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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

From bird book to bulldozers

The recent decision by Australia's Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to allow destruction of endangered Gouldian finch habitat for a Defence housing estate is more than disheartening. It is profoundly ironic. The finch was named by John Gould, pioneer of Australian ornithology and author of the first comprehensive book on Australian birds. Bringing in the bulldozers not only pushes these exquisite Australian creations closer to extinction, it betrays the legacy of a brilliant ornithologist.  


John Gould's contributions to ornithology were revolutionary. In the 19th century, he embarked on a mission to document and illustrate Australia’s rich avifauna. His seminal work, The Birds of Australia, showcased our avian diversity in extraordinary detail. Gould's illustrations, accompanied by meticulous descriptions, elevated the study of Australian birds to new heights. He unveiled new species and expanded scientific knowledge. Gould’s legacy enriched ornithology and ignited global interest in Australian birds.  He was a significant contributor to early conservation movements. The Gould League of Bird Lovers was established in 1909 and still exists today. It helps teachers and students connect with Nature.


With its extraordinary array of colours, the Gouldian finch is an iconic and precious Australian icon. Endemic to our northern savannahs, it has experienced rapid declines due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Minister Plibersek’s active approval of Gouldian finch habitat destruction represents a significant blow to its survival. In her own words, the Minister acknowledged the “significant impact” on the species.


Of course, conservation is not just about protecting individual species. It is about safeguarding biodiversity that sustains us all. By approving Gouldian finch habitat destruction, Minister Plibersek is jeopardising the delicate balance of Northern Australia's tropical savannah ecosystems. We must remember that losing individual species has ripple and cumulative effects. Extinction disrupts and puts at risk entire ecological communities.


Yes, Australia is facing a housing crisis. But urban development does not need to be at the expense of our wildlife, particularly where it pushes species to extinction. Australia is a big country and there is plenty of land already cleared and degraded that is suitable for more housing. Including in Darwin. Rather than sacrificing biodiversity, Australia needs to prioritise responsible and sustainable development, especially for iconic and endangered species.  


As the climate crisis unfolds and biodiversity continues to decline, John Gould's legacy as a champion of conservation should be reminding us of the importance of protecting Nature. But the decision to destroy endangered Gouldian finch habitat for a housing estate exemplifies the self-destructive path Australia is choosing to take. In the face of this irony, we must explore alternatives. We can’t allow John Gould’s legacy to go from a bird book to bulldozers. We must invest in habitat recovery not destruction, especially for our endangered species. The job of Environment Ministers is to protect the environment, not endorse its destruction.

Gregory Andrews (c) 2023.

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