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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.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

On This Day, 21 August; Augustus Gregory's birthday

Augustus Charles Gregory was born in England on this day in 1819, son of an army Lieutenant. Wounded, his father accepted a land grant in the new Swan River colony (now Western Australia, and struggling badly at the time) in place of an army pension, when Augustus was 10. He went on to become a most successful explorer, though not nearly well enough known, for reasons that I believe to be highly ironic - we'll get to that - and an unusually respected politician. His first remarkable stroke of luck was having as a neighbour the impressive Surveyor-General John Roe, who encouraged Augustus to join the department as a cadet in 1841. His bush skills and general competence led him to be appointed just six years later, still not 30 years old, to lead his first exploring expedition north of Perth, returning with reports of good grazing land and a coal seam. This led to more such engagements, including the mapping of part of the Murchison River and the opening of the country where Geraldton now stands; this was all tough country.
Murchison River, Kalbarri National Park; probably here at least still much as Gregory saw it.
While the biographies tend not to mention it, it is clear that Gregory was already collecting plant specimens and sending them to Ferdinand von Mueller, probably the greatest of the 19th century Australian botanists.

Desert Kurrajong Brachychiton gregorii, central Australia (through a rain-spotted lens!).
The type specimen was collected by Gregory in the Murchison area and sent to von Mueller, who named it.
In 1855 he led one of the great Australian exploring expeditions, the North Australian Expedition which crossed a great unknown swathe of the country from the north-west to Brisbane on the east coast, well over 5000km, mostly on foot. Crucially from a biological perspective, the company included von Mueller, temporarily unemployed while the Victorian government couldn't pay him in his position as government botanist. 16 months after setting out, the expeditioners walked into Brisbane just in time for Christmas.
Baobab, Adansonia gregorii, Gregory National Park (also named for Augustus), East Kimberley, western Northern Territory; collected by von Mueller on the North Australian Expedition and named by him for Augustus Gregory.
Gregory continued collecting for von Mueller on subsequent expeditions, notably the unsuccessful search for the tragic Leichhardt expedition in central Australia. (His lack of success wasn't surprising; Leichhardt had disappeared in 1848 - 10 years previously - somewhere between Brisbane and Perth!)

This was his last expedition and he is seldom mentioned now in the same breath as some of the other great (and a few 'great') explorers. I think he was a victim of his own modesty, humanity and excellent planning. He insisted on exemplary behaviour towards aboriginal people through his lands he passed, and planned meticulously. All of this combined to mean that his teams were content, safe, healthy and always knew where they were - none of which made for exciting news stories! Additionally he didn't talk much about his achievements, and was apparently cheerful and well-liked, which were also probably not newsworthy characteristics.

He became Queensland Surveyor-general, then Geological Surveyor, for 20 years, then entered the Queensland Legislative Assembly where he spent the remaining 23 years of his life attacking government and aligning himself with the conservative squatters' bloc. He was reputedly incorruptible and refused government ministries so as not to compromise himself.
Senecio gregorii, Lasseter Highway, Northern Territory - South Australian border.
Collected by Gregory on the Leichhardt search expedition, and named for him by von Mueller.
Would I have got on with him I wonder? In the bush certainly, but probably not in town. No matter, he was one of our greatest explorers, though unsung, and contributed his share to our knowledge of the north and dry centre. Worth acknowledging I think.
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Also on this day, in 1803, surprisingly - because it was more than 15 years since the founding of the British colony at Sydney - the first Koalas known to Europeans were collected from what is now the Wollongong area.


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3 comments:

Flabmeister said...

Is not this "... aligning himself with the conservative squatters' bloc. He was reputedly incorruptible ..." a contender for oxymoron of the millenium? And I do not specify which millenium!

Martin

Boobook said...

And he has a 900 km highway named after him:)
I hadn't realised it took so long to 'collect' a Koala.

Ian Fraser said...

Thank you Martin; it may be best if leave that as "noted"!
You're right Boobook - I ought to have recorded that he discovered that highway too. I find the Koala question a very intereting one; perhaps the woodlands around Sydney were on soils too low in nutrient to support them, though they lived in woodlands out near Dubbo for instance. It would be good to delve into that one some time.