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A Feather in His Cap

On September 30, 1905, bird photographer Alfred Donald Trounson, OAM, was born. He spent most of his life as a British diplomat on government assignments in Italy and New York. At his last posting in Australia, the song of a backyard bird launched Trounson’s next activities and brand new post-career.

Intrigued by all the Australian bird sounds new to him, Trounson collected birdsong with his tape-recorder. He was invited to play his collection on an Australian radio programme. If the Australians wanted to hear their own birds sing on radio, Trounson wondered what he might accomplish if bird photographs might also be collected. These new experiences rekindled the young boy he had been when he’d won a school photographic competition. On to his next and groundbreaking project.

Trounson built himself a camera gun – with lens and camera mounted on a gunstock complete with his own trigger grip – and set off on a Queensland “safari”. The resulting photos galvanized him to action: he would photograph all the birds of Australia!

When he learned that only about 25% of all known Australian species had ever been photographed, Trounson did not pause. When he learned that of all bird photographs more than 75% were unusable, he threw himself into learning why. He found that long lenses were handicapped in the poor jungle light of tree canopies where birds tended to roost. Trounson developed a mobile studio and a team for more photo safaris. Although his photographs were published and admired, he realized that a national photograph collection was beyond his single effort.

Applying his life skills in diplomacy, he involved the Australian Museum to take on a photo compilation of the country’s birds. Trounson launched the National Photographic Index of Australian Birds as a museum project that eventually grew into the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife. Although he declined to choose pictures for the collection, he ensured protection for the photographers’ copyrights.

In addition to his individual bird portraits, Trounson published books of camera studies and photographic field guides. For his service as the creator of the national photographic index, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Two editions of Donald and Molly Trounson’s Concise Photographic Field Guide.
Two editions of Donald and Molly Trounson’s Concise Photographic Field Guide.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage