THE 2000 NATIONAL CONVENTION IN MELBOURNE
For everyone who missed it, the millennium ANGFA Convention, held over the October 20-22 weekend in Melbourne at Cilomís Airport Lodge, was a beauty! Even the weather-gods were kind to us and Melbourneís notoriously fickle meteorology was continuously pleasant.
The venue was convenient to transport, quite modern and staff and facilities complemented each other to provide smooth sailing for both organisers and participants. I would especially like to congratulate Ken Smales and his ANGFA Victoria organising committee on the catering rarely does one see better value in both quality and quantity at similar functions. Another big plus was the extended availability of bar service for a convivial drink and discussion, especially in the evenings after official business was over.
Friday evening brought the ANGFA AGM and the usual officersí reports followed by regional reports and a discussion on the publications survey we conducted after last yearís AGM. As both the management committee and the publications subcommittee had declined to stand again, the election of the new more decentralised committee was a pleasant surprise to most attendees. It is intended that communication by email, fax and phone will facilitate discussions between this widespread group.
Both Ken Smales and Neil Armstrong were proposed and accepted as life members and join Ron Bowman as the only members so honoured. SANFAs proposal to host next yearís convention in Adelaide was confirmed and possible future conventions in Perth and Port Macquarie were discussed. After a relatively amiable meeting closed, members convened to the bar for more further informal discussion.
The new ANGFA office bearers are: president Mark Chettle; vice-president Bruce Hansen; treasurer Glenn Briggs; secretary Tony Mather; membership officer Damian Walsh; public officer Neil Travis; regional liaison Robert Marshall (SA), Syd Adams (WA), David Crass (NSW), Andy Wattam (ACT), Dave Wilson (NT); Editor Rudie Kuiter.
The Convention proper began on Saturday morning after final registrations. The welcoming audio visual presentation featured a superb selection of Neil Armstrongís habitat and wildlife images complemented by background theme music of I Still Call Australia Home. From then on, for the next two days, we were treated to a feast of first-class sessions from local, interstate and international presenters some of whom we had been fortunate to hear before but several new faces too.
First was Phillip Littlejohn, who has over 20 years of experience handling fish for Australiaís largest importer of aquarium fish. Phi] showed us an array of fascinating aquatic organisms (including crustacea, snails, leeches, sponges etc, as well as fish) that he has collected and identified over the years. As he also shared his experiences in trying to maintain them in aquaria, I hope Phillip also writes this experience down somewhere and allows access to it from a wider range of enthusiasts. Included in his slide show was an unusual colour form of Galaxiella pusilia that is awaiting further evaluation.
Gunther Schmida gave a presentation entitled Have Camera - Do Travel. Gunther has been photographing Australian wildlife, both in the field and under captive conditions, for over 35 years and has a special interest in the cold-blooded Australians. His photographic skills are second to none and we were treated to a wide range of habitats and their reptiles, amphibians and fishes, as well as the flora and other fauna encountered in his many and varied travels. The slides were accompanied by Guntherís expert comments which included size, range, rarity, diet, etc.
After an excellent morning tea in the trade room with its extensive range of merchandise available to attendees, we returned to a session by Franz-Peter Mullenholz called Australia for Aliens and Beginners. With his wife Ulli, he has been to Australia seven times and has recorded his experiences with a huge number of slides. This was not, however, just a simple slide show but a superb audiovisual presentation. It included stories woven around places and people they met along the way, the landscapes, the creatures and their appreciation of their experiences all narrated by Ulli and with the human touch and wry sense of humour. The three pairs of carousels accompanied by carefully selected background music were over all too soon and I, for one, can hardly wait for the chance to experience another of Franz-Peterís masterpieces.
After a buffet lunch to sate even the heartiest of well-known ANGFA appetites, the first afternoon session started with Tarmo Raadik, who is senior biologist (Freshwater Ecology) at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research. Tarmoís presentation was on Fish of Cardross Lakes Their Significance and Management. With the aid of slides and overheads we were given insight into the history of how the lakes and their hydrology have changed since settlement and agricultural development, and the current threat to them and their inhabitants by current implications from the local Salinity Management Plan. The survey has revealed a high diversity of native fish species (ten), including four listed as threatened. This list also included a population of the Southern Purple spotted Gudgeon. Consequently, conservation measures have had to be implemented which will parallel the other management priorities for the region.
Next came Bob McDowall with Around the World with Galaxiids. For me Bob was the find of the whole convention he grabbed the audience with his passion for the subject, entertained them with anecdotes, hints and humour and impressed them with the totality of his grasp. He is the leading authority in the world on this group and it was wonderful to have him there sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm. According to Bob, the most amazing freshwater fish in the world is Lepidogalaxias salamandroides and he should know!
After the afternoon tea break (again excellent fare) we were invited to fasten our seat belts and go adventuring with Heiko Bleher once more. Heiko has been the star of many an ANGFA convention, with his almost obsessional worldwide quests for rare and unusual fishes. If he hears about a new habitat or a new fish he has to go to where it is and, if unable to bring it home, return again and again, irrespective of obstacle, until he brings them back alive. This presentation the first of his two over the weekend concerned his three trips to New Guinea to collect the legendary Melanotaenia angfa, finally culminating in success last year. While holding us spell bound with the beauty of the region and its inhabitants, the diversity of his interests and descriptions of the events surrounding the trips the master story teller gave us a glimpse of the new fish species aquarists of the world are about to embrace.
