ANWC Bird Curator from 1966-70, Mr Warren Hitchcock, showing endemic New Guinea river ducks at the Australian National Wildlife Collection

ANWC Curator of birds from 1966-70, Mr Warren Hitchcock, showing endemic New Guinea river ducks.

The history of the Australian National Wildlife Collection

For over 30 years the Australian National Wildlife Collection has been the primary national collection of Australian land vertebrates, including birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

  • 14 November 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

In this article

  1. Early days
  2. ANWC is born
  3. ANWC grows

Early days

Page 1 of 3

The Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC) was officially 'born' in 1966 but it really began years earlier.

In the late 1950s, researchers at CSIRO’s Wildlife Survey Section were attempting to establish baseline information on the wildlife of Australia and were concerned that their carefully collected and preserved specimens were not being stored in one location.

The 1960s were a time of rapid growth in wildlife study in Australia. Through the early 1960s CSIRO scientists made a number of collections in the course of their research.

‘This material stamped the character of the ANWC collections - well-prepared specimens with full biological data, gathered by professionally-trained staff in the course of scientific research,’ says ANWC retired Curator-in-Charge Dr Richard Schodde.

CSIRO’s Wildlife Survey Section (later to become CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology and then CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems) was headed by Dr Harry Frith, an energetic and passionate wildlife biologist and conservationist.

He had with him a team of young biologists who shared his passion for Australian wildlife, but they were limited by a lack of basic knowledge about species diversity, distributions and abundances. There was really only one way to address this limitation - survey.

“The ANWC’s a superb Collection ... it really is a national treasure. In fact, it’s probably the best-documented collection of Australian wildlife in existence.”
Dr David Ride,
former Director of the Western Australian Museum and founding Director of the Australian Biological Resources Study

Dr Frith organised a series of expeditions to northern Australia in the period 1961-68, heading the team as senior ornithologist. These expeditions brought back:

  • 640 specimens of birds
  • 270 specimens of mammals and a number of reptiles and amphibians.

Other expeditions soon followed, to the Sir Edward Pellew Islands, McArthur River and the Nicholson River. These yielded:

  • 500 specimens of birds
  • 450 of mammals.

Meanwhile, the first recordings of bird songs made by Mr Norm Robinson later formed the basis of the ANWC Sound Library.

Also around this time, Dr Schodde and several other scientists and technicians were conducting surveys in Papua New Guinea. This was the start of a major PNG bird and mammal collection, which is essential to our understanding of Australian fauna.