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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

On This Day, 13 December; Phillip Parker King's birthday

Phillip Parker King is not a household name, even in Australia, though his father, Philip Gidley King, is remembered as the third British Governor of New South Wales, which was effectively 'Australia' at the time, though the name Australia wasn't in use then, and wasn't formalised until 1824. 

(Incidentally, neither his parents nor I are guilty of misspelling his first name, which was not taken from his father's but from the first Governor, Arthur Phillip, a sponsor of Philip Gidley's career.) Born on Norfolk Island in 1791, Phillip Parker is best remembered for his series of impressive surveying expeditions in the little vessel the Mermaid, and later the Bathurst, mostly across the little-known tropical north coast. Accompanied for much of the time by the great botanist-explorer Allan Cunningham - of whom surely more anon in these pages - he spent most of four years, from 1818 to 1822, in these arduous efforts. He returned to Britain a celebrated hydrographer, and later explored Patagonia in the Beagle, before Charles Darwin sailed in her. In later life he returned to his Australian estates and became active in NSW politics and commerce.

His name lives on in a spectacular Western Australian genus, containing just one species, Kingia australis. The plant superficially resembles the Xanthorrhoeas, or grass-trees, but is not closely related. 
Kingia australis, Badgingarra National Park, Western Australia.
The preferred common name is now Kingia, but it was long and widely known as 'Black Gin'; this was based on the name 'Blackboy' for Xanthorrhoea (which in silhouette with a flower spike supposedly resembled an indigenous man with a spear). There was a Western Australian belief - not among botanists! - that the Kingia represented a female form, and 'gin' was a term often used for an indigenous woman. The terms now have undesirable racist overtones and their use is disappearing. 

Kingias are in the small monocot family Dasypogonaceae; comparing Kingias with the tinsel lilies, also in the family, the connection is non-intuitive!
Blue Tinsel Lily, Calectasia grandiflora, Moore River National Park, Western Australia.
When the great Scottish botanist Robert Brown named Kingia, he may also have wished to honour Philip Gidley King. In eastern Australia, a familiar and spectacular bird was also named for him, though in this case it was the common name; the connection has been largely forgotten however.

When specimens of King-Parrot were sent to Britain in the early 1800s by George Caley, Joseph Banks' botanical collector, he suggested that they be called King's Parrot for the Governor. This was done, but within a couple of decades the apostrophe was disappearing, and it became widely known as King Parrot. 
Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis, Canberra; male above, female below.
The link was entirely broken in 1978 when the then Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union bizarrely introduced the hyphen, for no comprehensible reason. While I'm not a great fan of naming organisms for people, if we're going to do so we might as well honour them properly!

Still, I don't suppose either Phillip or Philip care now. Happy birthday anyway Phil...


Flabmeister said...

As a further local connection it appears from a SMH page http://www.smh.com.au/news/new-south-wales/bungendore/2005/02/17/1108500192923.html that Gidleigh Station, just South of Bungendore was set up by the son of Govenor King. There seems to be some flexibility in the spelling of Gidley but presumably it was to honour the Govenor.


Ian Fraser said...

THanks for that; I'd heard that story too, and it may well be true. I would like an explanation of how the spelling came to be changed (certainly not unknown in the 19th century) to be totally convinced.