The Saturday evening is always the traditional time set aside for the Convention dinner, and Cilomís looked after us very well indeed. This was followed by an extensive auction of a list of rare and unusual fish and plants as well as hobby-related goods and literature. Our auctioneers kept up a lively pace and bidding was spirited with some excellent prices realised as well as some real bargains obtained. Most of the offerings were donated to the association and this generosity is greatly appreciated. Some treasures rarely offered included Red-finned Blue-eyes from the Australian artesian springs and an array of New Guinean Rainbowfishes such as Papuaes, Monticolas, Wannamensis, Ramuensis, etc. Finally there was the wind-down fellowship in the bar until the wee small hours.
Sunday morningís program started with a spectacular combined audio visual production from Gilbert Maebe from Belgium and Franz-Peter Mullenholz from Cologne entitled Aquatic Symphony. They produced this for a combined show by a European federation of aquarium clubs and it was an extremely professional effort we were entranced as superb aquascape after superb aquascape appeared on the screen all accompanied by beautiful classical music. Their photography and their skills of compilation complemented the subject aquaria beautifully.
Next up was the return of Gunther Schmida this time presenting From the Gulf to the Cape. Gunther has recently spent several weeks working in Mt Isa and on finishing there journeyed up to the tip of Cape York before returning home to Mudgeeraba. This slide show featured the habitats and wildlife he encountered along the way, treating us to a broad canvas of things that caught his eye and, in turn, captured with his lens. Especially, Gunther used this trip to obtain habitat shots for many of the fishes that he had photographed over the years at home in his photographic tanks. Numerous ANGFA members and other fish-friends who had collected and raised them to adulthood had loaned these specimens to him. Of course his interest in reptiles was obvious as well and the fantastic number of Goanna species to be found around Mt Isa was a feature.
After another impressive morning tea, we had Bob McDowall and More Galaxiids and Freshwater Fish of New Zealand; once again his enthusiasm and wide knowledge of the subject was evident throughout. Interestingly enough, even in New Zealand, new species are still being recognised and subsequently described. Of the smaller fishes more suited to aquarium care, the spectrum of "bullies" (Gobiomorphus species) that have evolved in that country was fascinating. Bob certainly aroused our interest in their intriguing freshwater fish fauna, several groups of which we share with this neighbouring nation.
The final presentation for the morning was Ten Years Later from Gilbert Maebe. Gilbert has been an ANGFA member for many years since he became interested in Rainbowfish. He was one of the first overseas recipients of mail order eggs from Ron Bowman. In those early days there was very limited access to anything more than a handful of species, and reliable genetic stock from a known locality or river drainage was impossible to procure over there. Gilbertís show, narrated by his son Stefan, led us through the trials and tribulations of those early experiences and his subsequent journeys to Australia and even New Guinea to see and collect his beloved Rainbowfishes. The highlight of the early years was the moving selection of cartoons drawn by his friend Franz of Gilbert with his empty tanks ready, waiting for the postman to bring the eggs from Australia. Gilbert generously supports ANGFA conventions regularly with his beautiful and professional lecture shows and this was one of his best.
The afternoon program began with Ivor Stuart who informed us on Migration: The Journeys of Fish and the People that Follow Them. Ivor has major expertise in this field with extensive experience on several major fishway projects in Queensland and more recently in Victoria where he is studying movements and spawning patterns of Carp. His fascinating presentation introduced us to the places, people, techniques and species involved. His studies not only are concerned with the major spawning runs of many species, but also with the territorial and exploratory movement patterns of individuals. His work and that of his colleagues will hopefully help us to reduce the impacts of development, especially dam construction, on our native fishes and their habitats and habits.
The penultimate presentation, from Neil Armstrong (ANGFAís foundation photographer), took us to a place where few people are privileged to go The Arafura Swamp. Neilís love of nature and all things Australian, together with his expert photographerís eye for detail, have always made his slide shows something special. We appreciated this rare glimpse of a part of Australia that is not open to most. The Arafura Swamp is a huge inland freshwater area supplied with water by the famous Goyder River and draining to the Arafura Sea via the Glyde River. The swamp is a massive aquatic paradise with a profusion of aquatic plants and animals ranging from massive estuarine crocodiles to the delicate little Threadfin Rainbowfish (lriatherina werneri). Nestled on the edge of this huge expanse is the isolated Aboriginal community of Mirrngadja, trying to maintain their identity and traditions.
The finale, fittingly from Heiko Bleher, who over the years has given us so many unforgettable presentations, was an African blockbuster centred on the mysterious region of Ethiopia. Heiko has explored the area extensively looking for new fishes and collecting material for articles in his Aqua Geographica magazine. Wherever he goes, Heiko is fascinated by and appreciative of not only the fauna and flora but also the folk as a consequence people feature strongly in his presentations. Throughout we were held spellbound by the stories and images. As usual we were left entranced and wondering what could he possibly come up with next time. I look forward to it as will many others.
Suddenly it was all over for another year the official part that is. There was still the informal BBQ dinner that evening and tours and visits the next day for those fortunate enough to be able to stay on.
The closing speeches and slides were a fitting finish to another great ANGFA Convention dare I say it, in many respects, the best yet.