Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria




The Servant and the Stonemasons

Frederick McCoy's gothic-tinged description of Bell-frogs (now known as Growling Grass Frogs) calling from the moon-lit, swampy areas near his apartment conjure a vivid image of European institutions emerging from the colonial earth.

The general sound is a hoarse, prolonged croak, varied by a loud "clunk" monotonously repeated at intervals, very much like the sound of a mallet and chisel of a number of stonemasons.

So like is this that when a portion of the University was being built, and a number of masons were working on a hard sonorous basalt (called bluestone by the colonist) a hundred yards from my house, a newly arrived servant, writing home an account of the busy scene, mentioned that the masons could be heard at work the whole of the moonlight nights- so completely alike was the sound of these Bell-frogs in an adjoining pond at night to the noise of the men by day.

This same land had until recently been a naturally sustaining ecosystem, used by Kulin people for food gathering. In a rare reference to Aboriginal people, McCoy likened their culinary traditions to those of the French.

They are eaten by the natives, who, taking a torch at night, thrust a sharpened stick through as many as they choose to make a meal of, and using it like a spit, roast the collection to their taste; and no doubt the are as good as the epicures in France find the Rana viridis.


Growling Grass Frog, Litoria raniformis, by Arthur Bartholomew.
The lake at Melbourne University, home to the Bell-frogs of McCoy's account.