Barbara Main interview, 22 August 2012, 29 August 2012 and 5 September 2012

Dublin Core


Barbara Main interview, 22 August 2012, 29 August 2012 and 5 September 2012


Science; Zoology


Born in Kellerberrin in 1929, Adjunct Professor Barbara York Main grew up with an interest in insects. After completing her schooling at Northam High School she entered the University of Western Australia to study Zoology, finishing her PhD in 1956. Professor Main has worked at the University of Western Australia as an Honorary Associate, Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow since 1958. Professor Main is a leading expert on arachnology with a particular focus on the genus Mygalomorph (Trap Door Spider). She has written four books and has published 90 research papers. Professor Main has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her extensive work in Zoology.


Main, Barbara


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


John Bannister


Barbara Main


Interview 1: 45 minutes, 27 seconds
Interview 2: 51 minutes, 37 seconds
Interview 3: 44 minutes, 51 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 21 minutes, 55 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

00:00:00 Introduction background information. Barbara York and the Wheat belt in the depression. Affinity with the landscape. Interest in entomology. Women’s options for a career. Desire to work in a museum.
00:05:05 Ludwig Glauert and the Perth Museum. Farming life and brothers. Solitary person. Escaping life and farming community by gaining education. The path of coming to University of Western Australia. Schooling and families on farms. Matriculation and institutional life at The Women’s College, Catherine College, in the box buildings from WWII. Memories of life and the university.
00:10:28 Impressions of UWA and actual experiences of the campus. Reputation of the department of Zoology. Memories of Ernest Hodgkin. Inspiration and the study of entomology and Jenkins. Professor Waring and Professor Nichols. Presence of women at the university. Classical biology and new ideas with Professor Waring.
00:16:40 Waring broadens the scope of the course. Bob Kirk. Direction. Thoughts of the liberal arts course. Interest in writing of general natural history. Decisions to do a science degree. Dropping out of mathematics and opting for the soft sciences.
00:20:39 Early years and the course structure. Memories of Nichols and Clarke*, Rex Prider*, Rhodes Fairbridge. Inspiring world of the university and learning. Getting into entomology with Ernest Hodgkin. Interest in spiders and arachnology. Economic entomology and Western Australia.
00:25:30 Studies on spiders, trapdoor spiders.
00:31:30 Studying crustaceans and spiders. Orb weavers and teaching at Otago* New Zealand. Life as a student as an undergraduate and PhD student in the 1940-50s. Western Australia a diverse place to study Mygalomorph spiders.
00:35:10 UWA and the rest of the world. Visits to Australia Museum and Tasmania. Professor Hickman* was an inspiration. Memories of the museum in WA and curator Ludwig Glauert.
00:38:11 Isolated university and students ambitions. Medical school and higher degree. Bert Main goes to Chicago and Oxford. Among the first PhD students at UWA. Direction of personal career. The second woman to obtain a PhD. Encouragement of women by Professor Waring in the course. Obtaining a formal position was impossible for women. Catherine Berndt* anthropology. Importance of research grants.
00:43:20 Formal positions for women at UWA not encouraged. Mother was sympathetic for Barbara to further her studies.

