Just found this review . . From Western Australian Bird Notes #157 March 2016
KH Coate & LH Merritt
2015, ‘Finch Trapping in
the Kimberley: A History
Commercial Finch Trapping
in the Kimberley Division of
Western Australia.’ Hesperian
Press, Carlisle WA. 390 pp. $85
Western Australia has been well-examined in terms of ornithological history, particularly by Wilfred Alexander(discovery of bird species from 1629 t1840), Hubert Whittell (birds discovered from 1629 to 1921), Clemency Fisher (John Gilbert’s visits in 1839-40 & 1842-43),and Ron Johnstone (growth of the bird collection in the Western Australian Museum).
This book is an impressive addition to this scholarly tradition.Land-based exploration of the Kimberley hinterland by Europeans began in 1879 with Alexander Forrest.The Kimberley became famous in 1885 when gold was discovered there. Then pastoralists from eastern Australia settled. The bird fauna became known to Europeans from 1885. By c. 1897 trapping of finches had become an unregulated industry.This was first rectified in 1902.This book documents in exhaustive detail, the trappers involved, howthey operated, assistance provided byAborigines, how the WA government regulated the industry, questionable practices, the avicultural market which provided the ongoing demand (until 1986), and the retail traders inPerth, eastern Australia, and overseas.The authors seem to have perused every relevant government file lodged in the State Records Office of Western Australia. Their research is well referenced in 1165 endnotes. Also effectively utilised is the electronic file of newspapers available at the Trove website.Eighteen finch species occur in northern Australia, 11 of which are present in the Kimberley region. All were subject to trapping, although the most beautifully coloured species were favoured as these brought the highest financial rewards. The greatest number was trapped in 1958 (c. 39,000). Trapping took place between September and December when fledglings became independent of their parents and diminishing water supplies forced birds to drink at fewer sources,facilitating their capture. Demand for finches was driven by aviculturists. Despite these grim facts, the impact of trapping was probably limited because access to all waterholes was difficult until motorised transport became established.It was also in the interests of trappers to care properlyfor the birds they trapped. The creation of the Ord River Dam in 1972 provided a large permanent water bodythat made it difficult to trap. Some of the grains grown commercially proved attractive to several finch species.The WA government did not take on the spot regulationseriously until 1967, when a fauna protection officerwas appointed in the Kimberley region. No real effort,however, was ever made to estimate the population sizesof the different species.WA lagged behind the Northern Territory and Queensland,which prohibited finch trapping in the 1970s, some 15years before WA did (in 1986). In WA, trapping of the Yellow-rumped Mannikin ceased in 1975, and that of the Gouldian Finch in 1981.To me, the most outrageous involvement of the WA government was through the Perth Zoo(established in 1898). It sold surplus finches for profit and abused itsprivileged position as a government institution to circumvent the prohibition of commercial finch exports by the Commonwealth Government in 1911 and for
educational or scientific purposes in 1932. It did this by stating that exports were for exchange purposes. This book also brings to attention other dubious practices that today would be considered official corruption, as well as maladministration by incompetent licensing clerks. An early critic of finch trapping was Daisy Bates, who brought attention to the cruelty involved and the large numbers of birds dying en-route to Europe.
However, she also proposed the crackpot idea of releasing Kimberley finches in Kings Park and elsewhere in the south-west!
It was not until the late 1940s and early 1950s that public support for the cessation of finch trapping began to grow. The RSPCA, RAOU (a predecessor to BirdLife),Gould League, and the Western Australian Naturalists Club did their best.With hindsight, it is clear that the industry should have been put on a better footing, with a more expensive fee required to attain a license, requirements for trappers to list the species and numbers of specimens trapped,a per specimen levy to fund a research program to estimate finch numbers each year, a royalty to be paid on each bird trapped, improved control of exports,limiting the supply of trapped finches so that aviculture became based solely on captive-bred stock, and stronger advocacy by the relevant government departments to the Minister about approving the licensing of trappers. The various departments that administered the regulations generally showed a mere passive interest in the matter,with minimal forward (strategic) thinking. We owe the closure of finch trapping to Minister Barry Hodge,who forced the issue.
Of special interest to me are historical reports ofepizootics at 3-4 or 10 yearly intervals, although the Western Australian Bird Notes, No. 157 March 2016 Page 11Observations possibility of special pleading cannot be discounted (i.e.The birds would have died from disease anyway, so why
not let me trap them?).I have only two criticisms of this excellent book. First,the index is not adequate, and does not attain the usual standard of Hesperian Press. For example, numerous interesting items caught my eye (Princess Parrot,other bird species trapped, animals in Aboriginal diets,Ernestine Hill) but are not indexed. Second, the book needs a concluding synthesis (?5000 words) that draws together all the threads of detailed information, dates and statistics presented into several coherent themes.The authors should consider doing this and publishing it in a suitable journal (Western Australian Naturalist or Australian Zoologist).