Looking south-east over the Silver Wattles


50 Year History
of the
Launceston Field Naturalists Club
1949 -1999

The Launceston Field Naturalists Club was formed on 21 October 1949 at a meeting convened by members of the Northern Branch of the Royal Society. The first general meeting on 21 November 1949 attracted more than 100 people. The Club objectives were set as "the encouragement of the study of nature and the collection, preservation and systematic classification of specimens".

The Club actively pursued its objectives during this period. Among early activities were the preparation of a submission to the Fauna Board for the protection of Cape Barren Geese, restoration of the headstone of Ronald Campbell Gunn and its re-erection in the pioneer section at Carr Villa Cemetery, participation in the formation and functioning of the Tasmanian Federation of Field Naturalists Clubs (TFFNC) in 1954, and the establishment of an annual Wild Flower Show in November. The show was so successful that by 1956 it had developed into a two day event attracting up to 1500 visitors.

Field excursions were organised from the outset but after an enthusiastic beginning the frequency declined and three or four trips per year became the norm.
back to top

Lord Talbot de Malahide, who had attended Club meetings and joined in excursions previously, was appointed Patron in 1968.

The Club was involved in many activities during the decade. A particularly important one was the collection of specimens of endemic plants for the compilation of the “Endemic Flora of Tasmania", a limited, six volume publication sponsored by Lord Talbot. This was done in collaboration with Dr Winifred Curtis of the University of Tasmania who was commissioned by Lord Talbot to write the text. The specimens were forwarded to Margaret Stones of Kew, England, who was commissioned to produce them as botanical paintings. It was recorded that more than half of the specimens for Part II were collected by the LFNC. Furthermore, it is said that Lord Talbot was inspired to undertake the publication of these fine volumes after seeing the booklet, "Tasmanian Orchids and Endemic Flora and Fauna" by Herbert J King. In 1965 the Club established representation on the Australian Natural History Medallion Committee and made its first nomination, Herbert King.

Other activities included the conducting of surveys, plantings and the provision of advice to departments, councils and other organisations relating to the Punchbowl, Liffey Falls, Holwell Gorge and North East coastal areas.

In 1966 John Skemp, Vice President since 1950 and a Life Member, died. He had been actively involved in Club activities until poor health limited his participation in the latter years. He gave many lectures on a variety of subjects and was widely respected for his knowledge of natural history but birds were his particular interest. In addition to his personal contributions in life he bequeathed his Myrtle Bank property, "Reediford Holm" to the Club, requesting that a particular area be set aside as a 'wildlife sanctuary in memory of his mother'.

As a fitting tribute, the Club set up the John Skemp Memorial Lecture series on ornithology to be given by an invited speaker near the anniversary of his death.
Tom Burns provided a medal to mark the occasion. Herbert King gave the first lecture in May 1967. It attracted an audience in excess of 100. The Club also arranged for a plaque in his honour to be set up in the Patersonia cemetery.

The transfer of John Skemp's property was finalised in 1968 and twenty-five acres
(ten ha) of bushland was set aside as the Florence Skemp Memorial Sanctuary. An exchange of land with neighbour, H Bowden, was arranged to take in an area containing low cliffs and a second waterfall. The November Wild Flower Show was abandoned in the early 1960's when public attendance fell away but it was re-introduced in 1968 with John Simmons the main organiser.

It was decided to establish a reference library and slide collection in 1962. The library began to prosper immediately through donations but the slide bank did not receive much support and only with the contributions and persistence of Herbert King did it become a reality by 1965.

A monthly newsletter, "The Launceston Naturalist" was introduced in 1967, initiated and edited by Tom Burns. back to top

Dr Winifred Curtis was appointed Patron in 1974. Club members had met and co-operated with Dr Curtis on many occasions during the collection of endemic flora specimens for Lord Talbot's publication.

The collection of specimens of endemic flora continued into this decade until the preparation leading up to the publication of the last volume of' “The Endemic Flora of Tasmania", Part VI, in 1978, had been completed. 

Towards the end of the decade work began for a Club book on Tasmanian flora as first proposed by John Simmons. Preparation was well advanced by 1979 with
Mary Cameron as Editor and with many Club members contributing photographs, typing and text. 

A great deal of work went into getting the Myrtle Bank property into order in the early years. The first tree planting took place in 1976. The Tasmanian Permanent Executors and Trustees Association took over the administration of the property on behalf of the Club in 1970. 

"Noorumba", a junior field naturalists club, was formed in 1970 with an initial membership of twenty two. It was supervised by John Simmons and Mary Cameron and operated successfully for a few years before lapsing due to waning membership.

The Wild Flower Show operated successfully for several years, attracting the attention of local schools. In 1971 it was staged in conjunction with the national conference of the Institute of Parks and Reserves in the Albert Hall and it drew high praise from the delegates. In 1970 the Club arranged for a film and photographic display, "Photoflora", operated by the Victorian Society for the Preservation of Native Plants, to be staged in Launceston. "Naturama", a similar exhibition initiated by
John Simmons, became an annual event with contributions from the other FN Clubs. It was extended later to other Tasmanian venues.

In 1972, artist Geoff Tyson was requested to paint a large scale picture of the Club emblem for display at its exhibitions. This remains one of the Club's prized possessions.

The Club joined the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1970 and presented evidence to the Senate inquiry on wood chipping in 1976. Other activities included the conduct of plant surveys on the central highlands and Blackman Lagoon area initiated by David Steane, an officer of the Lands Department. He was an active Club member during this period and he also advised other departments and organisations as well as developing a native plantation in the Cataract Gorge Reserve.

