Jim Bravery and the Wongabel-Nyleta crane roosts

by Elinor Scambler

The unpublished diaries of Tablelands farmer-ornithologist Jim Bravery (1896-1975) give new insight into the history of Brolgas and Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tablelands. His notes [1] show that at least 1000 Brolgas were on the Atherton Tablelands by the early 1920s, only decades after clearing of forest for agriculture began in the late 1880s. Until at least the 1970s, the Brolga's roosting stronghold was in the Nyetla-Wongabel swamp woodland complex just south of Atherton. These wetlands were progressively drained and cleared for agriculture and now only very small remnants remain (see map below).

When Sarus Cranes arrived on the Tablelands in 1967 [2], they began to colonise new roost habitat created by the Lake Tinaroo impoundment from 1958, but for reasons not yet understood, Brolgas did not use these new areas. Loss of the Wongabel-Nyleta wetlands may be why, today, fewer Brolgas roost in the central Tablelands than when Bravery recorded them for over 50 years, 1920 to 1975. The full paper including Bravery's personal notes on cranes can be downloaded free from the NQ Naturalist. On this page, Ozcranes presents the Abstract and a map of the original wetlands.


The Abstract of the paper Jim Bravery's cranes: Brolgas and Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tablelands, 1920-1975 by Elinor Scambler is presented with permission. The full paper can be downloaded free from the NQ Naturalist site [2]. The image of Jim Bravery in 1974 is shown with family permission.


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 His unpublished writings, with other documents and historical observations, establish that Brolgas had colonised the recently-cleared farmlands of the Atherton Tablelands by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.

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Wongabel-Nyleta wetland complex, Atherton Tableland, far north Queensland, before clearing (Elinor Scambler, adapted from Scambler 2020). The only remnants are ‘H’ (Hasties Swamp); and ‘W’, now called Willetts Swamp (previously Pavey's Swamp). Unhatched areas were previously various types of eucalypt woodland or forest, or Mabi rainforest.



[1] Scambler EC. 2020. Jim Bravery's cranes: Brolgas and Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tablelands, 1920-1975. North Queensland Naturalist 50: 12-24.
[2] Bravery JA. 1969. The Sarus Crane in north-eastern Queensland. Emu 69: 52-53.


Where to view Sarus Cranes in Australia»

John Grant's Secrets of the Sarus Crane»

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