John Broadbent

John Broadbent is an ecologist who came to Australia from Britain, via Nigeria, in the 1970s. In his interview he mentions his training in many areas of science and environmental studies. The interview focusses on his current research interest, which is an attempt to construct a picture of the native flora and fauna of the Pyrmont Peninsula at the time of European arrival. In the excerpt below John speculates about the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibia which might have ranged free on Pyrmont Point in 1788.

You’d get honeyeaters, you’d have some of the scrub wrens – white- browed scrub wren would have been there – you might have had the yellow robin, although it’s probably unlikely; you would have had, obviously, some of our regulars like the willy wagtail and probably magpies, magpie larks. We would have had some of the birds of prey. There would have been lorikeets particularly coming in after the nectar, and there would have been a wider diversity of lorikeets and parrots and cockatoos than we have today. They’re really only represented today by the rainbow lorikeets and the odd sulphur- crested cockatoo that bowls in. But we would have had crimson rosellas and possibly, but unlikely, king parrots. We probably would have had quail thrush, which is now very scarce in the Sydney region; cormorants, probably pelicans. There would have also been things like the egrets and herons, some species more than others; white-faced heron we would have got here, probably the reef heron; there would have been the upwaders coming in. Mammalian fauna would have been quite rich. We would have had a small number of different possums, the brushtails, we would have pygmy possums on the heathland, I think. And we might have got, say, squirrel gliders out here but we would certainly have had native mice and rats out here. There’s still some possibility that we’ve got the water rat on the peninsula and I’m sure it would have been a shoreline species around the peninsula. What else have we got? The wallabies and the kangaroos, the grey kangaroo, probably the red-necked, and the swamp wallaby would have been fairly numerous. The dingoes were obviously a point of contention with the early settlers. Echidnas we would have had. The Hawkesbury sandstone supports quite a rich array of snakes and lizards and the like; monitors (goannas), and they would have all occurred around here. Amphibia, much less so; they would have been concentrated mainly around the heads of the bays in the swamplands but there would have been some. The giant burrowing frog, Heleioporus, would have probably occurred; the little Adelotus brevis would have occurred too; some of the tree frogs, possibly.

Margo Beasley