Interviewed by Ebb (October 2016)
Ebb: Welcome good sir, how have you been keeping?
Howard: Bloody great, I love retirement! Have become trailer trash in Augusta, no house to worry about, just have to wear wellies all the time as they reckon it’s the wettest (and coldest) year in forty years down here. It is wet, it is cold but once I move to a new site that isn’t constantly under water (tomorrow) I will be fine. Great fishing too!
Ebb: Howard, our east-coast readers may well be acquainted with your work but may not necessarily have heard your most entertaining accent. Would you mind letting us know a little of your upbringing and country of origin?
Howard: What accent, before her death my mum reckoned I had a dinky-di Aussie accent? Born in Blackburn, at one time a great town – 3 breweries (all good), more pubs per head of population than anywhere else in the world probably, good open-air market etc, etc. Now one brewery making shitehouse beer, most of the small pubs gone for beer barns, market gone. Been voted the worst town in the UK for the last decade or so according to my brother who still lives there. Last time I was there I was returning from work in Canada, two nights was two nights too long.
Ebb: What is your favourite Blackburn Rover’s moment in time?
Howard: Listening to the radio of the last game of the 1994-95 season, Blackburn lost to Liverpool, but United only managed a draw to West Ham and we won the Premier League. With the time delay and starting beers early, I seem to recall that I didn’t go to work the next day. Probably even more beers to celebrate. What a day! Other than that all the days spent at Ewood and following them all over England – even when they were playing awful football, but days with mates made it worth it, well almost.
Ebb: Your PhD was on gobies, care to tell us about the study?
Howard: Started off as an ecological study but found a goby that everyone was calling Favonigobius lateralis, and it obviously wasn’t , so I contacted Barry and Doug who agreed, and apart from the first chapter, which was not an intro but the ecological work, the rest became a taxonomic and systematic thesis. Weird as I always thought taxonomy was for boring old farts. Maybe that’s what I became.
Ebb: Why do you find fish larvae so interesting?
Howard: Pancho I suppose, and they are neat. Especially salamander fish. Spent ages looking for them, couldn’t find them with the usual methods, then needed a pee by the side of the vehicle and looked down in the roadside drain slash pool and saw them sitting on their fins just like adults, neat.
Ebb: And you did quite a lot of work on Lampreys. What is so interesting about these beasts?
Howard: For a craniate 500 million years old and still here, no jaws and still here, beat that! Cool, cool animals, ooh and they taste real good.
Ebb: I’ve asked you to provide us with a photo that you value. Care to tell us why this image is important to you?
Howard: One of my grandsons and my bike, love them both. Would have loved to have shown you my other grandson and his bike. Also my grandad either fishing or with his bike, or both, he taught me to love, and respect, fish, fishing and bikes but, in his eyes at least, could unfortunately not teach me to appreciate good scotch – his third love.
Ebb: Wedged between Potter and Morgan, what was that like?
Howard: Absolutely great, I learned a great deal from both of them. Ian gave me my opportunity and taught me about rigour, writing and believing in your convictions. Even if it took me nine years to convince him of some, and longer about cladistics (not sure if he believes now). As far as Morgs, what can I say, he was an undergraduate, honours and Ph.D student of mine but more importantly a friend to me and my family. Couldn’t have asked for better bookends!
Ebb: And I hear rumours you are wetting a line. Where do you fish and what are your fishing rituals now that you have escaped the nine to five?
Howard: I will fish for anything. But my favourites are surface lures for yellow-fin whiting – they shouldn’t do it with that inferior mouth. The other is any jigging, but especially for sambos – love em, pull like a train, eat well (belly flaps raw are supreme) and release well. (See attached paper on why).
Ebb: Whilst I am revered for asking the soft hitting questions, I also try to throw in one that might turn-in-the-rough on a fourth day wicket. Dr Gill, what is your stance on colourful language in the lecture theatre? Are you for or against? (I heard you could captivate the undergrads if the tide was right).
Howard: All for it, and who is Dr Gill? Anything that makes students sit up and listen rather than talk to their mates about what happened on the X-Factor last night is worth doing. I used to give them an answer to a question in their first practical assessment and told them if most got it wrong I would write DICKHEADS across the board in the next practical. It often got wrote, but their next exam was way, way better.
Ebb: If there was one of your papers you recommend the Australian freshwater fish fraternity would read – which one are you most proud of?
Howard: I think the work that I would most want freshwater people to read is Ian’s, Claude’s, Dalal ‘s and my chapter on lampreys in Freshwater Fishes of North America, if you want to know anything about lampreys from evolution to conservation it is a great overview. The other paper, which all fish biologists should read, is our account of the discovery of a new type of swim bladder (I’ve attached it to the email mate).
Ebb: Well thanks for sharing some of what has been a stellar career with fellow fish research folk. Is there any chance we might see a cameo from you at the ASFB conference in Albany, WA next year? Surely an ale and a chat is on the cards there……….
Howard: Sounds like a good idea, when is it, can I give a talk, and how many ales? And off for another few now!