by Lisa O'Sullivan
Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef and his sons William Henry Dudley, Ernest Albert, and Albert Sherbourne shared more than an inclination for long-winded names. Each of these members of the Le Souef family possessed a fascination for the natural world, and an enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge of Australia's animal life with others. This family's passion has had a huge impact on our knowledge and awareness of Australian wildlife.
A.A.C. Le Souef arrived in Australia in 1840, and became the Director of the Melbourne Zoological Gardens in 1870. He was succeeded by his son W.H. Dudley in 1902. His younger sons, Ernest Albert, and Albert Sherbourne, established Zoological Gardens in Sydney and in Perth. Other members of the family acted as librarians, secretaries and veterinarians to the zoos of Australia. The family's duties were often interspersed with field trips, both in Australia and overseas, to add to their collections of animals and insects.
Growing up in the grounds of the Melbourne Zoo obviously had a huge impact on Cecil Le Souef, who was affectionately known as 'Zooie' his entire life. W.H. Dudley's children had night-time adventures that most children can only imagine: patrolling a zoo with a torch and gun; or waking to find your pet terrier attacking an escaped leopard, as the Le Souef sisters did one night. 'Zooie' wrote numerous articles and stories, both popular and scientific. His radio program on 3LO's Children's Hour told a national audience not only of his childhood adventures at the zoo, but also encouraged children to develop an interest in understanding and protecting Australian fauna. Eventually, Zooie fulfilled the dream that had been passed onto him by his father, and established the Belgrave Fauna Park and the Rosebud Aquarium and Museum.
The Le Souef archival collection covers three generations of the family's personal and professional commitment to exploring the natural world. Looking through the papers the Le Souef family have left behind is a lesson in the changing way Australians have viewed their surroundings and appreciated their environment.
Early photographs from the Melbourne Zoo show rows of small and unattractive cages. The main aim of the Zoo at that time was the 'acclimatisation' of animals from Europe. It seems that Australia 'riding on the sheep's back' was not the first thought of many naturalists in the nineteenth century. South American Alpaca and Llamas were thought to be the ideal animals for wool production in Australia, and accordingly there were continued expensive and unsuccessful attempts to breed them in large numbers.
However, animals were not only brought over for economic reasons, but also for hunting; to ease the homesickness of new arrivals; and to provide the trims and decorations for the fashionable of the day. As Zooie Le Souef pointed out in an article in the 1960s, the Acclimatisation Societies have always denied any role in the introduction of rabbits to the country.
Zoos themselves have changed much since their founding days, both in appearance and role. The old bare cages have gradually been replaced by larger and more natural environments for the animals, and zoos have expanded their role both in education and in the preservation of endangered species. The zoological gardens of Australia have played an enormous role in educating Australians about their native animals and helping them to appreciate its worth. But the old glass slides of the Melbourne Zoo's Tasmanian Tigers should remind us that collecting can go too far, and that our wealth of natural heritage should not be wholly confined to cages and displays.