George Bornemissza OAM – Winner of the inaugural Australian Geographic Society, Conservationist of the Year Award.
George Bornemissza OAM Entomologist George Bornemissza oversaw the introduction of the bovine dung beetle to Australia – one of the most successful introductions of an exotic species in history.
MY LIFETIME PROJECTS – BY GEORGE BORNEMISSZA OAM
It is exactly seven days ago since I met a gentleman in a hospital waiting room. After exchanging polite conversation, he asked where I had come from, because he couldn’t identify my accent. I laughingly replied that I would challenge him to work it out for himself, to which he said that he would need some clues. I said: ‘Very well, then, it is not a Latin language group, not German, not Slav and not Greek, either!” He registered his perplexity, whereupon I came to his rescue by saying: “It is a European group of languages of course and the country from which I came is in Central Europe.” Finally, I asked him if he had ever heard of Attila the Hun. His eyes lit up. I said: ‘My people and the Huns spoke the same language, and used the same writing. Their ancestry goes back to Sumeria, home of the Rosetta stone and clay tablets of cuneiform writing.” Not wishing to torment him any further, I told him that I came from Hungary as a refugee, who had lost everything except my foreign accent!
Upon my arrival in Western Australia on the first of January 1951, I embarked on a lifelong journey, which has brought me to this occasion, courtesy of the Australian Geographic Society. This journey has been packed with surprises and has challenged my enterprising spirit.
As a coleopterist, an ecologist and an admirer of Charles Darwin since the age of fifteen, it fulfilled my long-cherished dream of doing ‘SOMETHING BIG’ which had never been done before! On the twenty-fifth of October 1951, I experienced a revelation when I walked through a small pasture with five or six dairy cows grazing on the lush, spring grass. I watched them dodging fresh droppings and the rank growth which surrounded the old ones, both of which badly polluted the pasture and when I examined the cow pads and observed minimal beetle activity with hardly any true dung beetles present, I recognised immediately that this was a truly ecological challenge which I could address.
I asked myself: “Was this a local phenomenon, or did it occur throughout the country?”
During the following three years whilst I worked in the Zoology Department of the University of Western Australia, I undertook several large research trips for general collection of insects, paying close attention to the dung-littered pastures and poor beetle activity. Subsequently, I secured a research job in the Entomology Division of CSIRO in Canberra, which provided me with huge opportunities to travel from Wilson’s Promontory to Cooktown and all over the country. As a result I found that a similar picture prevailed.
By 1957, I was sufficiently confident to propose to my Chief that the grazing and dairy industries of Australia could benefit enormously from the importation of exotic bovine-dung beetles. In 1965 funding was available and my journey began to find appropriate species. This entailed travelling to 32 countries, on three continents, culminating in South Africa where I established a research station with quarantine facilities. From Pretoria, surface-sterilized bovine-dung beetle eggs, were air lifted directly to Canberra.
Thus began the safest importation of an organism into Australia under the strictest Department of Health regulations and one of the most successful projects of biological control ever carried out anywhere.
Since then, the practical, economic and financial benefits to the pastoral industry have been inestimable and will continue to be so until the end of time.
Since my retirement, I have turned my attention to the damage to biodiversity and habitat destruction, due to land clearance and forestry practices around the world and unfortunately, also in Australia. I couldn’t let these catastrophic events pass by without focusing attention upon future generations.
Since 1983, I embarked upon an ambitious project of assembling endangered beetle species from around the world. This has culminated, so far, in my donation to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery of over six thousand specimens, entitled “Forest Beauties of the Beetle World – A Tribute to Biodiversity and Habitat Protection, “ and will include approximately, a further two thousand beetles upon completion. This unique collection represents a new genre in museum displays. A part of its uniqueness is in the aesthetic arrangement of the specimens in order to maximise the viewers’ attention and delight.
In conclusion, I would like to sincerely thank the Australian Geographic Society for this prestigious award in recognition of my lifetime dedication to the people of Australia.
GEORGE BORNEMISSZA – 9 OCTOBER 2008