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Lobby group: The ultimate guide to Brisbane's wilder side

Culture

Daniel Johnson recalls an era before smartphones and augmented-reality apps and shares the story of how the Queensland Museum’s Wildlife of Greater Brisbane field guide helped give his brother his 15 minutes of pre-social-media fame.

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It’s become one of Australia’s most popular wildlife guides since it was first published, and to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Queensland Museum has just released an updated and expanded edition of Wildlife of Greater Brisbane.

The newly released version of the field guide, known for its striking colour photographs, features updated information on more than 1000 species, including 70 species that have been discovered since the previous edition was published in 2007.

Wildlife of Greater Brisbane is the museum’s best-selling field guide because of its wide appeal to families, bushwalkers, tourists, nature lovers and scientists,” Queensland Museum Network chief executive Dr Jim Thompson said.

“In the 25 years since it was first published, the book has helped to improve knowledge and appreciation of the incredibly diverse species of animals in the greater Brisbane region.”

Saw-shelled turtles (Myuchelys latisternum) can be found in the Greater Brisbane region. (Photo: Queensland Museum)

My mum bought a copy of Wildlife of Greater Brisbane not long after its release in the mid-1990s and it never spent much time on the shelf, quickly become something of a nature lover’s bible in my family’s house at Thorneside, in Redland City.

It was used to identify the vast array of birds that would wing their way into my parents’ tree-filled quarter-acre block and also accompanied us on nature walks and holidays to North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah).

In the days of dial-up internet and Encarta CD-ROMS, the Wildlife of Greater Brisbane paperback became our go-to guide for identifying the critters and creatures of our local creeks and estuaries and the book was instrumental in giving my brother Mark 15 minutes of pre-social-media fame.

Mark and I spent a good deal of our youths in local parks and creeks, letting our imaginations run wild as we tried to collect all manner of strange and exotic creatures.

I’m obviously not referring to Pokemon Go – this was more than two decades before the emergence of smartphone-driven augmented-reality apps, or smartphones, for that matter – but rather the more wholesome pursuit of scooping nets in local creeks to catch freshwater fish and crustaceans for our home aquariums.

A few months prior to my mum’s purchase of the book, Mark had caught a freshwater crayfish that looked vastly different to the red claw crayfish – Cherax quadricarinatus – that shared a fish tank with the rainbowfish, swordtails, gudgeons and various other residents of the aquatic share house.

Due to its small size – it was just over 2cm in length – Mark decided it needed to be socially distanced from its bigger brethren and it was given its own tank.

“I knew it was a different crayfish when I caught it, so I had it in the tank by itself, separate from any other fish or anything but I didn’t know what it was until I got a copy of that book a few months later,” Mark recalled recently.

“I was flicking through the book and saw the picture of the crayfish and recognised it and read the blurb and it said it was a swamp crayfish and they thought it was likely to be locally extinct, so I ended up ringing someone from the front of the book.

“I phoned [the museum] just to let them know that I had the same crayfish that was in the book and they asked me a few identifying things just to establish that it was the same.”

It was the first sighting of the swamp crayfish – Tenuibranchiurus glypticus – in the Greater Brisbane region for 70 years and a wholesome good-news story for local media.

“The local paper [The Bayside Bulletin] contacted me and they came and did a story and then I was on [Channel Ten children’s program] Totally Wild.

“[Former Queensland environment minister] Pat Comben, who did wildlife segments on the Channel Seven News, did a story on it as well and then I think there was a mention in Wildlife Australia magazine.”

So, was he recognised in the schoolyard for his achievement – feted with the kind of reverence and admiration that kids who get their hands on a rare Ooshie command today?

“They called me ‘lobby boy’, and I was like, ‘but it’s a crayfish’,” Mark said.

To celebrate latest edition of the Wildlife of Greater Brisbane, a selection of photographs featured in the book – including birds, spiders, marsupials, mammals, reptiles and insects – are currently on display at Queensland Museum’s Whale Mall.

Thompson said he hoped the new edition of the book would spark the imaginations of local residents old and young and encourage them to look in their back yards, especially during a year when many people have been forced into geographic and social isolation.

“I think people would be surprised at just how much biodiversity can be found in their own back yards, if they just took the time to look,” he said.

“For example, during lockdown, our entomologist Dr Chris Burwell found more than 60 species of ants in his inner-west suburb of Chapel Hill – something even he wasn’t expecting.”

He said each chapter of the third edition had been reviewed and updated by the Queensland Museum’s team of scientists to ensure the information was as current as possible to reflect changes to scientific names and habitat range

“While the range for some species has declined due to habitat loss, other species — water dragons, scrub turkeys and possums, for example — benefit from joining the urban revolution.

Queensland Museum Network chief executive Dr Jim Thompson.

“A new introduction to the third edition, by Dr Andrew Rozefelds and Dr Michael Rix, encourages readers to consider the complex relationship between humans and wildlife, suggesting that ‘we should see ourselves as part of the ecosystem and not, somehow, separate from it’.

“This is especially relevant in 2020, with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, an animal-borne disease, demonstrating ‘how our relationship with the environment, if not appropriately managed, can result in significant social, economic and political disruption’.”

The Eastern Sedgefrog (Litoria fallax). (Photo: Queensland Museum)

Thompson said many local residents had fond memories of Wildlife of Greater Brisbane, including Queensland Museum staff members, adding that “many of our taxonomists have their own copies of this book, which they refer to often with their families.”

Mark said his seven-year-old son also shared his fascination with local wildlife and had already become acquainted with the tome.

“Bailey’s really into those sorts of things, so I’ve introduced him to plenty of books – he likes all his birds and mammals, so we have flicked through Wildlife of Greater Brisbane with him.

“He sort of follows in my footsteps with that fascination and the fishing gene.”

The latest edition of Wildlife of Greater Brisbane is on sale now. Photographs from the publication are now on display in the Queensland Museum Whale Mall. For more information visit www.qm.qld.gov.au

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