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July 4, 2019

Listening to the lyrebirds: the Sex, Lyres and Audiotape podcast

For hundreds of years, Australia’s remarkable wildlife has proved to be a source of fascination for many amateur and professional students of nature. Lyrebirds in particular – because of their plumage, courtship displays and skill at mimicry – have been much studied and admired.

A beautiful colour plate of a lyrebird features in David Collins’ account of colonial settlement from 1788 to 1801 and lyrebirds have featured in art and design ever since, most notably in the 1960s in Stuart Devlin’s design for the 10-cent coin.

Raymond Littlejohns (1893-1964) spent at least twenty years devoted to photographing, filming and recording lyrebirds in the Sherbrooke Forest. He was an enthusiastic ornithologist and early photographer of birds, co-authoring Birds of Our Bush: Photography for Nature Lovers (1920).

He also wrote three books about lyrebirds: The Magic Voice (1933), The Lyrebird: Australia’s Wonder Songster (1938) and Lyrebirds Calling from Australia (1943). These are all held in Deakin Library’s Special Collection, which has a significant collection of works relating to natural history.

Littlejohns produced some of the earliest known recordings of the songs of the lyrebird, and these highlight its ability to mimic all sorts of sounds. He broadcast his recordings on the ABC in the 1930s and produced a film and accompanying gramophone record. Deakin’s Special Collection is fortunate to contain a copy of this rare recording, which was used recently in an ABC podcast by Dr Ann Jones.

If you’re interested in learning more about lyrebirds and hearing examples of their incredible mimicry skills, check out Dr Jones’ podcast series, Sex, Lyres and Audiotape on the ABC.

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