Broken Hill in the far west of NSW is not necessarily the first place you would think of as the beginning of bush regeneration. It is known more for its mining than its environmental history. However the earliest green action in Australia was inspired by Albert Morris and the Barrier Field Naturalists Club in Broken Hill. In 1936 its members enlisted the help of a mining company and through the process of native re-vegetation, defeated the drifts of sand that were swallowing the outskirts of this famous mining town.
The Barrier Field Naturalists Club was one of the earliest Field Naturalists in Australia; one of their main interests was documenting the flora of the West Darling district. The Club was fortunate in having many active members including an assayist with Zinc Corporation Limited, Albert Morris. Morris had a physical disability from childhood and had developed a passion for botany and decided to study the local flora of the area. He and his wife Margaret travelled thousands of miles in the collection of botanical specimens and taught themselves the identification of plants, meticulously recording the localities, sketching in colour and photographing many of the specimens.
Slides, like the one above, along with drawings and plant specimens were used to illustrate talks at the Barrier Field Naturalists Club lectures and classes about the flora of the West Darling and ways of propagating and regenerating native flora. The City of Broken Hill and in fact much of the West Darling area, showed the effect of overstocking and prevention of regrowth by rabbits and complete lack of interest by even those resident in the area.
In 1936 with the southward expansion of the Zinc Corporation Limited, Mr W Robinson, managing director of the company expressed the hope that something could be done to stop the encroachment of drift sand on the south and western boundaries of the city. In 1936 dust storms continued to plaque the lives of the people. During the hot, dry season, dust from the surrounding semi-arid district would descend upon the city and when combined with the sharp gritty sand from the skimp (mill residue) dumps would make conditions barley tolerable.
The knowledge and passion Albert Morris had for local flora led to his suggestion of bush regeneration in Broken Hill being adopted and succeeding. This was the first large urban bush regeneration project known in Australia and perhaps had an influence on many later urban and rural bush regeneration schemes.
The Powerhouse Museum as part of its regional program developed a travelling exhibition on this story with the Broken Hill Geocentre and the Regional Library. Greening the Silver City: seeds of bush regeneration. .
Researching for the exhibition revealed links between Albert Morris, the Barrier Field Naturalists Club (BFNC) and the Museum in the 1920s.
In our archives are letters between Albert Morris and Museum directors G Hooper (1923 and 1924) and A R Penfold in 1929. The 1923 correspondence is regarding the gift/loan of 25 Australian timber samples to the Barrier Field Naturalists’ Club for their Annual Wild flower show on 8th September 1923.
The 1929 correspondence is a request from Morris to Penfold to give a paper in Broken Hill to the BFNC and an acceptance from Penfold. His paper was titled ‘The economic value of some Australian essential oil yielding plants’.
As the exhibition toured regional New South Wales stories of environmental solutions were uncovered, from stopping the sand drifts in Yamba in the 1940s to sustainable sheep farming in Dubbo.
Written by Anni Turnbull, Curator