Liv­ing life to the Max

Max Downes is a pa­tron of Field & Game Aus­tralia and has spent decades com­pil­ing and in­dex­ing the Aus­tralian Na­tional Hunt­ing Ar­chive. The vast col­lec­tion is an im­por­tant and valu­able as­set but Max, who is in his 91st year, needs younger mem­bers to be­come

Field and Game - - FGA PATRON MAX DOWNES -

When we meet at the ar­chive Max is lively and en­thu­si­as­tic. He points to a pho­to­graph of him­self as a young man on his first de­ploy­ment with the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion.

It was 1951 and the pho­to­graph could just as eas­ily be a poster for a swash­buck­ling Er­rol Flynn fea­ture film. As it turns out, the only con­nec­tion is that Flynn’s fa­ther Theodore was a re­spected bi­ol­o­gist.

Max was an ad­ven­turer but his mis­sion as a bi­ol­o­gist was mea­sured and sci­en­tific.

He was on the first Aus­tralian Na­tional Antarc­tic Re­search Ex­pe­di­tion (ANARE) to Heard Is­land, a sub Antarc­tic is­land lo­cated in the South­ern Ocean, about 4000 km south­west of main­land Aus­tralia.

The is­land and sur­round­ing wa­ters teem with wildlife and other nat­u­ral won­ders and Max set about doc­u­ment­ing the species. “I spent a year there as a young bi­ol­o­gist; it was the first time I’d seen snow or ice, my first time out of Aus­tralia,” he said.

That first ex­pe­di­tion came af­ter what Max calls the “heroic age” of Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration and be­fore the “tech­ni­cal age”, where sci­en­tists with par­tic­u­lar ex­per­tise and re­search goals were sent. “We learned on the spot, whereas now they teach them be­fore they go,” Max said.

He con­ducted the first cen­sus of south­ern gi­ant pe­trels (Macronectes gi­gan­teus), and nearly 40 years later he helped re­peat the ex­er­cise, alert­ing sci­en­tists to a halv­ing of the breed­ing pop­u­la­tion, from ap­prox­i­mately 3500 pairs in 1951 to 1700 pairs in 1987.

An ac­count from Nils Lied’s di­ary from Oc­to­ber 1951 demon­strates just how rugged and iso­lated ex­pe­di­tion­ers were. “Since the last en­try, we have had a most har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he writes.

“Our cook, Jack Starr, took ill one night — last Sun­day 7th, in fact, and com­plained of se­vere pains in his right lower ab­domen. It was di­ag­nosed by Dr Rec as ap­pen­dici­tis, and ca­bles started to ply back and forth be­tween Heard and the Antarc­tic of­fice in Mel­bourne weigh­ing the pros and cons of the case.”

Med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion was im­pos­si­ble so the ‘Heardites’ were in­structed to cleanse the recre­ation room and con­vert it to an op­er­at­ing the­atre. “Dr Rec wanted the fol­low­ing as­sis­tants: bi­ol­o­gist Ken Brown as as­sis­tant sur­geon to help him un­der­bind the tis­sues and ar­ter­ies etc; my­self to hold Jack’s guts open while he and Ken did the dig­ging: bi­ol­o­gist Max Downes to be in charge of in­stru­ments; Frank Han­nan, OIC, to be the anaes­thetist and Kevin John­son R/O to be gen­eral ‘sis­ter’ to fetch and carry,” the di­ary records. The surgery took four hours: one hour to achieve a com­plete anaes­thetic, and three hours to do the ac­tual op­er­a­tion. “He was very calm, poor lad. I know I would have had the willies in no

“I had ac­cepted from an early age that hunt­ing is a le­git­i­mate ac­tiv­ity; peo­ple have been hunt­ing for mil­lions of years, and it is part of be­ing hu­man.”

Max Downes

>> un­cer­tain way had I been the pa­tient, con­sid­er­ing the prim­i­tive cir­cum­stances of the whole show,” Nils wrote.

