Collecting the future in Tasmania

'Royenrine' served as a field lab for the blitz

It was late at night – the final night of the Tasmanian Bush Blitz – and most members of the expedition had gone to bed. Only a handful of hard-core party animals remained in ‘Royenrine’, the building that had served as a field lab for the duration of the survey, but which had now been converted back into a comfortable tourist cabin. With the last boxes of gear finally packed, taped shut and addressed for freighting, I slipped outside and walked down to the ‘Old Pub’ (now used as accommodation) to get a drink from the communal fridge.

A light was on in the kitchen near the front of the building, but the bedrooms further back were dark and full of sleepers; I could hear snoring as I tip-toed through the creaking door. At once I sensed something different about the room inside – what must have been the parlour when the place was a pub. The dining-room table, which I had never really looked at, was covered with flat rectangular boxes. It took me a moment to realise what they were: Simon’s collection of insects from the survey. Beetles and flies, mainly, pinned neatly in rows and labelled with tiny printed slips. In the light that filtered from the kitchen the rich wood of the table gleamed, and the insects shone like jewels, like treasure.

Simon's insect collection - testament to hours of painstaking labour

As survey organisers, our days are dominated by interactions with people. We take part in innumerable conversations, all aimed at keeping things running smoothly and making sure the scientists have what they need to do their work. The science sort of happens in the background – while the teams are out in the field, or in the lab where they spend many patient hours hunched over microscopes, prodding at tiny things in petri-dishes.

So it was almost a shock to see the nine boxes of insects, testament to hours of painstaking labour, laid out on the table in that old and silent parlour. It almost felt as though Simon, the genial fellow I had come to know over the past few days, had been keeping a secret from me. Without my noticing, while I was talking and joking away, he had accomplished something serious, something grand.

I pictured the boxes in a hundred years time, being carefully taken out of a drawer by a worker in a future museum. Two hundred, three hundred years – they wouldn’t have changed at all. And I imagined the tiny labels on them: Collector: S. Grove, Tarkine Bush Blitz, 2015.

Scientist Simon Grove with his collecting jar

Brian, Bush Blitz

Bush Blitz is a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. The innovative program sends scientists out into the field to record the fascinating plants and animals in conservation areas across Australia.