|Jean Devanny with Stan White and Dr Hugo Flecker examining a nesting site at Woody island|
Jean Devanny Album, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 13965
Author Jean Devanny, the focus of our last two posts, became a keen naturalist while living in North Queensland writing detailed accounts of her observations. One such account, in her memoir Travels in North Queensland, described a 1944 visit to Woody Island (off Port Douglas) to see the colony of nutmeg pigeons (Ducula bicolor) which had arrived in thousands from PNG for their summer breeding season.
|Image of pied imperial pigeon|
provided by Yvonne Cunningham
For generations local Aboriginal tribes would have taken advantage of this bounteous food source, which arrived so punctually each year, and in 1901 ethnologist Walter Roth described several methods by which they obtained their catch. But this modest harvest would have had little impact on the birds’ abundant population. When Europeans arrived, equipped with firearms and a tradition of killing for sport as well as food, it was a different story.
|Queensland Times, 1865.|
Excerpt provided by Trove.
But even this was on a small scale compared with what was to come. The birds were shot in huge numbers, and not just by locals. Steamers that travelled up and down the coast would stop for a day or two so their passengers could enjoy the sport, others came up from the south on specially organized shooting parties. As the slaughter continued some, like E.J. Banfield who had watched what he called “an uncountable host” of pigeons passing by his Dunk Island home, feared for their future.
Not all shooting was wasteful or wanton. The 1928-29 Great Barrier Reef expedition leader C.M. Yonge found pigeons a more reliable food source than fish (A Year on the Great Barrier Reef) but in 1936, TC Roughley was over-optimistic in claiming that protection had put an end to their “senseless slaughter” (Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef).
In fact, on paper the birds had been protected for most of the century yet despite Banfield’s warning in 1908 of the “immense destruction” that was taking place, it would be another sixty years before anything was done to stop it. Next month’s Fossickings will conclude the story.
Story by Miniata
- Devanny, Jean. Travels in North Queensland 919.436045 DEV
- Banfield, E.J. Confessions of a Beachcomber 919.4360092 BAN/BAN
- Yonge, C.M. A year on the Great Barrier Reef 574.925 YON
- Roughley, T.C. Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef 574.9943 ROU