Monday, December 8, 2014

Special Collections Fossickings 44: Common Interest

When did you last visit the Townsville Town Common? Perhaps you had visitors interested in seeing some wildlife? Or wanted to take some serious exercise walking or mountain biking? Or is it one of those places still on your “go to” list?

This diverse mix of wetlands, saltpans, dunes, hills, vine forest, swamps, mangroves and woodlands is surely one of the most interesting and exciting backyards a city could have. The Common is a must-see for any naturalist or birdwatcher visiting the north and its signature bird – the brolga –  adorns the University’s coat of arms and is the city’s faunal emblem.
The University Arms, granted by The College of Arms, London by Letters Patent dated 26 June 1972.
Detail showing a brolga on the University Arms.
An area of 3245 hectares protects remnants of the once extensive Bohle River flood plain. In 1869, very early in the city’s history, it became a pasturage reserve which allowed residents to graze cattle there. But a hundred years later it had become neglected and degraded by wildfire, rubbish-dumping, an invasion of weeds and pests, and a host of other impacts. Original creeks had become polluted by sewage outflows and whole chunks of land had been swallowed up by the expanding airport.  The efforts of local Wildlife Preservation Society members to clean up the Common and restore its natural values are described in the Society’s 50th anniversary book published in 2012. This group started the push for greater protection and in 1981 the Common was gazetted under Queensland legislation as an environmental park. In 1992 it was registered on the National Estate.

Books from the North Queensland Collection.
Over the years many individuals have studied, photographed and written about the Common. In 1982 Ursula Rowlett produced a booklet on the Common’s water plants and the following year Stephen Garnett published his “Birds of the Townsville Town Common”, both illustrated by local artist Jim Cox. In 1992 JCU researchers, Alastair Birtles and Trevor Sofield, produced “Brolga Dreaming”, a visionary concept for an eco-tourism approach to the Common’s development. Most recently two booklets, “Revitalizing the Town Common” and “Rowes Bay Wetlands: an interpretive guide” help paint the picture of the Common’s 21st century future.
Books from the North Queensland Collection
The North Queensland Collection holds all of the above publications while the thesis collection contains a number of honours and higher degree theses exploring many different aspects of Townsville’s very special backyard.

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