Rare Specimen Discovered

Bird mystery in school Science lab

From the shadows of the past, an historical treasure, frozen in time, has come to light in a Science laboratory at Ipswich Grammar School. Nearly ninety years ago, Queensland’s unique Paradise Parrot was last seen alive in the wild near Gayndah in the Wide Bay area. So, when a mysterious glass cabinet was unearthed at Queensland’s oldest secondary school containing 16 stuffed birds, four of the collection were not easy to identify.

After some good, old-fashioned homework, Science technician, Jaycinth Bean, with the help of Biology teacher Dr Carol Browne, and English teacher Brett Dionysius, identified the two male, two female, mystery birds as Paradise Parrots. The family of four had stepped out of the past.

Jaycinth had been given the job of stocktaking the Science equipment and various collections. She recalls, “The priority to start with was the preserved specimens in jars as the lids had deteriorated and needed replacing.”

An old Victorian bird dome was the last item on her list. “I had cleaned and identified the skulls, and the last thing on the list was the bird display box.” She had only once moved the cabinet to give it some prominence in a classroom but had not pondered its contents. It was secret waiting to be unearthed and an ornithological riddle needing to be solved.

The Paradise Parrot was only photographed once and this was by a photographer named Cyril Jerrard. His photographs were taken near Blackdown on the Burnett River.The main reasons for the birds’ demise included the impact on their habitat due to overgrazing. This led to a loss of grass species that provided them with seeds to eat. Their habitat was also affected by fire and the invasion by the prickly pear. Most surprisingly, the removal of termite mounds to make tennis courts inadvertently destroyed their favoured nesting spots. Birds were also the victims of exploitation for the European bird trade.

It is known that an eccentric and popular Geography teacher in the 1920s and 1930s, Benjamin Gilmore ‘Banjo’ Patterson (also known as Old Walrus), developed a small museum in the school’s old wing and had many scientific, historical, anthropological, and geographical items. ‘Banjo’ had been a mining engineer at Mount Morgan before he came to IGS. His room and all its treasures was called the Patterson Collection. It was largely discarded in the 1950s thanks to an overzealous school administration at the time.

It’s thought that the birds may had had their original home in this collection and were saved from the clean out by someone who recognised their worth.

Whatever the origin of this species that came to IGS, they are certain to be the centre of scientific attention for some time.