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Tuatara: Volume 10, Issue 1, April 1962

The Beginnings and Early Development of Tuatara

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The Beginnings and Early Development of Tuatara

As a result of the steadily increasing circulation of Tuatara over the years, many of its present readers are unfamiliar with the history of its beginnings as a journal of the Biological Society, Victoria University of Wellington. The commencement of the tenth volume makes an appropriate milestone at which to review its early history.

The true origins of the journal well antedate the first printed issue in 1947, which arose largely as a development from an earlier cyclostyled form. In 1942. the members of the Biological Society had organised and participated in a considerable number of useful field excursions where we were fortunate in having the enthusiastic help of specialists in the flora and fauna of the selected areas to teach us the principles of field identification. During one programme on the slopes of Mt. Hector, a long evening session on identification and community ecology raised the comment that a summary of the observations ought to be put on record for the others to use or extend in future. Insofar as it is ever possible to say that a publication began at a particular moment, I would say that the first cyclostyled Tuatara originated at this discussion in Field Hut. Of names suggested for the proposed journal, Tuatara was chosen because the tuatara is not only unique to New Zealand but its best-known colony is at Stephens Island, Cook Strait, close to the Wellington area.

Brief reports of the main field excursions of 1942 were prepared, and my foreword as President of the Biological Society for that year expressed the hope that it might stimulate ‘interest in the living organism and the mode of its living in natural surroundings’. Summaries of lectures given by invited speakers to the Biological Society in 1942 were included and the cyclostyled issue was distributed free of charge to members of the society.

My personal association with Tuatara ceased temporarily from 1943 until after I returned to Wellington in 1946 and joined the Department of Zoology as a junior member of staff. Discussions with the 1947 committee of the Biological Society showed that there was ample enthusiasm for reviving the journal in a new form. The Biological Society asked me to serve again as Editor and page 3 strongly supported a plan to produce the journal in printed form, for which Miss P. Ralph kindly consented to become publisher. It was clear from the number of copies required to justify printing that the journal would need to be made available to a wider group of readers than the members of the Victoria University College Biological Society alone, so from this point the journal has been distributed to any persons or institutions sufficiently interested to take out subscriptions.

Cover design of the first cyclo-styled issue of Tuatara in 1942. In the accompanying article the original editor, W. H. Dawbin, traces the origin of the present journal from this modest beginning.

Cover design of the first cyclo-styled issue of Tuatara in 1942. In the accompanying article the original editor, W. H. Dawbin, traces the origin of the present journal from this modest beginning.

As stated in the editorial of Volume I No. 1, the contents were planned to include reviews of biological work and problems in New Zealand and keys to aid the identification of one group of animals and one of plants in each issue, the text to be obtained if possible from specialists in each field. It is not always easy to persuade specialists to write for a new or little known publication and the society owes a special debt to those who had sufficient faith in the journal's future to provide sound articles and keys from the beginning and so set a standard which could be followed and built on progressively in subsequent issues.

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Printing a new journal involves the problems of selecting page size, number of pages, type faces, blocks, cover design, search for advertisers and to these was added the problem that the society had no funds, nor did it have any foreseeable prospect of obtaining any except from the sale of copies after publication and that obtained from advertisements. One could hardly claim that a new journal with a first issue of 200 copies only was an attractive proposition to advertisers, so a major effort by student members and staff was needed to search for orders and we especially appreciated the help which was given by those who placed the first advertisements. Above all we needed an act of faith by a printer whose costs could be met only if we succeeded in selling most of the copies by cash sales. I am glad to record the way Tolan Printing Company saw us over the interim period of the first issue in particular. Later the number of permanent subscribers increased steadily. Larger numbers of copies could be printed and the price was increased to 2s. at Vol. III No. 2, so the situation during the publication of the first three volumes progressively eased.

At the tenth issue of Tuatara, i.e. Vol. IV No. 1, financial assistance from the Victoria University College Publications Fund was provided and continued over some subsequent issues. The immediate results were a change in cover to feature a tuatara, an increase in the number of illustrations, and range and styles of type face available from the Timaru Herald Co. Ltd. which has printed the journal from that time. However the general editorial policy remained substantially the same as that outlined in the first issue. The value of the zoological and botanical keys had been quickly appreciated and the number and diversity of groups treated have contributed their part to the increase of interest in the systematics of New Zealand animals and plants, while the general articles have covered a wide range of biological subjects.

As in all student populations, there have been changes in the membership of the Biological Society and its committee each year, so that many people have taken their turn at locating possible contributors and advertisers, testing keys for ambiguities to the uninitiated, correcting galleys and assembling page proofs, posting and distributing copies and working at other tasks involved in publishing a journal. The voluntary work of these and members of the staff of both the Zoology and Botany Departments made a valuable liaison between us all outside the classroom, and certainly made my own association with Tuatara a most enjoyable experience. While this ceased as editor on my transfer to Sydney in 1956 I have been impressed as a reader by many features of the recent issues and took especial note of the milestone passed by the publication of illustrations in colour. I wish every future success to Tuatara and all those associated with its continued production as an independent medium for the use of New Zealand and, to an increasing extent, overseas biologists.