Skip to content

Songs of the Bush

The subject of this story, John Hutchinson, passed away in 2015, aged 87, of natural causes (see ABC News). His incredible recordings are still cherished by nature lovers around Australia.

Meet one of our long‑term supporters, John Hutchinson, whose early interest in electronics and his love of the Australian bush has led him to create the world’s pre‑eminent collection of Western Australian bird songs.

John’s invention incorporated a tape recorder, a radio and a turntable with two arms that both played and cut records. Photograph by Angie Smashnuk

John's invention incorporated a tape recorder, a radio and a turntable with two arms that both played and cut records. Photo by Angie Smashnuk.

For over 50 years John Hutchinson has cut a solitary figure, traversing vast tracts of Western Australia in pursuit of what he calls his life’s work.

John’s grand passion is capturing the extraordinary range of Western Australian bird songs, and it has earned him an international reputation. John says his love of birds, and the Australian bush, harks back to his childhood growing up in Wyalkatchem, a town about 200 km north‑east of Perth.

“I was in the bush a lot from an early age,” says John. “The Jarrah forest then had big, shady trees and there was wildlife all around you – almost within touching distance.”

John’s other early passions included classical music and electronics, in particular early tape recorders. In 1953, after pouring over issues of Radio and Hobbies magazine, he decided he would build his own. The resulting machine was a masterpiece of early engineering incorporating not just a tape recorder, but also a turntable with two arms that played and cut records, and a radio. Hailed by his contemporaries as the most comprehensive machine of its time in Australia, this early ‘radiogram’ still works today.

A male Rufous Whistler. Photo by Robert McLean

A male rufous Whistler. Photo by Robert McLean

To pursue his other love, classical music, John decided to pack up his state‑of‑the‑art recorder and head to Bunbury. Here he spent seven years both performing and recording classical music, enabling him to indulge simultaneously in two of his grand passions.

“Then I joined the Department of Agriculture doing noxious weed control and was posted to the town of Carnarvon in Western Australia,” says John. “I was made responsible for a huge area including the Kimberleys and the region now known as the Pilbara. I was in my element, traversing that huge region with all its wildlife. Of course I took my recorder with me and operated it from the car battery.”

Finding himself now far removed from his beloved classical music, John began looking for something else to record. It didn’t take him long to discover the captivating sounds and rhythms of Aboriginal corroboree music. Working with several tribes, including the Waroora and Wunambal people (Bush Heritage also has a long‑standing relationship with the Wunambal Gaambera people in the Kimberley) John made dozens of original recordings.

The Sandstone Thrush likes to sing duets with company. Photo by Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

The sandstone thrush likes to sing duets with company. Photo by Wayne Lawler/ Ecopix

However, as many Aboriginals across the region began dispersing to cities, towns and settlements, it become harder and harder for John to find any corroborees to record.

In need of a new recording passion, the next sound to catch John’s ear was the symphony of native bird song surrounding him.

Having stumbled quite accidentally across what he now calls his life’s work, John has spent close to 60 years criss‑crossing the outback in pursuit of the most beautiful and elusive songs.

At times he has gone to extraordinary lengths (including ‘staking out’ a single rufous whistler for days on end) to amass over 300 tapes – and what is now regarded as the world’s pre‑eminent collection of Western Australian bird songs. The wonderful video below is from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

John doesn’t hesitate to name his favourite bird. “The sandstone thrush in the Kimberleys,” he says. “It’s a magnificent songster and two or more will get together and sing duets and it’s just superb.”

Black-chinned honey eater. Photo by Robert McLean

Calls of the black-chinned honeyeater have been described as vibrant, ringing and musical. Photo by Wayne Lawler/ Ecopix

Of course, recordings of such significance cannot remain on old tapes forever. After investigating his options both here and overseas, the good news is that John’s entire bird songs collection is being copied and digitised by the State Library of Western Australia, where it will be held in perpetuity.