Interview 2

00:00:00 Memories of Chris Jessop. Stimulated by a person considered a bush naturalist. Inaccessible to the public. Direction and focus for publications.
00:05:10 Distinguishing the primitive Mygalomorph and modern spiders. Evolution of spiders. Origins of the Palaeozoic era. Attracted by the webs of the true spiders. Door types and taxonomic characters.
00:10:45 Finding new species the genus idiosoma*spiders. Discoveries put Barbara Main on the map. Having grants at UWA as a PhD and further career.
00:15:30 Becoming a lecturer. Order of Obiata* spiders. Spider studies. Wolf spiders. Australian Museum. Motivations to study Mygalomporph*spiders.
00:20:20 Scholarship to the British museum. Encouragement to go overseas. Observations in Britain and other museum. Difference of spiders in isolation. Early findings and formal taxonomy. Conothele* Malayana. As distinct from a genus called Amidia* from the Americas and Spain. Findings of the commonness of the species. Species found only in WA.
00:25:40 Isolation of colony. WA a South-Western peninsular and the relic from the Gondwana phase. Description of the habitat of trapdoor spiders. Downgrading of zoology and the emphasis on procedure. Subjects that attract students.
00:29:47 Sharing of knowledge at the University, departments. Publications. Blind Mygalomorphs* live in the caves of the Nullarbor. People don’t read papers. Comparisons to the connection of botanical papers to other organisms. People attracted to other areas of study.
00:35:00 Importance of spiders as sign post to other ecology and the changing environment. Reserves, endangered and restricted species of trapdoor spiders. People taking on board indicators. SRE Short Range Endemics. Impacts of mining. Assessing short range of Trapdoors.
00:37:07 Working with Harry Butler. Spiders eat small reptiles. Studies of Redback spiders. Comparing New Zealand and African species. Development of career. Affinity of spiders with other locations and countries. Recognising female and male spiders. Morphology of spiders. Sperm transfer via pedipalps*. Male trapdoor spiders are capture and studies. Collecting the penultimate male. Identifying a species.
00:44:01 Focusing future work. Diversity of climate ranges. Western Australia has a wider range of species. Technology associated with study of spiders not so reliable. Study of crustaceans. Sticking to spiders. Discussing invertebrates. The importance of publishing. Taxonomy of spiders. Being approached to write books. Spiders of Australia... A guide to their identification with brief notes on the natural history and common form. Jacaranda 1964
00:49:00 Writing of the book with encouragement by Professor Waring. Drawings of spiders. Memories of influential people. Professor Waring and the pursuit of research interest. Proving self.

Interview 3

00:00:00 Career and teaching. Going through CV Adjunct Professor. Changes in the quality of academic learning, teaching and formal procedures. Changes student and staff research techniques altering at the broad scale taxonomic affinities. Species level and survey short range endemics. Protecting flora and fauna. Students and specialists, the attitudes of biologists.
00:04:24 Rating and rankings are well deserved by UWA. Memories of Albert Russel Main. Lecturing and field courses, his grounding in geology and biology. Conservation implications. Bert and his wider scope for zoology. Research and ecological teaching. National and international recognition.
00:09:52 Main’s early work with frogs. Research in artificial mating of frogs, interest in frog desert adaptation. Main’s early students. Murray Littlejohn* and his technological interest. Distinguishing frogs call. Bert’s interest in adaptation in organisms. Involvement with government bodies. Bert’s involvement in development of reserves.
00:14:45 Bert and his achievements personal chair in 1967. Waring and the god professor system. BR Main was very busy and was a great talker. Not a didactic teacher. Expansive public lectures. Waring and Main are awarded for their work Britannica Award*. Broadening his work on marsupials. Bert and his interest in Marsupial physiology.
00:18:30 Fellow of the AAS, Honorary foreign member of the ASIH, commander of the civil division of the Order of the British Empire. The importance of being recognised for work done. Collaboration in field work. Rough camping and the community at UWA.
00:22:25 Problems at UWA and the parking situation. Discouragement to go to university. Getting information online. The visual aspect of UWA and the Landscape for Learning. Designer buildings.
00:25:10 BR Main’s further achievements. Honorary member of the Royal Society, Honorary DSC, ecological society of Australia medal and Von Beulah medal*. Memories of the B York Main AO.
00:20:11 UWA and other universities. Murdoch and Notre Dame*. Larger number of students and the competition and interaction. Interactions with Curtin and Edith Cowan. International field of landscape and language.
00:30:20 Informal connections. Guest lecturer and conference and study. Zoology and UWA and the world-level interactions. BR Main’s direct interests in zoological affinities with fauna on a world scale. Persistence of Organisms in Australian ecology and changing landscape.
00:34:27 Involvements in corporate endeavours. Spiders and people’s phobias. Most spiders are harmless. Involvements with writing fiction and prose writings. King Wave* and A Visit From Home. Between Wodjil and Tor. Twice-trodden Ground.
00:40:50 Further involvements in lecturing and course involvements. Personal concerns and future interests. Working more solidly with half-finished manuscripts. Final words about UWA




Main, Barbara, “Barbara Main interview, 22 August 2012, 29 August 2012 and 5 September 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed October 22, 2018,