About the Author
I have spent more than forty years writing and in fact there are three completed books that have not seen the light of day. It is definitely not easy and very pointedly one has to accept, right from the beginning, that there is no money to be made from writing pigeon books, except maybe in Mandarin, Chinese, where all the money appears to be today. Essentially, there has to be a higher calling, a higher motivation, culminating in an abiding love of the game and on an even higher plane, the love of the birds above all else. Both these, in my humble opinion, are in serious need of improvement and is the core incentive for writing a pigeon book. Cost of production, versus investment risk, is a genuine gamble. The liberal use of colour throughout and the relative short run production becomes exceedingly expensive. This coupled with the possibility of ending up with a shed full of useless paper, collectively, determines the selling price.
Nevertheless, short run production has an advantage. Each edition is a refinement on the previous, especially spelling mistakes amongst other issues. It is amazing; one proceeds for years with a solitary spelling version in the old cranium and find, often by accident, that it just isn’t so. For example, hair-brained is hare-brained and I only caught up with that one this time round. There is a vast difference between ‘less’ and ‘few’ or ‘fewer’ and ‘alright’ is not a word all right? And our birds have conformation, not confirmation. Very early in the first edition I said something or other was bazaar, when I really meant bizarre. All the way through there are traps for young players. Only this year I realised that the master copy in MSWord gave up the ghost with the spell-checker long ago, probably due to the size, over 350,000 words and over a period of weeks, this year, I took the master copy apart piece by piece to spell check and found far too many spelling mistakes, and still without entirely catching up with some of the classic traps I am sure.
All that said, the topic is very straight forward, but once you look around it is quickly realised that your book has been written, hashed and rehashed over umpteen dozen times and by some very eminent pigeon people over generations, a hundred years, at least, and immediately acts as a dead hand on any initial enthusiasm, a wilt on any literary green shoots that might have been starting to show. It becomes manifestly obvious that if one still had something to offer, it had to go deeper; it had to be a book that no one else could write, or at least has not yet been written; to bring to the table issues and topics not discussed before, or at a new level and ultimately still have sufficient value for potential readers. In other words, to convey a complex message that could be followed with some reasonable explanation. The title “Pigeon Racing – A Scientific Approach” evolved naturally once the framework began to take shape.
As I wrote in the Preface, the book is a culmination of part personal journey, part historical, part developed insight, but always designed to be educational. For the personal part, it had to be lived to be authentic. There is no suggestion here that it is the only path to success - many roads lead to Rome; it was just simply mine and I might add quickly that others have been more successful, but I also think it takes a lifetime lived in the ‘game’ to really understand how it comes together and how it all works – and I have certainly lived it! We have such a diverse occupation, with all trying to achieve the same outcome, such that we could place three fanciers in a room and obtain three distinct different opinions on everything – mine just happens to have a scientific flavour.
I have been very fortunate by keeping detailed annual diaries dating back to 1974 and earlier, potentially forty years of otherwise useless information, unless I made use of them and I did. Without the diaries, it was difficult to see ‘the big picture’ and I covered this fairly extensively in the book focusing on multiple issues, but particularly on homing and weather forecasting and where both had not been well covered previously - at least from a serious perspective of getting the birds home – all the time. One had either not been around long enough to know, or alternatively had retained memories of good times and were not adequately balanced with the not so good. Diary records, in respect to pigeon racing, are invaluable and very rare indeed.
In my lifetime, there has been a major shift in the use and perception of domestic animals and I have written on it, doubtless to a fault. Western civilisation now lives in unprecedented comfort divorced from animals, save for the obligatory cat, dog or budgerigar. This isolation is evident when many urban dwellers become nervous in the presence of semi-domestic animals, including our pigeons and where manure, smells and animal noises are strange and worrying. It is this isolation today that produces negative outpourings in suburbia; a growing perception that these animals pollute the environment and harm health and I have covered this in passing. I have also written about how societal empathy towards all animals is on the increase; as evidence the wide range of welfare issues going on around us – the “free range” and RSPCA approved poultry, stall-free pork and beef nonsenses, balanced with the less than comical issues surrounding our larger cousins, the horse and greyhound industries and it follows that we are far from immune from public scrutiny. We need to firm up on our practices and I have given space to that.