John Hutchinson has spent more time in the bush than most Australians are ever likely to. Over the course of his life he’s seen a lot of change – none of it good he says.

“When I was young the bush was ‘natural’. It wasn’t as badly affected as it is today. We’ve lost most of our real bush, and our wildlife, and what remains is mainly on private land.”

It was out of his own deep concern for the Australian bush and his admiration of Bob Brown’s vision in creating Bush Heritage that he decided many years ago to become an ongoing supporter. “I’ve taken a keen interest in Bush Heritage because they’re doing the sort of thing I support. They are trying to bring the wildlife back into the bush – and they are trying to bring back the bush itself.”

With two records, four CDs, seven audio cassettes and two books under his belt, what lies ahead now for John Hutchinson? “I’m planning a DVD on birds and wildflowers and I’m going to rewrite one of my books. That should keep me busy for the time being.”

Recent webinars

Tree in arid landscape.

20/11/2023

Evelyn Downs webinar

An in-depth discussion about our campaign to buy Evelyn Downs in South Australia's Painted Desert. This spectacular property will provide habitat for over 60 plant and animal species of conservation significance.

Read More
Bush Broadcast: Live from Tarcutta

13/10/2023

Bush Broadcast
Lighting the way to climate change resilience

In this webinar, live from Tarcutta Reserve, Rhys Swain, Vikki Parsley and Paul Hales chat about managing our reserves to create bushfire-resilient landscapes.

Read More
Bush Broadcast: Live from Boolcoomatta

14/09/2023

Bush Broadcast
Live from Boolcoomatta

Join Bush Heritage Australia's Graeme Finlayson and PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, Saskia Gerhardy, as they chat about the conservation measures that protect this unique landscape and the Plains Wanderer.

Read More
For our Elders: NAIDOC week theme 2023

06/07/2023

NAIDOC week webinar 2023

Join our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff Bruce Hammond, Stephina Salee and Ross Mitchell as they have a yarn about this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'For Our Elders'.

Read More
Science Superstars

12/05/2023

Science superstars

On the eve of National Careers Week, senior secondary students were invited to join us for this virtual event. Staff presenting the webinar talked about career pathways and opportunities in the field of environmental science and conservation.

Read More
Bush Broadcast Live from Edgbaston

28/03/2023

Live from Edgbaston

Join staff, Jo Axford, Dean Gilligan and Tony Mayo, as they chat about the interlocking conservation measures protecting this unique landscape and its species.

Read More
Webinar: Wrapping up 2022

16/03/2023

Bush Heritage 101

Join Bush Heritage Australia's Heather Campbell, Dr Rebecca Spindler and Vikki Parsley for this new webinar, and an opportunity to ask lots of questions!

Read More
Webinar: Wrapping up 2022

14/12/2022

Wrapping up 2022

It's been a big year in the conservation space in so many ways! At an organisation level, our team has been working harder than ever, including the acquisition of five new reserves.

Read More
Webinar: Technology in conservation

20/10/2022

Technology in conservation

From camera traps to satellites and drones, to song meters and eco-acoustics, technology has become an essential component of biodiversity conservation, enabling more effective data collection, enhanced management decision-making, and targeted monitoring to measure impact.

Read More
Webinar: Valuing culture

21/09/2022

Valuing culture

Our staff work hand in hand with Traditional Owners to ensure their aspirations, values and cultural complexities are heard, understood and embedded into our work.

Read More
Webinar: Ecological monitoring

17/08/2022

Ecological monitoring

Join Clair Dougherty and Vanessa Westcott as they discuss our conservation management process, biodiversity indicators and why ecological insight is the foundation for our work.

Read More
Webinar: Creating climate resilience

15/07/2022

Creating climate resilience

Rebecca Spindler and Vikki Parsley discuss blending multiple knowledge systems to provide the evidence base for addressing climate change.

Read More
Electro-fishing on the Murrumbidgee River.

