A fair go for John Young

To: <>
Subject: A fair go for John Young
From: "Mick & Marie" <>
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2013 16:06:04 +1000
I’ve been following the postings on the re-discovery of the Night Parrot and on 
John Young, mainly between the earliest reports on 27 June through until 6 
July. Most of that coverage was congratulatory, but a few couldn’t help 
expressing suspicion and distrust. Following the presentation of Young’s 
evidence in support of his find, postings on the subject seemed to die away 
after 6 July

One of the reasons for this may have been a posting by Friarbird 43 on 6 July, 
providing his notes from when he attended Young’s presentation. This provided 
so much more information than had previously been available, with an insight 
into how Young had gone about his search, what had been learned about the 
bird’s biology and its habitat, plus his ideas on the management considerations 
and research priorities which lie ahead. It also referred to the location being 
on private land, and the understanding he had earlier established with the 
landowner that the site would not be publicised. If you haven’t read this 
posting, it is highly recommended.

It is easy to skate over the days and nights involved in Young’s search without 
thinking about it too much. The search area would most likely have had no 
running water, and temperatures varying from around  zero to the mid forties. 
This went on for days and particularly nights on end, then weeks, then months, 
then years without the slightest sign of success or progress.  How anyone could 
show such determination and persistence for that length of time and in such 
rugged and demanding environment is quite beyond me. Then when he finally did 
identify a call, it took him another five years to obtain the evidence needed 
to verify his find. If you heard one of the radio interviews at the time, you 
will have heard the excitement in Young’s voice and so get some understanding 
of how he felt about this bird that he had worked so long to find. Clearly in 
his view the bird will come first ahead of any other considerations, and that 
extends to his determination to see it adequately conserved and protected.

Against this background, two major issues have emerged – the release of the 
call and how the bird can be best conserved and protected – that are legitimate 
matters of debate. I can see both sides of the argument in regard to the 
release of the call, but it is not valid to assume that because Young has 
stated that he will not be releasing the call generally that it may not play a 
role in future research ( read Friarbird’s notes on research and conservation). 

Similarly everyone agrees that conservation/protection is essential, but views 
differ on how it should best be managed. One position is put that it should be 
handed over to Government for best results. This at a time where Government is 
proposing to permit shooting in National Parks. If it were to be passed to 
Government, we would see TV bites and headline-grabbing press releases, and 
then it would become just another item of expenditure. How long adequate 
funding would be available in the tight future budgetary years that are being 
forecast , as it becomes just another program to be pruned back, is anybody’s 
guess. If we think outside the square, there are a number of privately funded 
organisations which already carry out valuable work of this nature. An obvious 
example is the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which took over the running of 
Newhaven Station from Birds Australia. So in the end, we all agree that 
conservation action is critical. From Friarbirds notes, that includes Young 
perhaps more than any of us. Maybe action will be taken by both Government and 
privately funded organisations. Let’s keep an open mind in the interim.

If commentary was restricted to these legitimate debates, I probably wouldn’t 
have put pen to paper myself. However other comments have been made which I 
think are so negative that they need some sort of response. It has been stated 
that there are “numerous inconsistencies in Young’s recounting of his latest 
(my italics) discovery”. The author’s previous paragraphs were highly critical 
of the standard of journalism and the lack of good science journalists, but as 
the author stated that he has never spoken to Young, the recounting referred to 
had to be what the media said Young had said. I have had some experience with 
the media, to the point that I always prepared a written handout of the key 
points I wanted to make , but even that seldom prevented inaccurate reporting 
of what had been said. 

The author went on to say that if Young “had located an active nest, as he 
claims (my italics again), then it should have been as straightforward as 
placing a camera trap at the entrance to the nest and he would have procured 
images of birds coming and going in short order.” That may be right. However 
two earlier postings are relevant; Rob Morris (3 July): “Having listened to 
John and seen his presentation - I am just beginning to get a sense of how 
sensitive this species is”; Ian Davies (4 July): “John really stressed the 
value of disturbing the species as little as possible, as they are an extremely 
shy and wary creature, and as he says they are the hardest bird he has ever 
worked with". With the birds being so sensitive to disturbance, anyone who put 
the birds first would not even consider intrusion around the next site even if 
there was only the slightest risk of the nest being abandoned . I’m not sure 
when the last Night Parrot chicks were sighted, but who would want to risk 
these historic ones being abandoned?

Another criticism was that Young had known of the population of the birds for 5 
years but had told no-one. Its one thing to know something, another all 
together to be able to prove it. If he had simply announced that he had found 
the bird, but had no physical evidence to support the claim, what sort of 
response might he have expected?

I won’t go on to react to the many personal asides that are made in Young’s 
direction, such as
  a.. “Raises suspicions as to John’s motives” 
  b.. “By trying to hold on to a monopoly of information..he has create a 
situation that almost guarantees his irrelevance” 
  c.. “the depiction of John in that future natural history is right now on the 
knife-edge, teetering between legend and infamy” 
  d.. “again this brings us back to John’s sharing of the call or eventual 
irrelevance when another recording becomes available , as it certainly will” 
  e.. “it makes one wonder at his motivations for the big reveal in the first 
place ... What forced his hand? Rivals threatening to steal his thunder?” 
  f.. “I have been told the location of the site...this just points to John’s 
complete inability to manage the on-going stewardship of the site and the 
Why must people be so negative? It seems that those who have had issues with 
John in the past are unable to put them aside and must continue to view 
whatever he does through that prism. Invariably they will include their 
apparently sincere congratulations of his undisputed achievement, but then 
can’t just leave it at that. Another of Young’s major detractors has been 
blacklisted as by two reputable bird tour operator (not Young!) because of an 
unpleasant experiences he has created on previous tours, as well as by a 
significant Government scientific institution, but then writes as (hanging) 
judge and jury in constantly critical articles about Young.

Perhaps the best way I can conclude this article is to quote Russell Woodford, 
Birding-Aus Founder and List Owner, from his posting of 30 June...
“Can I please make the point that dragging up old issues that have been 
debated, argued and fought over is not likely to resolve them any better this 
time around? I don't stifle genuine debate, but I will do whatever I can to 
prevent mud-slinging, bullying and abuse on this forum. Stirring up old 
arguments is unlikely to do anything but generate resentment and intemperate 
invective.” ... 
and simply ask that John Young be given a fair go

Mick Brasher

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