When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788 the bird life was incredibly rich and varied. Before long the artist John Lewin was producing watercolours of the colony’s unique species, such as the beautiful lyre bird pictured at left.
The old Tank Stream (which now runs underground) provided fresh water. Native shrubs such as banksias and grevilleas attracted nectar feeding birds, including what became known as the Lewin’s honeyeater.
Sadly, as the settlement expanded the birds’ habitat was destroyed. Competition from introduced species compounded the problem. Many species were forced to the margins of town and beyond.
In 2009, artist Michael Thomas Hill created a temporary installation to commemorate fifty birds which have disappeared completely from the city centre. The site chosen was Angel Place; a pedestrian lane running between George and Pitt streets. Steps lead down to the lane from Martin Place. Decorative cages were strung high above the pavement; their empty interiors a stark reminder of the displaced birds. The project was so well received that it became a permanent feature, and 180 new, rust-proof cages were installed.
During the day the recorded calls of vanished birds can be heard over the background rumble of traffic. As evening falls the haunting calls of nocturnal species are played; Tawny Frogmouths, White-throated Nightjars, and owls. The calls were recorded by wildlife expert Fred van Gessel. It is a true sanctuary in the heart of the city. Appropriately, there is music of a different kind nearby, as the City Recital Hall is also located in the lane. One of the sweetest little birds remembered is the Eastern Yellow Robin. It is affectionately known as the ‘dawn harpist’, a name so fitting for Angel Place.
The names of the lost birds appear on the pavement of the lane, like small tombstones.
Fortunately, some of the city’s lost birds can still be found in outer suburbs, where remnants of bush remain . Many more remain plentiful in the beautiful Blue Mountains, where I am fortunate enough to live.
Just around the corner is Ash Street, a great place to stop for coffee or a meal. There is more whimsy here, though definitely less poignant.;
I love these ‘hidden’ spots in the city and I hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy them too. And if you live in the Blue Mountains, please ‘birdscape’ your garden by planting native trees and shrubs and providing freshwater .
Here is another story about Sydney, and a pavement memorial to a man who was as elusive as the shyest bird…..MR ETERNITY