North Queensland Naturalist
North Queensland Naturalist 50: 12-24
Jim Bravery’s cranes: Brolgas and Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tablelands, 1920-1975
Elinor C. Scambler
Jim Bravery (1896-1975) moved to the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland as a soldier-settler farmer in 1920. Already a birdwatcher, for the next 55 years he keenly observed and noted bird species, numbers and behaviour. In 1967 he recorded the first Sarus Cranes (Antigone a. gillae) on the Tablelands and in 1970 included Sarus Cranes and Brolgas (A. rubicunda) in his signature paper ‘Birds of the Atherton Shire, Queensland’ for the journal Emu. His unpublished writings, with other documents and historical observations, establish that Brolgas had colonised the recently-cleared farmlands of the Atherton Tablelands by at least 1920; that Brolga numbers were in the hundreds in the 1940s; and 1000 or more in the mid-1960s. They also suggest that in the early 1970s some 1500 cranes wintered on the central Atherton Tablelands at that time, mostly Brolgas, whereas today Sarus Cranes dominate the same area. Bravery’s observations underline the historical importance to Brolgas of woodland swamps south of Atherton, now largely drained and cleared, which may in part explain this major change in species distribution. In 1960 Bravery noted poisoning of Brolgas – the first historical evidence of persecution on the Tablelands – due to crop damage, which as a farmer he considered negligible. He maintained a keen interest in both crane species and believed that Sarus Cranes had been present but unnoticed on the Tablelands before 1967. In his last diary entry in June 1975, only weeks before his death aged 79, Bravery was deeply interested in reports of Brolga-Sarus hybrids and looked forward to news of further research.