World-renowned naturalist celebrated during the Australian Museum’s 190th anniversary year, with Lifetime Patron award and new genus named in his honour

Global treasure Sir David Attenborough today received the Australian Museum’s highest honour, Lifetime Patron, and had a new genus named after him, at a special event marking the start of the AM’s 190th anniversary year.
Sir David was awarded Lifetime Patron in recognition of his lifetime’s work in the fields of natural science and conservation. The Australian Museum (AM) also named its newly discovered genus after him, the Attenborougharion rubicundus – a snail 35-45 mm long, found only in Tasmania.
The Hon Don Harwin MLC, Minister for the Arts, said that he was thrilled that one of his first official duties as Minister is to welcome Sir David to Sydney, especially during the year that Australia’s first museum celebrates its 190th anniversary.
“I have long admired Sir David’s work, and I speak on behalf of all of us, in that we are very thankful to Sir David for his passion in championing science, culture and communication internationally, and are delighted that he has been able to join us during this important milestone year for the Australian Museum,” he said.
In presenting the honour, Australian Museum Trust President Catherine Livingstone AO said that Sir David’s contribution to generating awareness of the natural world was unprecedented.
“There is no one else – you have no peer,” she said. “Australia and the international community have benefited from your curiosity, knowledge, and unending commitment to the natural world to bring us the stories, and make us aware of the challenges we face, in a way that no one else has been able to do.”
Sir David Attenborough said that he was deeply honoured to receive the award from Australia’s first museum.
“The Australian Museum, when it was founded 190 years ago, had the extraordinary and unique responsibility of starting the first systematic collection of the animals of an entire continent,” Sir David Attenborough said.
“Today, it is a scientific centre of world importance, and it is a great honour to be made a Lifetime Patron,” he added.
Kim McKay AO, Director and CEO of the Australian Museum, said that Sir David’s enduring support of the 190 year old museum was invaluable.
“Sir David’s remarkable contribution throughout his 90 years – almost as long as the Australian Museum has been in existence, give or take a century – is outstanding,” she said.
“He has inspired our scientists and visitors alike, dating back to his earliest visits hosting lectures for AM Members in the 1980s, to visits to the AM’s collection of ancient fish fossils in Canowindra, to more recent trips to the AM’s Lizard Island Research Station as part of filming for his Great Barrier Reef documentary series,” she said.
The association with the AM continued last year, when the Australian Museum hosted the hugely successful Australian premieres of David Attenborough’s Virtual Reality Experiences:  First Life and Great Barrier Reef Dive.
“The discovery of the new snail genus by Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) scientists Dr. Frank Koehler and Dr. Isabel Hyman in December 2016 was a natural candidate to be named after Sir David. Listed as Vulnerable on the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species, this small creature is brightly coloured green and red and is only found in 85 square kilometres of forest in south east Tasmania,” McKay said.
The recognition of Sir David Attenborough as Lifetime Patron of the Australian Museum, and a genus named in his honour, kicks off a year of activities celebrating the 190th anniversary of the iconic internationally respected institution.
Since its inception in 1827, the AM has discovered and described thousands of new species, welcomed more than 34 million visitors to its historic William Street site (opened 1857) and published countless scientific papers.
Today, the AM continues a legacy of world-renowned research and award-winning exhibitions, while looking to the next ten years of continued growth through its Master Plan, barrabuwari muru, announced at the end of 2016.
In its 190 year history, the Australian Museum has:

  • Collected more than 18 million scientific specimens and cultural artefacts, including the world’s largest Pacific collection and one of the nation’s most significant Indigenous collections.
  • Welcomed more than 34 million visitors to its historic William Street site (opened in 1857), and helped to educate more than 5 million school students through education programs over that time.
  • Discovered, described and published research papers on thousands of new species, and established the Australian Museum Research Institute to lead the nation in the field of biodiversity research.
  • Undertaken more than 100 scientific expeditions, with this year marking the AM’s return to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lord Howe Island for a major expedition that includes climbing the sheer cliff face of Balls Pyramid.
  • Led the nation in the advancement of Citizen Science, through multi-award winning programs such as DigiVol – an online community that catalogues the collection, and an initiative that has been adopted by museums internationally, including the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
  • Commenced a transformation of the AM’s historic site, building the award-winning Crystal Hall entrance on William Street (2015); opened the AM’s first new permanent gallery space in 50 years, Wild Planet (2015); commenced work on the restoration of Australia’s first gallery – the Long Gallery (reopening 2017 as the Westpac Long Gallery); and announced a comprehensive Master Plan for the future of the AM.

Attenborougharion rubicundus
A discovery made by Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) scientists, Dr. Frank Koehler and Dr. Isabel Hyman in December 2016, found that the snail named after Sir David – which was formerly included in the genus Helicarion – had marked differences in mitochondrial gene sequences and genital anatomy, necessitating its removal to a new genus, the newly named Attenborougharion rubicundus.
The genus Attenborougharion currently contains a single species, Attenborougharion rubicundus. This species is found only in south east Tasmania on the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas.  Representative of its family, the Helicarionidae. Attenborougharion rubicundus is a snail, 35-45 mm long, with a thin, reduced shell with a diameter of 16-25 mm. It has a brightly coloured body; the upper part of the tail and the mantle lobes and shell lappets are green, and the head and lower part of the foot are bright red.
Australian Museum’s 190th Anniversary
In 2017, the Australian Museum (AM) celebrates 190 years, marking its significant role as the nation’s first museum. In the lead up to its bicentenary, the AM is embarking on major transformation plans to secure its place as the leading natural science and culture museum in the region. Learn more about the AM’s Master Plan.
As part of the 190th celebrations, the AM invites everyone to spend their birthday with the museum for free. Claim a free entry on your birthday by registering online.