25/05/2022

Bush Broadcast: Bringing native fish back to our rivers

Join our special guests as they showcase an exciting project that supports the endangered Macquarie Perch in the Upper Murrumbidgee River.

Read More
The Night Parrot.

17/05/2022

Bush Broadcast: Protecting the Night Parrot at Pullen Pullen

Join our staff as they chat about the work undertaken to protect this rare and mysterious bird.

Read More
Bush Broadcast logo

09/02/2022

Bush Broadcast: Restoring the bush to protect native species

Join our staff as they chat about revegetation efforts underway to protect habitat critically important to native species in south-west WA.

Read More
Alison and Chris Wilson at Carnarvon Reserve.

24/11/2021

Seeds of Innovation at Carnarvon

Join Chris and Alison Wilson in this webinar to discuss harvesting native Bluegrass seed at Carnarvon Station Reserve and rehabilitating degraded grasslands.

Read More
30 Year Anniversary

20/10/2021

Celebrating 30 years

Looking back at 30 years of Bush Heritage's conservation work and looking forward to 2030.

Read More
Volunteers weeding from kayaks.

27/09/2021

Adventure & weed busting on the Murrumbidgee

In this hour-long webinar you'll hear from Paul Bateman who has been part of a volunteer project controlling weeds along the Murrumbidgee River.

Read More
Natural Capital in Agriculture.

31/08/2021

Farm-scale Natural Capital Accounting

Dr Jim Radford discusses methods he's developing for farmers to measure their natural capital – including ecosystem services like biodiversity protection, erosion and flood control.

Read More
Illustration of scientists.

17/08/2021

Will science save us?

Meet our science and conservation team for a virtual, future-focused conversation during National Science Week 2021.

Read More
Dr Rebecca Spindler

12/08/2021

Conservation Futures Presentation

A 10-minute presentation by Bush Heritage's Executive Manager Science and Conservation, Dr Rebecca Spindler on the Conservation Futures grant, which came about through the Ian Potter Foundation, and what we're hoping to achieve through this collaborative project with the University of Melbourne, other universities, not-for-profits, the IUCN and many more.

Read More
Drys Bluff.

06/07/2021

Liffey Valley Bush Chat

A 50-minute webinar recording with Tassie Reserves Manager, Michael Bretz, and one of our founding directors, and now Life Member and Bush Legacy Circle advocate, Judy Henderson AO.

Read More
Feral cat.

06/07/2021

The challenge of cats

Sarah Legge (Professor at ANU and a Principal Research Fellow with The University of Queensland) discusses the urgent need for species protection from the impact of cats.

Read More
Leanne and Paul Hales at Yourka Reserve.

11/02/2021

Yourka Bush Chat

In this 50-minute webinar, Paul and Leanne Hales (Healthy Landscape Manager and Volunteer Coordinator) share their stories with you direct from beautiful Yourka Reserve lookout.

Read More
Garry McDonald with seedlings.

04/01/2021

Climate-ready reveg

A webinar with our science staff to discuss the impacts of heat and drought on eucalypts at Nardoo Hills in Victoria and our innovative climate-adjusted revegetation project.

Read More
Screenshot from WA wildflowers webinar.

18/12/2020

WA wildflowers

Ecologist Angela Sanders and Alex Hams (Healthy Landscape Manager in South West WA) discuss our Fitz-Stirling reserves. Botanist Libby Sandiford  presents  floral assessments.

Read More
A blazing wildfire.

04/12/2020

Bushfire impact & recovery

A year on from the 2019 bushfire season, how Bush Heritage Australia and WIRES are working collaboratively to help secure the future of all native species.

Read More
Cissy Gore-Birch.

20/11/2020

Aboriginal partnerships webinar

Take a deep dive on Aboriginal Partnerships and right-way science in this 50-minute webinar with Cissy Gore-Birch.

Read More
Loading...
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}