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Sounds from Sydney’s past

a tall building in a city

In a quiet alleyway off George Street, Angel Place holds an art installation with such a magical quality. Hanging high above the alley is an array of mismatched empty birdcages, and while you’re looking up to appreciate the display, you may hear the sound of birdsong quietly drifting through the air.

This creation was originally installed as a temporary artwork. It was decided to become a permanent edition to the city CBD but as people flocked to the alleyway to see the “Forgotten Songs” installation. This commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.

Habitat loss is credited as the biggest threat to bird survival. At present there are 129 species of bird’s native to New South Wales formally listed as extinct or threatened with extinction. The recordings you can hear in Forgotten Songs are from bird species that sang in central Sydney. Some of these birds can still be heard on the city margins where they find food and nesting sites in thick native vegetation, while others have retracted still further.

Bigger opportunists like the white ibis and sulphur crested cockatoos, as well as introduced species like pigeons and mynahs, all thrive in the city CBD. These are the calls we often notice in the city today, if we can hear anything above the traffic.

IMAGE CREDIT: Caity Pfohl

engineering drawing