-reports, species identified etc underline how unusual his
situation is and how few young Australians are really involved in bird watching
activities generally. I recognise that his activities represent just a small
part of a very wide potential spectrum but none-the-less, I don't believe that
young Australians are very well represented in this forum at all (clearly a
supposition with no basis in fact), mainly because there are very few of them
passionate about the subject. I know that whenever I manage to participate in
the weekly BAWA bird walks, I am always conscious of the average and median age
being the wrong side of forty-odd and a significant dearth of youngsters. There
will be all sorts of reasonable explanations for this but the core one in my
opinion is that they are not very interested.
The second matter that I will mention was the instance of a young Russian (I
think ?) who emailed the forum some time ago, or forum members individually,
asking for feathers for his feather collection. To all extents and purposes, a
very harmless request in my eyes but certainly one that could not be fulfilled
as it is illegal in Australia. The responses by some forum members, with
conspiracy theorists in full flight, were really quite shocking. I was
staggered by the extra-ordinary reaction to such an innocent request and there
seemed to be little consideration that here was a young kid who actually
collected feathers and referenced them in an innocent and thoughtful manner
that did no harm to any one or anything.
Finally, to avoid being lynched, I will close my contribution by just
confirming that I personally have never been a hunter or an egg-collector.
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