Australian Backyard Earth Scientist

ABES cover (38K) ISBN 9780642279347, written by Peter Macinnis, now at the printer (August 2018), having been designed and edited, to be published by the National Library of Australia. Making a good book takes time.

It looks set for release in January 2019. Well before that date. there will be more stuff appearing here: like the odd taste...

The purpose of this book: to explain in an accessible way, some of the strange things the planet throws at us, like rocks that float and rocks that bend, though there is some extra background here.

The "cover" you see here is a dummy, only.

There will now be a silence of several months, but news will appear here and on the Facebook page when it seems appropriate. I am going to have some grandchildren time, and then I will post some pretty earth-sciencey pictures and stuff. Anybody who reads my blog will soon work out that I have had a fondness for rocks for quite a while.


Acknowledgements | Who is it for? | The Blog (extras) | Chapter contents | This book on Facebook

A note from the author

Here you will meet many sorts of rocks, including a few surprises, like a rock that floats.

I also look at rocks that fold, rocks that fault, climate change a volcano at Bondi, and quite a few other things. I hope you will have a great deal more fun from this book. I certainly had fun writing it.


The main helpers were my family: mainly the ones who patiently waited while I took many of the photographs for this work: Christine Macinnis who was there for all of them (and read all of this), and non-relatves Lyn and Warren Kidson who were there for a large number of the Sydney ones, and Anne, Terence and David Lemmon, who stood still for quite a few, across four states. Angus and Cate Macinnis helped me collect wombat bones, and Angus and Duncan Macinnis made two deep forays with me into the Budawangs, seeking an elusive unconformity. In the end, they made a third trip, without me, to get the shot I needed. Cate found me New Zealand sites, and Brianna and Alastair came with me for some of them. It has been a family show.

Laura Hicks let me use her photos of Sideling Hill, and the nice people at 'Inside the Volcano' let me use Benjamin Hardman's picture of the interior of Þríhnúkagígur.
My grand-niece Annie, gave me a different answer about pumice and also found more pumice for me.

While I was writing this, I was "visiting scientist" at Manly Vale Public School, where my young charges kept me on my toes. Five stage 2 classes heard varying versions of my essay on the seasons, and shared thoughts with me. Charlie (he knows who I mean) gave me a marvellous different answer that made me feel ten years younger.

Geoff Lambert was good enough to share with me his estimates for the North Head rock fall, which was probably about 950 square metres and the height (if no overhang, was an average of 33 m, giving us a volume of 31000 cubic metres, translating to a mass of ~75,000 tons of rock.

On the seasons, thanks go to On the season markers, thanks to Matthew Ansell-Laurendet, Barbara Braxton, Mel Campbell, Peter Chubb, Toby Fiander, Jan Gidge, Anne Graham, Rachel Hennessy, Serene Johnson, Mary-Ellen Jordan, Tamara Kelly, Peter McBurney, Rob McFarlane, Kari McKern, Ian Musgrave, Judith Nelson, K J Price, Anil Tortop, Tamsyn Taylor, Emily Walpole, Alexandra Williams, Losang Zopa.

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Who I want to reach

Some of the friends I made as a small boy infected me with an enthusiasm for nature.

I hope among other things, to give adults the tools with which to infect another generation. Every activity in the book was done from scratch and photographed, so readers can see the steps and read a logical account that leaves nothing out, because I made notes to myself as I went through the steps.

In the 1950s, I used to go home from school, having seen a demonstration in the classroom. I would try to repeat it at home, using a chemistry set which gave me a great deal more freedom than my parents ever realised.

As a teacher, I adopted a deliberate policy of sharing what I called "take-home science", activities that you could take home and try for yourself. I specialised in making my own equipment from available scrap, and showing my audiences how I made stuff. This book is the culmination of a life-time's experience as the arch-underminer of the Machines That Go Ping industry.
Simple science is good science.

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Instructions for use

brianna-and-us (103K) This book is strongly recommended for reading to grandchildren!

(Obligatory disclosure in relation to this photo: please note that Robert the Rose Horse was employed as a stand-in for Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, which had slept in that morning. In consequence, this picture may contain traces of roses, sneezes and horse hair.)

I hope this book won't ever be a classroom text book, but I would like its ideas and ideals to seep into classrooms everywhere, because the science you find here is stuff that young people can see and do in the class, and then take home and do again and again—and improve on. They can share the methods—and the wonder—with parents, grandparents and neighbours. Lifelong education goes both ways!

Some of the freedom I found as an experimenting child could have been dangerous (especially the things I did with the chemicals!), and I make it the Golden Rule to help my readers dodge those dangers, but there is still plenty of adventure to be had. We ended up with far more material than we could use, so difficult stuff, complicated stuff, things that needed special equipment were all deleted.

Freebie extras!

I don't waste the out-takes, though.

The dropped items are now appearing, bit by bit, in my writing blog, Old Writer on the Block. Remember: it may not be all that hard or risky: we just had too much material. Poke around there, and notice the tags that I attach to the entries to help readers to zero in on particular types of entry. In particular, follow the "Earth Science" tag.

Chapters in brief:

  1. A Short History of Earth
  2. A Variable Earth
  3. Rocks
  4. Weathering and Erosion
  5. Water
  6. Weather
  7. Oceans
  8. Climate Change

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Click here for information from the National Library's shop, and use this second link for information from the distributor. Note that the second link will probably have more detail in late 2018.

This file is

It was created on January 17, 2017 (the day I completed the ms) and last updated August 10, 2018.

If you email me at macinnis at, you will reach a spam trap, but you will be read, eventually, probably maybe. If you put my first name in front of that address (so it reads petermacinnis), you will reach me much faster and more surely. This low-tech solution is to make email harvesting difficult. I am generally willing to talk to interesting humans. Spammers miss out twice on fitting that specification.

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The home page of this set is here.