Lord Talbot, the Club's distinguished Patron since 1968 died in 1973. He did not live to see the completion “The Endemic Flora of Tasmania” but he ensured that the Club received a full set as a donation in recognition of its contributions. After his death, his sister, the Honourable Rose Talbot, supervised the completion of his project. back to top

Two major achievements dominated the 1980's: the publication of "A Field Guide to Flowers and Plants of Tasmania" in 1981 and the erection of the Club building at Myrtle Bank.
The Club book was immediately successful and by 1986 it had undergone three printings and royalties from sales made the construction of the Club building a reality. Royalties and accumulated interest had raised Club funds beyond $20,000 by 1988.
Planning for the building began in 1982 and the concrete foundation slab was laid in 1987. Building construction began in February 1988 and the building, named the John Skemp Field Centre, was officially opened in May 1989 by the Club Patron,
Dr Curtis, with about 200 people attending.
In 1985 representation was gained on the Ben Lomond Advisory Committee and, subsequently, on the Ben Lomond Skifield Management Committee and the Club submitted a response to the commissioned Management Plan in 1989 through its representative, Mary Cameron. back to top

1989 -1999
Club activities expanded considerably in this decade with more emphasis on public promotion but the main focus remained on the development of the Field Centre and Skemp property, the aim being to provide a protected venue rich in natural history which members, students and interested community groups, and others can visit, experience and enjoy.

Further fitting out and furnishing of the Field Centre continued well into this era.  Other developments included: the installation of Hydro power (1992); the installation of fibre glass intake and header tanks into the gravity water supply (1995); the addition of the back porch (1996); the construction of two small dams in Skemps Creek as part of a wetland development (1996-97); construction of a barbecue (1997); the completion of eight nature walks throughout the property together with signage, maps and descriptions (1996-98); to carry out these improvements and purchases and to recoup losses due to theft and vandalism the Club required a substantial income. Royalties and income from the sale of the Club book continued to contribute a significant proportion of annual budgets but more income was needed.  Garage sales, mini-markets donations and grants all helped. By 1998 it became apparent that continued development of Skemps to match the Club's vision would require a much higher level of funding. Consequently, after a concerted effort by members and advisers, a comprehensive submission for National Heritage Trust funding was lodged in February 1999. The application was forwarded to Canberra after being passed by the Technical Panels but not recommended by the State Assessment Panel for funding. The Club is also pursuing other funding options. A workshop was held in April 1999 as a first step towards developing a formal strategic management plan for Skemps.

Other events of significance at Skemps included the discovery of rare, threatened or endangered native fauna and flora species. An unnamed Charopid snail in 1995 and Anoglypta launcestonensis (1997) by Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian FNC, the presence of Fresh Water Crayfish, Astacopsis sp., in Skemps Creek (1997), the
Mt Arthur Burrowing Crayfish, Engaeus orramakunna (1998) by Deloraine FN Group members and Poison Pimelea (Pimelea pauciflora) (1999). In 1999 the title deeds to the Skemp property were transferred in name from the Tasmanian Trustees to the Club. The Club embarked on making the public more aware of its existence.  Brochures were prepared for distribution and open days were held periodically. The first for this period was in February 1990 to celebrate 40 years since the Club's establishment (October 1949).
Apart from the local school, interest in Skemps was first shown by the Prospect High School when classes began overnight stays in 1997. Subsequently, Scotch Oakbum College and St Patricks College became involved in 1999. Scotch Oakburn College was allocated an area of the property for an "Adopt a Patch" project funded by a National Heritage Trust grant. St Patricks College collected and propagated seeds at the College and planted seedlings at Skemps in August 1999.

The Club was active in many other areas. It made a detailed submission to the World Heritage Planning Team on the future management of State World Heritage Areas in 1990. The Club established a Home Page on the Internet in 1998. Club members participated in the National Bird Week “Twitchathon” in 1993, a Land Care tree planting at Hoblers Bridge in 1994 and the Club was an exhibitor in World Environment Day celebrations in 1994 and '95.

At the request of the TFFNC the Club became involved in the feral cat issue (1995).  Submissions to the State Government and to the Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia on cat control options and threat abatement plans for predation by feral cats respectively were made between 1995 and 1998.
The Club was represented at a Public Land Use Commission Seminar on environmental and heritage studies (1996) and monitored progress with the Regional Forest Agreement. Direct representation on the Launceston Environment Centre committee was re-established in the same year with the nomination of
Dr Al Pegler. The Club reference library continued to expand throughout the decade with many useful additions gained through purchases and donations and a branch was established at the Field Centre.

Dr Curtis, Club Patron since 1974, was recognised with the "Winifred Curtis Entrance Way" to Waverley Flora Park named in her honour by the Clarence City Council in 1990. In the same year a "Tribute to Winifred Curtis" consisting of a volume of scientific papers by her former students was presented to her by the Governor,
Sir Phillip Bennett. This was followed in 1997 with the Hobart City Council Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award.

Mary Cameron was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1993 for outstanding dedication to the study of Tasmanian botany and environmental conservation and in 1999 she was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion

The Club has continued to pursue its original objectives throughout its existence, namely, the encouragement and pursuit of the study of a wide range of natural history subjects. This has been achieved mainly through lectures and excursions. In the last two decades, however, the Club has broadened its focus and activities by giving increased attention to the development of the Skemp property at Myrtle Bank and to community involvement both of which will enhance the achievement of Club objectives.

Much has been achieved with the building of the John Skemp Field Centre. It remains now to use the property more as a venue rich in biodiversity where members, student, community groups and others can experience and learn about natural history. The Club especially aims to involve school groups in activities on the property. back to top

1999 -
The Club will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2009. An addition to the Club's History is currently being undertaken to reflect events and activities from 1999 to the present time.

back to Home

General and Technical Feedback | Last update 7 October 2009
Copyright © Launceston Field Naturalists Club | Website design by Karen Manning