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17 July, 2021

Local conservationists recognised with OAM

WHILE studying the wonders of a remote island north west of Madagascar, Doctors Cliff and Dawn Frith immediately knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.


Dr Dawn Frith and Dr Cliff Frith have received an OAM after 50 years of dedicated conservation and environmental work.

BY ELLIE FINK 

WHILE studying the wonders of a remote island north west of Madagascar, Doctors Cliff and Dawn Frith immediately knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

Now 50 years on and hand in hand, the Malanda locals have been awarded an Order Of Australia Medal (OAM). 

The couple have dedicated their lives together in conservation and will officially receive their OAM award in Brisbane for their outstanding contributions to conservation and the environment. 

Together they have published 150 peer reviewed journals and 15 illustrated books and have received seven prestigious awards thus far. 

Dr Cliff had a passion for the way the world works through Charles Darwin's “The Wonders of Life on Earth” from the ripe age of 11, which led him to a lifetime of his own research.

Dr Dawn became interested in the frogs in her garden as a child and their behaviours, which led her to an interest in ecology and eventually a PhD study. 

“I became particularly interested in the chapters on Bowerbirds and wild Birds of Paradise and from a very young age I determined that I wanted to go further in studying them,” Dr Cliff said. 

“My family immigrated to Australia when I was 15 in 1965 and when I began schooling here it was all too hard so I ended up leaving school and working at Taronga Zoo, so I had no school qualifications at all.” 

Dr Cliff then moved back to England at the age of 17, which brought him the opportunity of a lifetime with the British Museum of Natural History. 

“They needed someone who knew about birds in Australia to go on an eight month Fifth Harold Hall Expedition,” he said. 

“It was the first time coming face to face with a bowerbird and it expanded my interest in the bird so much more. 

“We were in a very remote area on an island near Madagascar and that's where I met Dawn, who was studying insects during the same exhibition.” 

This exhibition would become a turning point in both the Frith’s lives, becoming the starting point of their 50 years of research and discoveries together. 

“Very quickly we fell in love on this tropical island and spent a year afterwards writing our research together in our cottage in England,” Dr Cliff said. 

The couple then moved to Thailand to conduct more research on birds, snakes and frogs and then later found themselves settling in Paluma, Far North Queensland. 

Many years on, Dr Cliff said that he was humbled and shocked when he received a letter in the mail saying they had been nominated for an OAM. 

“A few months went past after that letter and we didn’t hear anything, but then we received another one to say we had received one together for our contribution to conservation and the environment,” he said. 

“It is so thrilling that Dawn and I could receive this award together, it is almost unreal. 

“We spent 50 years of our lives making amazing life changing discoveries together, especially on bowerbirds and birds of paradise which previously no one had previous knowledge on.” 

Dr Cliff is currently writing a memoir of the last 50 years with Dr Dawn and the amazing discoveries they have made together. 

“She has never left my side over the last 50 years and I am particularly thrilled that we have had such a wonderful life together, it has been truly unbelievable for us to be in this together.” 

The OAM Association will welcome the couple down south in the coming months to except their medal.


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