Spotted on ABC Australia …
“An 87-year-old field recordist has been honoured for his life’s work preserving the songs of birdlife and capturing the sounds of Western Australia’s Aboriginal communities. John Hutchinson has donated rare copies of his first field recordings and notes to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA).
They were handed over at a ceremony celebrating his achievements.
SLWA chief executive Margaret Allen said the latest gift complements the collection of over 300 tapes of bird song Mr Hutchinson had already donated to the library along with his “meticulous” field notes and other published works.
“The bird calls and the recordings of Aboriginal song will be treasured by State Library users for years to come,” she said.
Mr Hutchinson began recording wildlife sounds in 1956.
“I love nature, and I realised that you and I are part of nature and all that comes into it,” he said.
“My main interest was actual bird songs and so I was recording the sounds of them first.”
Mr Hutchinson worked for the Department of Agriculture until he was 44, and then retired to spend the rest of his days recording in the bush.
“I kept going because of my sheer love for it, because I was determined to get better and better quality sounds,” he said.
He spent months at a time doing fieldwork in remote locations in WA and said he even contracted scurvy.
“I found I had to get well away from man-made sounds which would disturb my recordings so I went bush,” he said.
“The outback people call scurvy barcoo rot, I got barcoo rot well and truly.”
Traditional songs preserved by recording
Mr Hutchinson’s recordings of the songs and music of remote Aboriginal communities from the Pilbara are not known to have be captured by anybody else.
Pilbara traditional owners Bruce Thomas and Alfred Baker travelled to Perth to receive copies of traditional songs recorded near the Mulga Downs Station in 1959.
Mr Thomas, from the Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre, said he had never heard the song before but it could now be taught to young people.
“They can practice and sing along, it’s family song,” he said.
“[Young people can] get their language back, listen and learn.
“Old people’s recording technology was their minds. They would dream the song but when the old people are gone, that story go with them.
“Now we can listen to our song, our culture, and pass it on but this one is really important, we can visit our old people.”
Mr Hutchinson never married or had children but has seven other siblings and a large family that supports him.
Originally from Wyalkatchem, 200km north-east of Perth, he now resides in Dunsborough in the state’s South West.
His niece, Jan Malcolm, described him as an “enigma”.
“He is complete loner, he is very happy in his own company,” she said.
“He lives very, very frugally.
“He has the most amazing knowledge of bush tucker and he made a bit of money selling his recordings.
“He’d put them all in the back of his car and drive over to eastern states and he’d go into the ABC shops and the tourist shops and leave his cassettes of bird calls.”
Mr Hutchinson has produced two records, four CDs, seven audio cassettes and two books.”