By late Oc­to­ber the pa­tient was re­cov­ered and the di­ary records him go­ing fish­ing and Max got back to study­ing the birdlife.

Max wrote a num­ber of books and pa­pers on the birds of Heard Is­land and also doc­u­mented the his­tory and im­pact of seal­ers who op­er­ated from the 1850s to 1877, and on a re­turn visit in 1987 he dis­cov­ered a seal­ers’ ceme­tery on the is­land.

Max even has his own glacier, Downes Glacier.

When Max first grad­u­ated, ad­ven­ture in the Antarc­tic was ir­re­sistible but on his re­turn, his child­hood hunt­ing with his fa­ther would lead him down a more log­i­cal path. “Af­ter I re­turned I looked around for a job and Fish­eries and Game was start­ing up and I got a job straight away; what I liked about it was I was work­ing with hun­ters rather than work­ing on re­search, we were work­ing on ap­ply­ing our knowl­edge on wildlife,” he said. “I had ac­cepted from an early age that hunt­ing is a le­git­i­mate ac­tiv­ity; peo­ple have been hunt­ing for mil­lions of years, and it is part of be­ing hu­man.”

From 1953–1968 he worked as a bi­ol­o­gist and held the po­si­tion as Su­per­in­ten­dent of Game Man­age­ment dur­ing a crit­i­cal pe­riod for wa­ter­fowl con­ser­va­tion in Vic­to­ria. “I was re­spon­si­ble for the game bird pro­gram; for the first two years we had to work out what rec­om­men­da­tions to make to Govern­ment about game birds.”

It took six years but Max was able to con­vince Govern­ment that the real risk to game bird pop­u­la­tions was the loss of habi­tat and cli­mate, not recre­ational hunt­ing. “On the one hand, they were wor­ried they would be shot out and on the other hand they hadn’t re­alised the de­struc­tion of the swamps and sea­sonal con­di­tions were far big­ger in­flu­ences on the duck pop­u­la­tion than hun­ters,” he said. “In the first years, I was able to show the De­part­ment they needed to have some sys­tem to pre­serve habi­tat. It took from 1953 to 1959 but the Govern­ment adopted a game man­age­ment pro­gram whereby they started State Wildlife Re­serves to pre­serve habi­tat and Field & Game (Vic­to­ria) formed to also pre­serve habi­tat.”

Max worked with hun­ters to sup­port the con­ser­va­tion pro­gram, in­clud­ing a large-scale band­ing project. To­gether they achieved an out­come long en­vis­aged by the hunt­ing com­mu­nity. “It took 100 years to get to that stage; the sug­ges­tion from hun­ters for a game tax or li­cence had been around since the 1800s and there had been 30 at­tempts to do it,” he said. “It was the com­mu­nity mo­ti­va­tion that con­vinced Govern­ment.”

Com­mu­nity sup­port for hunt­ing was more broadly felt than it is to­day, some­thing Max at­tributes to the demise of com­mer­cial game meat. While he doubts com­mer­cial pro­cess­ing would be pos­si­ble in the cur­rent cli­mate, when the fish and game mar­ket op­er­ated in Flin­ders St it was a sta­ple and spe­cial source of food and pro­vided a link be­tween non-hun­ters and hunt­ing. “The de­tails of the game mar­ket are all in the ar­chive; it is a spe­cial project wait­ing for some­one,” he said.

Max likens the cur­rent cam­paign against hunt­ing to the early 20th cen­tury when for 20 years hunt­ing was frowned upon. “The Or­nithol­o­gists Union was started by really keen hun­ters but over time it di­vided into peo­ple who shot and those who con­sid­ered killing things in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” Max said. “As part of the pro­pa­ganda, ei­ther side would ex­ag­ger­ate their case; it em­pha­sises the point that with­out work to com­pile proper data, the claims of anti-hun­ters are wildly ex­ag­ger­ated. The ad­van­tage hun­ters have is the na­tional ar­chive and the real facts it con­tains. “There are two types of ev­i­dence: ev­i­dence where there are no sta­tis­tics and ev­i­dence where there are sta­tis­tics, and we need a small group of hun­ters who un­der­stand that the ar­gu­ment isn’t about su­per­fi­cial things. “Hun­ters as a group are en­gaged in my view in a fairly elit­ist pur­suit and there­fore they have dif­fi­culty con­vinc­ing the wider pop­u­la­tion. Hun­ters are not sep­a­rate from the rest of the com­mu­nity, hunt­ing is a valid com­mu­nity ac­tiv­ity his­tor­i­cally, and in the present con­text, and it is an ar­ti­fi­cial be­lief to think oth­er­wise. It is so in­valid it is wicked.”