I was fortunate in 1980 when the late Albert Sampson, past Pigeon Racing Federation of WA (PRF) President and life member and one of nature’s gentlemen saw something in me to drop in my lap all his historical documentation, including the late Chris Spivey’s 1932 to 1937 newspaper clippings, to collectively carry on his good work. The best I could do was to include suitable parts in the book. Likewise, in the same year, the late Brian Kent placed with me the almost priceless four complete leather bound volumes of the late Alf Lowe’s 1917 to 1927 Australasian Racing Pigeon and Australasian Pigeon Keeper publications and I made good use of them, after gaining advice from the Mitchell Library of Sydney. Thanks also to the family of the highly respected late E.A. (Ted) Stevens, past PRF President and life member and previously Central Cumberland Federation of Sydney, for depositing with me Ted’s papers including the priceless 1880 to 1887 Northrop Barker letters (the source of the famous “letter Blood” legend) to Samuel Hordern of the famous Hordern family of Sydney. Selections of these, plus a detailed account of Northrop Barker and Samuel Hordern and the Hordern family are in the book. Likewise, in the bound volumes there are the extensive writings of Maximillian Foy of Foy Harrison fame and these have been transcribed for posterity and for the lessons they contain.
I was privileged in 1994 to be asked by the local combined federations’ executives to write a Code of Practice for pigeon keeping and racing to meet impending changes to the WA Animal Welfare Act and where we required a Code to carry on our industry and to operate in suburbia. I also simultaneously developed associated protocols and specification for race releases. It was a challenge and produced some deep thinking and fortuitously coincided with a spate of serious Local Government issues (also covered in the Code) that took almost ten years to bring under control. Extracts from that period are also in the book as lessons for the future.
It was Doctor Francis Pryor MBE, FSA, an English archaeologist, of Time Team fame in his book Britain BC that put me on the path to mitochondrial DNA and the implications it has for our breeding plans for the future and I have covered that subject extensively.
I researched, broadly, homing issues including the late Professor WT Keeton of Cornell University USA magnetism and Schmidt Koenig and Schlichte frosted contact lens and related studies and concluded they were all without foundation and instead determined that homing is a learned function, not innate, as we understand innate, not subject to radar and the like, not busily traversing the countryside, unerringly, like an Exocet missile, blindly homing in on its target through electronic beams plying back and forth between a target and nanocrystals of magnetite found in the upper beak of homing pigeons – which represents the end game of the magnetism theory. Regrettably, this outlook is alive and well today and even within the decision-making hierarchy of too many pigeon racing organisations, where options present to send the birds off on any tangent, ostensibly because they know how to come home from anywhere.
Under license from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Queensland, I have made extensive use of their nutrients and feedstuffs data and is quite revealing, actually very surprising, particularly in comparisons with mixes across the globe in terms of metabolizable and digestible energy. In the past, I made an extensive scientific study of grains and legumes consumed by our birds and established real life wants and needs and is of immense satisfaction that those findings, much later, corresponded exactly with DAFF’s nutrient composition tables and are also outlined in the book.
There is much more and represents the culmination of twenty years of stop, start writing and I might add is an ever-evolving project which, at this stage, is now in its sixth edition and with no end in sight. As feedback comes forward I have attempted to expand by way of further explanation and illustrations and culminate in a book that now weighs more than three kilograms! Not easy to read in bed, but the format seems to be that which fanciers want and as they flippantly say in the field of work where I cut my teeth for more than thirty years, - “It weighs seven pounds and the cover looks good, so it must be right!”Sincerely,
Pigeon Racing – A Scientific Approach