Curious Minds

Read a sample chapter from Meanjin | Buy a copy from the NLA | Acknowledgements | Reviews
Who is it for? | Who's in it? | Background reading in Trove | NLA media page | Other places to buy it

cur-minds-cover-50.jpg (212K) Writing history: The idea was conceived in the second half of 2010, inspired (in a sense) by some of the stuff I had that wasn't going to be accessible or interesting to the younger readers of Australian Backyard Naturalist, the first draft was completed on January 27, 2011. By June 26, 2011: all writing was complete and the ms was submitted. On January 27, 2012, the first draft of the edited ms with all the design in place arrived, and on February 27, a cleaned-up third draft was in my hands. I had my first copy in August, and it was published on October 1, 2012. Now I just need to clean this messy page up!

It is the story for some of the curious minds who came to Australia, or in a few cases were born here, people who cared about the natural history of the place. Some were artists, some scientists, some collectors, some explorers, and some just enjoyed natural history.

ISBN 9780642277541, written by Peter Macinnis, published October 2012 by the National Library of Australia.

curious-minds-book-small-0080 (305K)

Thanks, people!

This is me, and yes, I'm looking pleased, because that thing on the right is a beautiful book.

I'm allowed to say that, because while I wrote the words, Jo Karmel, Susan Shortridge and Emma Gregory did the editing and Philip Banks and Natalie Webb did the design work, while Felicity Harmey and Jemma Posch sorted the images and it's that largely uncredited hard yakka that makes a book beautiful.

Yes, I found them lots of nice pictures to use from the National Library of Australia's collections,but that was just the start.

Anyhow, I want to thank those seven—and Susan Hall at the National Library of Australia for taking my nebulous idea for the book and then believing in it through all my stumbles.

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Find it on Amazon (NOT YET--this is a reminder to me!!)

Who is it for?

This book is written for a general readership, and it will be lavishly illustrated, using the publisher's magnificent collections and other stuff like the pics above. There are bunyips, Australian hippos, Sydney alligators and more. (In fact, the bunyip is shown below, though in the end, one clever chap realised it wasn't a bunyip, the teeth tell us what the hippo really was, and the alligator was almost certainly a lace monitor.)

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s-IMG_3233 (212K) bunyip1 (81K) bunyip2 (80K) Hint: the photograph on the far right was taken on Thursday Island. It shows the jaw of a "hippo". This one is devoid of teeth, alas, but it is still clearly a dugong, caught and butchered on the shore. Middle and left: two views of the alleged "bunyip" that William Sharp Macleay showed was really a deformed foal. The drawing is from the Sydney Morning Herald, while the photo was taken in the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney.

Dramatis personae

In the end, the people covered include:

  • William Dampier;
  • Willem de Vlamingh;
  • Jacques-Julienne La Billardière;
  • Charles-Alexandre Le Sueur;
  • François Péron;
  • Joseph Banks;
  • Charles Darwin;
  • Ferdinand Bauer;
  • Robert Brown;
  • Amalie Dietrich;
  • Georgiana Molloy;
  • George Bennett;
  • John White;
  • Thomas Watling;
  • T. H. Huxley;
  • John Macgillivray;
  • Richard Cunningham;
  • Allan Cunningham;
  • Sir Thomas Mitchell;
  • William Blandowski;
  • Gerard Krefft;
  • Ludwig Leichhardt;
  • John Gilbert;
  • Ferdinand von Mueller;
  • Louisa Anne Meredith (aka Mrs Charles Meredith);
  • Harriet and Helena Scott (Harriet Scott was sometimes identified as Harriet Forde, her married name);
  • Louisa Atkinson;
  • Ellis Rowan;
  • William Sharp Macleay;
  • John Lewin;
  • John and Elizabeth Gould;
  • George French Angas and
  • William Hay Caldwell.

