Official wildlife database records are poor when attempting to understand the historic habitat ranges of many wildlife species. This creates difficulties when investigating the potential for large-scale fauna restoration opportunities across landscapes such as the Grampians. Common questions arise; What species used to occur in the landscape? How abundant were they? What was there habitat preference? Why did they go extinct?
My search started when comparing the data of previous small mammal captures by Seebeck1 in the 1970’s, or Cockburn2 in the 1980’s with recent small mammal trapping in the Grampians3. It is clear that species such as Long Nosed Potoroo, Southern Brown Bandicoot and Smokey Mouse have declined. This is in addition to the species already locally extinct such as White Footed Rabbit Rat, Southern Bettong, Western Barred Bandicoot and New Holland Mouse found by Wakefield4 in the 1960’s in Grampians cave deposits and the loss of poorly documented species such as Quoll5,6 and Dingo7.
However, nothing will replace local knowledge that can only be achieved through time spent working, living, exploring, studying and listening to a landscape. In Eric Barber, the Grampians has a custodian of local knowledge only earned through a long family connection with stories passed from his father, uncle and grandfather combined with a library of references only collected through a passionate career in natural history.
Eric’s oral history and advice has pointed me in the right direction to help paint the picture on Quoll in the Grampians landscape.
Eric accounts that many species that are rare or extinct today were common back in the 1800’s and 1900’s and were not noteworthy to write or document about being considered abundant and vermin. This makes establishing historic habitat ranges difficult when catastrophic disease possibly contributed to exterminating quolls on the mainland between 1901-19038,9. To this point, the presence of both species of Quoll in the Grampians (Eastern and Tiger) has provided many years of conjecture to agree if the species were actually present or not as official documentation is poor.
Eric explains that Quoll were once widespread. Supporting this valuable local oral history is research about to be published by David Peacock and Ian Abbot that has unearthed over 40,000 quoll records hidden in grey literature and family diaries from across Australia. This work includes local Grampians accounts such as; 1872 Mr Macpherson of Vermont noted that his father killed a large Tiger Quoll at the head of the Glenelg River (in the now Grampians National Park); 1875 – a Tiger Quoll was killed at Billgana in the Ararat district in the act of ‘devouring a good sized chicken’; 1882 – The Ararat Advertiser account for Eastern Quolls being trapped and killed during the lambing season in the Mount William district; 1885 – Eastern Quolls were also ‘very abundant’ in western Victoria with an author touring the region frequently seeing their ‘white-spotted carcasses lying about stations where they had been killed in traps’; 1898 – a toddler was scratched on the leg by an Eastern Quoll whilst in the Grampians (all accounts from Peacock and Abbot, unpublished data).
The evidence is now clear for the Grampians and surrounding area. A Tiger Quoll skull was recently found in a cave in the Victoria Range in March 2012. Eric provided me with the memoirs of Mrs M. Bodey5 from circa 1900 who writes from Walmer along the Wimmera River of native cats in their hundreds, unearthing and eating corpses in graves and attacking people in beds!
Over the past few hundred years land clearing has isolated the Grampians, fire regimes have been altered and the introduction of fox and cat combined with sport hunting of species such as Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby10,11 have changed the presence of native mammals we now have. However, imagine if we could play a role in large-scale restoration of our unique wildlife similar to ambitious attempts and plans in the UK or the USA?
I continue to research the missing wildlife the Grampians and am particularly interested in Dingo. Any information, family diaries or oral history accounts of Dingo (or Quoll) would be gratefully received. Please contact if you would like to provide any information.
Thank you to Eric and Evie Barber for kindly passing on information, obscure references and pointing me in the right direction. Thank you to David Peacock and Ian Abbot for use of Grampians quoll records prior to formal publication of their quoll database.
1 Seebeck, J.H. (1976). Mammals in the Pomonal area, Grampians. Victorian Naturalist 93. 138-147.
2 Cockburn, A. (1981). Population regulation and dispersion of the smoky mouse, Pseudomys fumeus II. Spring decline, breeding success and habitat heterogeneity. Australian Journal of Ecology6, 255-266.
3 De Bondi, N., White, J.G., Stevens, M., and Cooke, R. (2010). A comparison of the effectiveness of camera trapping and live trapping for sampling terrestrial small-mammal communities. Wildlife Research37, 456-465.
4 Wakefield, N. A. (1963). Mammal remains from the Grampians, Victoria. Victorian Naturalist 80, 130-133.
5 Bodey, M. (c.1900). ‘The early Wimmera’. Personal memoir. Personal communication.
6 Wakefield, N.A. (1974). Mammals of Western Victoria. In Douglas and O’Brien (Eds.), The Natural History of Western Victoria, pp. 35-51.
7 Carter, S. (1911). ‘Reminiscences of the early days of the Wimmera’. (Norman Brothers Printers: Melbourne.)
8 McQueen R. 1960. Native Cats on Wilson’s Promontory. Victorian Naturalist, 77, pp 206-207.
9 Paddle, R. 2002. The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Published in Australia by Cambridge University Press
10 Fountain, P., and Ward, T. (1907). ‘Rambles of an Australian naturalist’. (John Murray, London.)
11 Lobert, B. (1988). The Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) in the Grampians National Park and Black Range, Victoria. Part 1 – Survey. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series No. 64. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg, Victoria.