THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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Counting is a handy talent to have. Counting crowd numbers can be tricky, especially if the crowd is moving or widely dispersed. Try counting shorebirds – that’s a test of skill. At a recent BirdLife Tasmania meeting at Utas, I discovered that counting shorebirds is a learned ability, requiring skill, experience and a love of birdlife. An evening of slides and discussion focussed on relatively common species whose identification is confusing for the inexperienced. This very raw newcomer to the ‘citizen scientist’ ranks began with trying to assess the number of people in the Life Sciences Theatre UTAS. I assessed the crowd as about 50 or so people – that was the easy part. After a general discussion on events and recent happenings in Birdlife Tasmania, Secretary Andrew Walter welcomed news of bird activities from friends and members of the bird-lovers group. Enthusiastic members reported recently noted activity from various locations around the state.
Counting shorebirds and waders can include tiny little birds wading in shallows or walking on sand or assessing the numbers of a flock of birds – it’s an acquired skill. Counting can be made more difficult, especially for the inexperienced bird counter, by the confusion in identifying individual species. To make it easier, Masters student Peter Vaughn gave a presentation on wader identification. His chart was fascinating, first of all identifying shape, size and colour. Other identifying cues are movement, behaviour, plumage and call. It helps if you know the habitat and range of the bird. The date of the counting day also helps to fix knowledge about the usual migration, mating or other features of the bird’s patterns.
Learning to count
There may be a rule somewhere for bird-counters: “First, do no harm!” Andrew Walter mentioned an important point about counting migratory birds, maybe from interstate, northern Australia, Indonesia or even as far away as Russia: “They have come a long way. We need to be conscious that the bird has to build up its reserves for the trip back. If [by our behaviour while counting] we move it on from one patch of food or foraging, then that’s more condition it needs to put on.” In other words, the counter, whether as part of a team or as an individual, must be very careful to tread lightly and carefully. This has become second nature to the experienced bird counter but is a skill to be learned by newbies.
A panel of long-time bird observers, Mark, Vince, Tim and Mike, talked of their experiences and took questions from the audience. Birds may be moving about, or in their roosts. There are often tightly-packed flocks when the species are feeding in tidal situations. There are often “cryptic species” dispersed in saltmarsh. Counting and confirming a species requires different counting strategies. Some count at high tide when shorebirds are roosting. Each site, species and even each year may require different count strategies, methods and styles. Knowledge about the bird species aids counting. Observation techniques are wading, walking and kayaking. Counting can be done by multiple counts, in teams of two to five. The panel suggested that bird counters synchronise local counts to avoid double counting. Shore wading counts (SWH) and water wading counts (WWC) should be conducted when regional populations are stable. It was suggested that synchronising counts throughout Australia is important. A particular counting challenge is the “flyway” or when the birds are en-route. It is hard to know – or guess – what happens to the birds when they aren’t here, or there?
Newcomers can do an ‘introduction to counting’ course to develop experience in counting. A learner can improve at counting by taking photos or by counting with experts. Developing counting skill can be done by online tutorial or even online games. Counting using drones is not encouraged, mainly from the viewpoint of disturbance – it may distress the birds and they will disperse. The main thing is not to intrude on the routines and habits of the birds.
It is important to introduce new people who will enjoy counting birds – “there is a need for continuity – new blood is required – we need new counters”. If you love our birds, and would like to spend time outdoors with like-minded people, consider joining BirdLife Tasmania: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A curious man builds a curious beachfront house: Ellis Margerison
Kingston Beach History Series
By Lee Weller
With her usual sharp-eyed scrutiny of our real estate guide, my wife alerted me to a local beach-side landmark up for sale – the two-storied house on Osborne Esplanade two doors along from the hotel. It has long been known as the Bruce House, which is accurate since it was owned for over 40 years by the Bruce family. But when they bought the house in 1922, it was already 30 years old. Aside from the original Wood/Nichols cottage at the southern end of the Esplanade, it is the oldest residential building south of Beach Road in Kingston Beach.
In 1886, retired whaling captain and hotelier George Lucas bought 16 acres of land southwest of Beach Road. He saw potential for a hotel at the beach. Reserving a large enough block at the beachfront for that purpose, he made no effort toward its development until late 1891, when in a four-week period he sold two beachfront blocks and leased the hotel block to his father-in-law, William John Fisher, “hotel keeper”. His Australasian Hotel opened for business in January 1892 with Fisher as licensee. Ellis Margerison bought one of the blocks (half an acre) for £60 and on it he had the Bruce House constructed for his family. Arguably, Margerison House would be a better name.
The Margerisons were newly immigrated from Yorkshire; they arrived in Sydney in January 1891, in Hobart a month later, and bought the land from Lucas in September. The family consisted of Ellis (38), Catherine (34), Hilda (13) and Thomas (10). When Ellis and Catherine had married in 1876, Ellis set up as a farmer of 30 acres in Yorkshire. Both parents had come from large, well-off families (wool and brewing), so he was actually a ‘gentleman farmer’. As he was financially independent, selling up the farm and moving to the other side of the world must have seemed merely an adventure to him and his family.
The Margerison family quickly and comfortably settled into the life of the Kingston community: father, and later son, played cricket for the local team. Ellis interested himself in the affairs of the Council of Agriculture. Catherine and Hilda participated actively in the life of St Clements Anglican Church, including the successful efforts to replace its dilapidated building. The family also provided hospitality “down the Beach” to visiting cricket teams and hosted a sports day and a horticultural show on their property. The Margerisons’ home was isolated (but for the hotel) until 1893 when William Lovett, Tasmania’s auditor general, bought the half-acre next to theirs and became a neighbour. When Henry Jolliffe arrived as the new schoolmaster later that same year, he soon became Ellis’s close friend and frequent companion in community activities.