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ill-merc-rev-cm (263K) d-tel-rev-cm (429K) gleebooks-cat (236K) abbey-cm (320K) launc-ex-cm (203K) Andrew Isles catalogue (234K) 506-Newc-herald (248K)

Excerpts from a review in the Journal of Australian Colonial History

Robert Haworth, Journal of Australian Colonial History, 15, 2013, pp. 230-231:

"...the National Library of Australia has produced yet another masterpiece of colour illustration, as if to demonstrate by example that the death of the book has been greatly exaggerated. The book is beautiful to the feel: its 213 pages in soft but durable covers can be bent and flicked through like a good field naturalist's guide, revealing startling illustrations from the best nature artists of each era, and also striking portraits of some of the main characters discussed. A solemn elderly Joseph Banks stares out of one page, followed by pages of the equally knobbly Banksia plants named after him, and after these, some of the many eager but often unworldly botanists that he sent out to carry on his work."


"Macinnis makes some interesting points about the nation-building influence of the wide publication of Australian naturalist accounts, and how these in turn morphed into the Blinky Bills and Snugglepots of children's literature, which created a virtuous circle of national pride and environmental awareness. Beginning with the versatile Mrs Meredith, many of the compilers did not hesitate to join the fight to stop the senseless destruction of many of the wonders that they described, though it was obviously a lonely battle at times."


"The author is a former science teacher, whose students were very fortunate to be taught by someone with the obvious knack of bringing complicated ideas, events and people to life."

Thank you sir: I don't know you, but I like your words!

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Links to some of my original source material in Trove

A lot of my information comes from contemporary newspapers which have been digitised and are in the Trove collection of the National Library of Australia. This section is for readers who want to read more and learn the stories behind the stories.

Please bear with me as I trawl my way through my notes, but ideally, anybody will be able to access this stuff.

Some of the links are to public lists that I have created on Trove which are easy to add. There are also large numbers of tagged articles, and I fear these will take rather longer to add. Please note that the way I do this, there are some tags in here that are not mine, but a goodly number of them are. The tags should all take you to newspaper articles (I think) and you will need to click on the link that says "View all xxx results" (where xxx is a number): this appears directly below "Digitised newspapers and more". Get used to it, and have fun!

Important: Once you have got inside the system, you should be able to find other tags attached to the articles. These are hot links and will take you to more stuff !!!

George French Angas

Angas tags

Louisa Atkinson

Louisa Atkinson tags

Ferdinand Bauer

German names changed tags

George Bennett

George Bennett tags | acclimatisation tags

William Blandowski

Blandowski tags | the Blandowski affair (lots of overlap)

William Hay Caldwell

Caldwell tags | echidnas | platypuses | the marsupial reproduction fuss | another view of the fuss that overlaps (look, what do you expect when it's free? there are glitches—live with it!) | and another (same caveat) | Wilhem Haacke

Allan Cunningham

Tags for Allan Cunningham

Richard Cunningham

Tags for Richard Cunningham

Charles Darwin

Darwin tags

Amalie Dietrich

Amalie Dietrich tags

John and Elizabeth Gould

Some Australian-related material, plus Darwin's finches

T H Huxley

Huxley tags | H M S Rattlesnake

Gerard Krefft

Gerard Krefft | Ceratodus | snakebite treatment | Neoceratodus | Wellington Caves

Ludwig Leichhardt

Leichhardt tags

John Lewin

Traces of Lewin's life: annotated list

John Macgillivray

Macgillivray tags

William Sharp Macleay

Bunyips: annotated list | Macleay tags | Monsters (relates to bunyips)

Louisa Anne Meredith

Meredith tags

Sir Thomas Mitchell

Wellington Caves | Mitchell tags

Georgiana Molloy

Articles about Georgiana Molloy: annotated list

Scott sisters

Helena and Harriet Scott Scott sisters tags

Ferdinand von Mueller

In the Great War, a lot of names "of enemy origin" were scrubbed from the map, including Doktor Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, K.C.M.G. Idiots!!
German names changed tags | von Mueller tags

Ellis Rowan

Ellis Rowan tags | hissy fits about Rowan's success

William Woolls

William Woolls isn't in the book, but only because I ran out of space. William Woolls tags
There is more to come on this. I am trying to write the next book, but I will do a few each day.

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Buying it

I support independent bookshops and institutions which sell my books.

Buy a copy from the National Library (Canberra)

Buy it from Abbeys (Sydney)

Buy it from Gleebooks (Sydney)

Buy it from Embiggen Books, Melbourne

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It was created on January 5, 2011 and last revised February 10, 2014

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