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Bradley, Eileen Burton (1911–1976)

by Heather Radi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

This is a shared entry with Joan Burton Bradley

Eileen Burton Bradley (1911-1976) and Joan Burton Bradley (1916-1982), bush regenerators, were born on 14 August 1911 and 2 September 1916 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, third and fourth daughters of native-born parents John Houghton Bradley, dentist, and his wife Caroline Mary, née Drummond. Both sisters attended Wenona School. Graduating from the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1938), Joan was employed as an industrial chemist. Eileen helped at home and also worked for a dentist. After World War II they bicycled around England, Wales and Scotland, taking particular pleasure in woodlands and forests. They later ran a small decorating business from their Mosman home, where their widowed mother joined them. All three were keen gardeners. Joan was also a skilled carpenter and a black-and-white photographer.

Systematic observers of the natural environment, the sisters studied the habits of three families of the Superb Fairy-wren, Malurus cyaneus, which frequented their garden and nearby Ashton Park. They used colour-coded rings to identify individual birds. Their 'Notes on the Behaviour and Plumage of Colour-ringed Blue Wrens' appeared in Emu (1958). When numbers fell dramatically in 1966, Joan alerted the press that minute doses of organochlorines over long periods caused sterility in small birds.

Eileen and Joan walked regularly in Ashton Park and on Chowder Head. Observing that attempts to control weeds by slashing and clearing resulted in rampant regrowth, they formulated an alternative strategy. The sisters hand-weeded where they walked, doing less than an hour a day and being careful to replace the bush litter which—they believed—contained the seedbank for new growth. They waited for the bush to regenerate. In Weeds and their Control (1967) and in Joan's Bush Regeneration (1971) they developed the three principles of the Bradley method of bush regeneration: work outward from less infested to more seriously infested areas; minimize disturbance, and replace topsoil and litter; allow regeneration to set the pace of the work. Selected hand-tools were the only implements permitted. The Bradleys opposed the use of chemicals and criticized the controlled-burning programme begun in 1971 by the State's Forestry Commission. From 1962 the sisters had kept records of their work. Following an experimental burn in Ashton Park in 1966, they noticed the introduction of weeds and began to watch regrowth after other controlled burning. By 1973 they proclaimed that regular 'cool fires' did more damage to bushland than the wildfires which it was intended to control. In contrast, intense fire stimulates regrowth.

By 1975 bush regeneration was gaining public support and the value of their work was becoming acknowledged. That year the restoration and landscaping of bushland in suburban North Sydney was funded as a National Estate project. Next year money was available to the State branch of the National Trust of Australia for an experiment in weed-control at Ludovic Blackwood Memorial Sanctuary, Beecroft. The trust adopted the Bradley method, employing Joan to supervise the work and to develop its training programme.

The sisters had been supported in their work by the Mosman Parklands and Ashton Park Association, formed in 1964 to oppose a projected car-park for Taronga zoo within Ashton Park. Members of the association joined the Bradleys as volunteer weeders. As their method became more widely known, similar organizations of volunteers formed and local government authorities began to employ bush-regeneration teams. The sisters did not seek to re-create pristine bushland, but waited to see what returned. Sometimes there was no regeneration. Retention of natural litter inhibits germination of some species. The Bradley principles have been modified in practice as knowledge of conditions for germination accumulates: the prescription of small hand-tools has gone and the limitations on regeneration in seriously degraded bushland are better understood. A science has been refined since the Bradleys established its bases.

Eileen died of myocardial infarction on 24 February 1976 in Sydney Hospital, Joan of the same illness on 18 May 1982 at Clifton Gardens; both were cremated. Joan's notes for a revised edition of Bush Regeneration were used for Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration (1988), edited by Joan Larking, Audrey Lenning and Jean Walker.

Select Bibliography

  • Wenonian, 1948
  • National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), Bulletin, 1976-77
  • Mosman Daily, 6 July 1966, 8 Nov 1967, 24 Oct 1970, 9 June 1972, 25 May 1982, 20 Sept 1985
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 June 1972, 2 Feb 1973, 16 Aug 1980, 21 May 1982
  • E. Bradley, Control Burning and Wildfire (manuscript, 1972, held in Mosman Municipal Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Bradley, Eileen Burton (1911–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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