Late in 1895, after four years of friendships and many shared experiences, Ellis announced quite unexpectedly that he and his family would be returning to England early in the new year. Accordingly in January 1896 he put up for sale: “… His recently erected residence fronting on the beach at Brown’s River ... The house is faithfully built and finished throughout with every convenience, it contains six rooms and commands a most charming view of the river...”
The community held a farewell evening for the family on 4 February 1896 (later reported in The Mercury), during which their friends thanked them each for their many contributions and wished them a speedy return to Tasmania after finishing their business back in England. This record clearly shows that, whatever the Margerisons’ intentions, their friends expected them to return. A surprising fact is also revealed: The new Beach Hall, where the farewell was held, had been constructed at the expense of Ellis Margerison on a second block of land he had purchased himself, also from George Lucas. This is now the site of the present Kingston Beach Hall, which replaced the original hall in 1933.
The Margerisons departed Sydney in early March; they never resumed their residence in Tasmania. Only Ellis and son Tom ever returned to Tasmania, in 1932, and then for only a very brief visit. Ellis died in 1936 and Catherine in 1940. Their lives back in England, as interesting as they were, aren’t part of this story.
There remains one curious part of their history to tell. In 1884, when Hilda was only six and Tom just three, and years before the Margerisons went to Tasmania, Ellis uprooted his young family for their first adventure, that time to the United States. The family migrated to New Jersey, where a visionary developer, Charles Landis, had fifteen years before created a civil utopian community, called Vineland, in the wilds of southern New Jersey. It isn’t clear exactly how long they lived there, but longer than a year and less than five – they were back in Yorkshire perhaps as early 1886. If you compare the unusual appearance of the Bruce House with the old houses of Vineland, you would probably conclude, as I have, that they were Ellis’s inspiration for their Tasmanian home.
The Riverboat Postman
A long held ‘bucket list’ event for me was to do the Riverboat Mail Run which starts in the tiny village of Brooklyn just an hour north from Sydney. In December we chose to go by train and spend a couple of nights in the area, which proved a good move. Our U3A Kingborough Book Group had also recently read The Secret River which made the trip even more interesting.
It was in 1789, that Governor Arthur Phillip conducted a boat expedition upstream to the branches of the Hawkesbury River, encountering the local inhabitants. He returned overland in 1791. Members of his party who were natives of the Cumberland Plain confirmed that the people there were of a distinct group that spoke a different language. Phillip wrote: “Two of those natives who have lived amongst us for some time were with us, which was from them that we understood, our new friends had a language different from theirs.” The British referred to these inhabitants of the upper Hawkesbury, Richmond Hill, Kurrajong and Springwood as “The Branch natives”. The Hawkesbury River was given its present name, after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, who at that time was titled Baron Hawkesbury. He lived in the Cotswolds village of Hawkesbury Upton in England, where the Jenkinsons still live. An obelisk was unveiled in 1939 at Brooklyn to commemorate the naming.
In 1794, 22 families were granted land at Bardenarang, now known as Pitt Town Bottoms, near Windsor. In that same year, confrontations between Aboriginal people and settlers broke out. The two main Aboriginal tribes inhabiting the area were the Wannungine of the coastal area on the lower reaches (below Mangrove Creek) and the Darkinyung people, whose lands were extensive on the lower Hawkesbury to Mangrove Creek, upper Hawkesbury, inland Hunter and lower Blue Mountains. Also known on the banks of the river were the Eora and Guringai people. The Aboriginal name for the river was published as Deerubbun in 1870.
The Hawkesbury River was one of the major transportation routes for food from the surrounding area to Sydney during the 1800s. Boats would wait in the protection of Broken Bay and Pittwater, until favourable weather allowed them to make the ocean journey to Sydney Heads.
The river remains the only form of access to a significant number of isolated homes and communities. This is especially true in the lower reaches of the river, where the steep and rugged terrain prevents road construction. Hence Australia’s last riverboat postman, delivering mail to properties on the river between Brooklyn and Spencer.
On board the Riverboat Postman cruise I was able to purchase a new children’s book written by local Dangar Island resident Joanne Karcz. This beautifully illustrated book describes the journey taken daily by the Riverboat Postman. The artwork by Elizabeth Irvin shows the wreck of HMAS Parramatta, the dogs patiently waiting for their daily biscuit, a train on the Hawkesbury River bridge, and some of the quaint houses lining the riverbanks. This book was ideal as a present for my great grandchildren! The first Riverboat Postman started the run in 1910, and the tradition continues today. Starting at 10am they deliver to the settlements of Dangar and Milson Islands, Kangaroo Point, Bar Point, Marlow Creek, Fisherman’s Point and Milson’s before returning to Brooklyn by about 1.15pm. Morning tea and lunch were provided on board.
I found this poem which must have been written before 1936.
His Majesty’s Mail
His Majesty’s mail must get through.
Rain hail or shine, without a to-do.
By pack-horse, stage coach, and then steam train.
Until history welcomed the aeroplane.
One there was in a tiny boat.
That, struggling bravely to keep afloat.
Delivering the mail and victuals as well.
To those who in isolation chose to dwell.
Now-a-days the Postie has a bigger boat.
That makes the mighty river seem but a moat.
He still cares for the settlers and fisher folks.
As in and around bays and inlets, he daily pokes.
His is the Hawkesbury River Postman’s run.
He works hard but calls it fun.
He serves coffee and a Ploughman’s Lunch.
While entertaining a happy tourist bunch.
He has a captive audience, to soothe.
And regales them with many an historic truth.
I am so glad we joined him on his round today.
And hope this Aussie Icon is here to stay.
The Riverboat Postman is a highly recommended trip.
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