Dozens of empty birdcages are strung between buildings. The birdcages are all different shapes and sizes, and are either black, white or gold.
A large number of empty birdcages hang in a laneway next to City Recital Hall, above a street sign reading Angel Place.
Looking up along Angel Place, dozens of empty birdcages are strung on wires between buildings criss-crossing the laneway.

From a canopy of birdcages above Angel Place the songs of Sydney’s lost birds filter down.

Artist: Michael Thomas Hill
Curator: Steffen Lehmann

Artwork description

Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of 50 birds once heard in Central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night. The daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.

Habitat loss is credited as the biggest threat to bird survival. There are currently 129 species of birds native to NSW formally listed as extinct or threatened with extinction. The recordings you can hear in Forgotten Songs are from bird species that sang in Central Sydney. Some of these birds can still be heard on the city margins where they find food and nesting sites in thick native vegetation, while others have retracted still further.

Bigger opportunists like the white ibis and sulphur crested cockatoos, as well as introduced species like pigeons and mynahs, all thrive in the city. These are the calls we often notice in the city today, if we can hear anything above the traffic.

“An interplay of past and present, large and small, predator and prey, Forgotten Songs engages audiences with the beauty, unexpectedness and unfamiliarity of these displaced birdsongs.

“The installation explores how Sydney’s fauna has evolved and adapted to coexist with increased urbanisation – inviting contemplation of the city’s past, its underlying landscape and the sustainability issues associated with increased urban development.”

– Michael Thomas Hill, 2009


Forgotten Songs was first shown as part of the ‘By George!’ Laneways temporary art program on view from 10 October 2009 – 28 January 2010. It was possible to recommission this popular work as part of the upgrade of Angel Place in 2012.

Project team

  • Michael Thomas Hill – Artist
  • Dr Richard Major – Senior Research Scientist
  • Fred van Gessel – Field Recordings
  • Lightwell – Audio System Design and Programming
  • Freeman Ryan Design – Graphic Design
  • Aspect Studio – Landscape Architecture

Get arts and culture updates from City of Sydney News.