The table was decorated with wattle flowers and the nest of a Ground Thrush, complete with fresh eggs. There was talk around the table — serious talk — about the formation of an ornithological union, as in Britain and the USA, but it took a few more years and a few more dinners before they resolved to proceed. A committee was formed to solicit members for a truly national organisation, in line with the mood for federation at the time. They were successful in attracting 137 members, including six women.
In 1901, the Australasian Ornithologist's Union was hatched:
'The Objects of the Society are the advancement and popularisation of the Science of Ornithology, the protection of useful and ornamental avifauna, and the publication of a magazine called The Emu; Thus bird students will be kept in touch with one another, original study will be aided, and an Australian want supplied.'
With the blessing of the British monarch, King George V, the 'Royal' was added in 1910 and somewhere along the way the apostrophe was dropped to become the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU). This name persisted until 1997, when the RAOU became Birds Australia.
A few years after the AOU came into being, a group of 15 of its members decided to form an organisation that complemented the role of the Union by holding regular meetings to cater for the needs of people interested in field ornithology.
Thus the Bird Observers Club, an association of field ornithologists, was formed in 1905. Its membership would be restricted initially to only 25 gentlemen, but it would soon burgeon, and eventually it allowed women to join.
Over the ensuing decades, both organisations worked diligently to observe and conserve Australia’s birds, clocking up many achievements along the way — sometimes they worked together in cooperation, sometimes they worked as rivals.
However, by the late 20th century, the aims and activities of the two organisations had begun to converge.
Although research and conservation had always been at the forefront of Birds Australia’s activities, the emphasis had swung from ornithology based on collecting to ornithology for conservation, and included projects such as the Australian Bird Count and the Atlas of Australian Birds which actively encouraged its members to monitor birds in the field. At around the same time, the Bird Observers’ Club of Australia (or BOCA — it changed its name in 1988), expanded its involvement in bird conservation issues, and to better reflect this emphasis, changed its name to Bird Observation & Conservation Australia in 2007.