Max has also worked ex­ten­sively on deer, firstly dur­ing an eight-year stint in Pa­pua New Guinea from 1968 do­ing the first re­search into the in­tro­duced Rusa deer pop­u­la­tion.

His work with iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties also ex­tended to man­age­ment of croc­o­diles, but­ter­flies and birds of par­adise. “I came back in 1976 and worked for the Aus­tralian Deer As­so­ci­a­tion as a con­sul­tant, which was a dif­fi­cult job be­cause lit­tle work had been done in Aus­tralia at that stage,” he said. “Game man­agers at the time tended to con­fuse re­search into game with game man­age­ment: game man­age­ment is the ap­pli­ca­tion of knowl­edge, re­search is dis­cov­er­ing how to do it, and they are dis­tinct ac­tiv­i­ties that re­quire dif­fer­ent sorts of peo­ple and train­ing.”

Max was also fac­ing a shift away from game within Govern­ment. While he was away, the game man­age­ment sec­tion dis­banded. “They changed the name and their ob­jec­tives changed at the same time; in ef­fect the peo­ple in charge were not in­ter­ested in game and they did wildlife work. “Un­der Na­tional Parks and Wildlife they were in ef­fect anti-game: game worked stopped, the game re­serves were con­sid­ered lit­tle na­tional parks and were man­aged as lit­tle na­tional parks but they had no money to man­age them. “No work was done at Tower Hill for more than five years, there were protests about it.”

The is­sue is still alive to­day and Max be­lieves the hunt­ing fra­ter­nity can again lay the foun­da­tion for sig­nif­i­cant re­form, just as they did in the lead up to the es­tab­lish­ment of the State Game Re­serve net­work. “The most valu­able thing hun­ters can do is at­tempt­ing to do th­ese things them­selves and per­suade the de­part­ment, who will think they can do it bet­ter, and take over; if you tell them to do it, they won’t,” he said.

“A really big ef­fort should go into hav­ing man­age­ment of game re­serves shift to the Game Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity; they are the only ones who will man­age them prop­erly.”

Again, Max points to the Na­tional Hunt­ing Ar­chive, a joint project of FGA and ADA, as a sig­nif­i­cant re­source for build­ing the case.

A grant un­der the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment’s Sus­tain­able Hunt­ing Ac­tion Plan will be­gin the process of consolidating the ar­chive and mak­ing it more ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic for re­search.

Age has caught up with the ad­ven­turer who ex­presses frus­tra­tion that he can no longer scale the lad­ders to put ar­chive boxes in the right or­der. “We need hun­ters to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for it and some­one to be the cu­ra­tor in train­ing. If no­body is look­ing af­ter it, all of this is down­graded from a valu­able re­source to a col­lec­tion that is just stored away and pre­served,” Max said. “It would be tremen­dous to have a small group whose think­ing is in­formed by the ar­chive, whose ar­gu­ments en­com­pass a broader his­tor­i­cal view rather than the is­sue of the day. “As well as be­liev­ing in what you do. you have to have a valid case as well as the num­bers; we had that in 1958 but I think now we have the num­bers but not the case, and mak­ing that case re­lies on the his­tory and her­itage con­tained in the ar­chive.”

“I was re­spon­si­ble for the game bird pro­gram; for the first two years we had to work out what rec­om­men­da­tions to make to Govern­ment about game birds.”

Max Downes on the 1951 Antarc­tic Ex­pe­di­tion

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