Vale Margaret Cameron AM, 1937–2023

Monday, 2 October 2023

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Vale Margaret Cameron AM, 1937–2023

The passing of a tireless and enthusiastic President

BirdLife Australia is sad to announce the passing of one of its most enthusiastic Presidents, Margaret Cameron. She was 86.

Margaret was the President of the RAOU (one of our predecessor organisations) — just the third woman to hold that office — serving in that role between 1986 and 1989. She had been a member of our organisation since 1969, and remained so until her recent passing.

Unlike most of her presidential predecessors, Margaret was not a professional ornithologist, instead forging a decorated career as a librarian (though she devoted much of her spare time to birds as an exuberant amateur). It is no surprise that our H.L. White Library grew to become one of the most outstanding ornithological libraries in the Southern Hemisphere under Margaret’s presidency.

Margaret’s childhood was spent in rural Queensland, which afforded many opportunities to observe the local birdlife, which abounded in the surrounding bushland, with this budding interest in birds being readily encouraged by her father.

Always a bright student, after initially attending local schools, Margaret later enrolled at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane, where her academic skills were keenly honed. She subsequently pursued a career in academic librarianship, first serving in the Public Library of Queensland, then the Australian Reference Library at the Australian Consulate General in New York, followed by stints in libraries at Queensland, Flinders and Macquarie Universities.

It was her appointment as the University Librarian at Deakin University Library in Geelong in 1977 which saw a peak in her activity. She served in that role until 1986, when she was appointed as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University, a position she held for three years. Although her tenure as Pro Vice-Chancellor coincided exactly with her presidency of the RAOU, she didn’t skimp on either role, and her hands-on, in-the-field approach to her presidency made her one of the most well-known ornithologists in Australia.

Also a member of many other bird-related organisations across the country, Margaret was an especially keen member of the Geelong Field Naturalists’ Club — indeed, she was an omnipresent force for that organisation and a life member — and she edited their quarterly journal, the Geelong Naturalist, for eight years. She also served as a member of the Council of the Museum of Victoria as well as various advisory groups to federal and state governments.

Margaret’s knowledge of birds was legendary, and she eagerly passed on snippets of her vast knowledge to young, up-and-coming ornithologists. Indeed, she said that it’s important to make people feel interested in and enthusiastic about birds “because this encourages them to protect habitat and support conservation”.

Margaret was also a regular at various RAOU Congresses and their accompanying Campouts, seldom missing out on the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and meet new ones — whether human or avian! Indeed, she was a keen twitcher with an enviable life list, and she was a regular among the crowds of twitchers who had gathered to catch a glimpse of some rare phalarope, sandpiper or suchlike vagrant.

There were few bird surveys that Margaret didn’t get involved in with her characteristic vigour: she was a regular sight trudging through the saltmarsh in search of Orange-bellied Parrots or scanning the mudflats for migratory shorebirds, striding through the bush in pursuit of a calling whistler or cuckoo or attaching a band to the long legs of an oystercatcher. And she always encouraged others to get involved.

Not only a colossus when out in the field, Margaret was also, unsurprisingly, a rigorous administrator for our organisation, including serving on the RAOU Council from 1980, and later being Convenor of the Victorian Group of the RAOU, as well as shaking up various other committees, and as a Regional Organiser for the Atlas (now Birdata), she patiently and thoroughly vetted many thousands of data sheets (many of which were her own). Indeed, she was a keen supporter of so many of our projects, from the Atlas to BoPWatch, to the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, and many others too numerous to name.

Margaret’s many achievements have not gone unrecognised. She was awarded our highest honour — Fellowship of the RAOU — in 1993, three years after receiving a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to “library services, education and to ornithology”, and she was named as one of the ‘People of the Century in Australian Ornithology’. She also received an honorary Doctorate from Deakin University and Fellowship of the Library Association of Australia.

It’s difficult to believe that one person could cram so much activity into a single lifetime.

Margaret eventually left her beloved Geelong, making the move back to Queensland so she could spend her later years being close to her family, and that’s where she passed away peacefully.

Vale Margaret.