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The humble flying fox and historical methodology


Fruit bats, 1991. By Lin Onus. Contributed by Art Gallery of New South Wales, 395.1993.a-c, Installation, © Estate of Lin Onus. Licensed by Viscopy, 2009

This morning on 2SER Breakfast, I thought we’d take a look at Sydney’s grey-headed flying foxes. You might not think they have much history but flying foxes are a great example of historical methodology.

When the Dictionary first went live in 2009, we included a piece on Sydney’s bats. What’s really interesting is that this entry demonstrates how Sydney’s history, urban ecology and landscape is constantly changing. History never stands still!!

Back in 2009, there was a large colony of flying foxes roosting in the Royal Botanic Gardens. We even have an interview with Tim Pearson of the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society about the history and secret lives of Sydney’s flying foxes – standing in the bontanic gardens amongst the colony. You can hear them squabbling and sqwaking in the background. But this piece of audio in itself is a time capsule. The bat colony in the gardens is no more.
In June 2012, after lots of legal cases and permissions, the gardens commenced a noise disruption program to eradicate the flying foxes from the gardens. Twelve months later, in 2013, they declared the program a success.

As a born-digital project, when the Dictionary articles become dated, documents can be changed and we can incorporate new information, or indeed write a new article! Of course, there are still many flying foxes in Sydney. There are still significant colonies in Gordon and Cabramatta, and also a growing colony in Centennial Parklands.

The flying foxes are not only interesting for their urban ecology, but also for their cultural inspiration. They have entered into Sydney’s iconography and inspired artwork. For example, the Art Gallery of NSW acquired a artwork by Lin Onus, called Fruit bats, 1991, that reflects upon their survival in suburbanised cities. The installtion features rows of flying foxes hanging off a hills hoist.

Our historian friends at the City of Sydney have also been documenting Sydney’s urban ecology. This is an important area for their oral history collection. They have a long interview with John Martin from the Royal Botanic Gardens about the grey-headed flying foxes.

There’s much to discover about Sydney’s urban ecology and the changing landscape of our city.

Lisa catches up with Mitch every Wednesday morning bringing you more fascinating Sydney history from the Dictionary of Sydney. Listen in on 107.3 at 8:20am.

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Megabats and Microbats: The humble flying fox and historical methodology
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