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For the love of birds

Ann Jones, Sean Dooley, Charlotte McConaghy and Richard Kingsford on stage

I think we have a really profound connection with birds, they're both alien to us in the way that they live and exist in the world and yet they're very very familiar to us as well. They're perhaps the wildest creature that we share spaces with on a day to day basis and we imbue them with so much meaning.

Charlotte McConaghy


A major upside to the pandemic has been a falling back in love with the natural world as people, confined to their homes, see their local landscapes through reinvigorated eyes. Birdwatching, and the citizen science of the backyard bird count, is booming.  

So close, yet so far, these enigmatic creatures inspire the awe and affection of fans, who passionately lobby for their bird of the year and diligently record millions of informational gems in birdwatching apps. 

But the news is not all good. As scientists and amateurs document worrying declines in bird populations, from climate change and development, there’s never been a more vital time to talk about what birds mean to us and what we can do to protect them.  

Hear this lively panel discussion, hosted by Ann Jones, presenter of the ABC’s What the Duck?!, in conversation with ecologist Richard Kingsford, writer and birdwatcher Sean Dooley, and bestselling author Charlotte McConaghy, and you’ll certainly be among friends. Find out why people love birds so much, how this love grew during the pandemic and why taking action to protect birds is more important than ever.  


The Jack Beale Public Lecture Series was established in 1999 by the Honourable Dr Jack Beale AO, a passionate advocate of environmental management and the first Minister for the Environment in Australia (NSW Parliament). The Jack Beale Lecture provides the opportunity for a prominent individual to examine Australia’s environmental responsibilities, opportunities and performance within a global context. Past speakers have included Professor Paul Ehrlich, Dr Rajendra Pachauri and Dr David Suzuki.

This event is presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Science as part of National Science Week and Sydney Science Festival

Charlotte McConaghy

Charlotte McConaghy

Charlotte McConaghy is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Once There Were Wolves which won the Indie Book Award for Fiction 2022 and a Nautilus Gold Award. She also wrote the international bestseller Migrations, a TIME Magazine Best Book of the Year and the Best Fiction Book of the Year for 2020, which is being translated into over twenty languages and adapted for film. She has both a Graduate Degree in Screenwriting and a Masters Degree in Screen Arts, and lives in Sydney with her partner and son.  

Sean Dooley

Sean Dooley

Sean Dooley is an Australian writer, conservationist and birdwatcher. His passion for birdwatching began as a child living in a bay side suburb of Melbourne. He vividly recalls getting out of bed as a small boy and following the coo of a spotted dove. Sean says everywhere he goes he is thinking about birds, and in family photos he can often be seen looking to the sky.  

Sean is the National Public Affairs Manager at BirdLife Australia and is the founding editor of Australian Birdlife magazine, author of The Big Twitch and former holder of the Australian Big Year twitching record, when he held the national Australian birdwatching record for seeing the most birds (703 species) in one year. Sean Dooley is the Birdman. 

Richard Kingsford

Richard Kingsford

Richard Kingsford is the Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney. He is a river ecologist and conservation biologist who has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin and Lake Eyre Basin. This year marks his 40th annual aerial pilgrimage to survey the waterbirds of eastern Australia, a powerful project that enables researchers to observe changes in wetland conditions over the long-term.  

Richard worked for the New South Wales (NSW) Government Environment Agency from 1986-2004 and has also worked with numerous communities and local governments across this region. His research has influenced the policy and management of rivers in Australia, including through his involvement on state and federal advisory committees.  

He also leads a reintroduction, or rewilding, project called Wild Deserts, in Sturt National Park (NSW), the Ramsar Wetlands project, as well as collaborating on the Platypus Conservation Initiative and Red-Listing of Ecosystems. He has a keen focus on creating effective and lasting conservation actions and policies through adaptive management approaches and engaging with communities.   

Ann Jones

Ann Jones | Chairperson

A journalist and presenter with an engaging and energetic approach to live events, Ann Jones has the ability to observe the unusual and bring it to life in creative ways. With her strong connection to content, she can command small and large audiences with agility and flexibility. Currently a network presenter with ABC Radio National, Ann can be heard across Australia showcasing the best of nature, adventure and scientific research on her weekly program, What the Duck?! She also presents children's nature adventure podcast Noisy by Nature, and nature and science programming for ABC TV (such as Catalyst) and online (such as How Deadly).  

With a PhD in history from the Australian National University and a broadcasting degree from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Ann is at ease with any audience, with a special affinity with those who have a connection to land and nature. A genuine communicator, Ann’s unique mix of gentle authority and empathy leads people to discover intrigue, even in the mundane.  

Dr Ann Jones appears by arrangement with Claxton Speakers International. 

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