Australia's First Naturalists

Australia's First Naturalists

Indigenous Peoples' Contributions To Early Zoology

Would Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson have ever crossed the Blue Mountains without the help of the local Aboriginal people? As silent partners, Aboriginal Australians gave Europeans their first views of iconic animals, such as the Koala and Superb Lyrebird, and helped to unravel the mystery of the egg-laying mammals: the Echidna and Platypus. Indigenous people were routinely engaged by those with an interest in Australia's animals, yet this significant participation was barely acknowledged. However, a new book sheds light on their important contributions.

Australia's First Naturalists is a fascinating read for those wanting to learn more about our original inhabitants' contribution to the collection, recognition and classification of Australia's unique fauna. Authors Penny Olsen and Lynette Russell have gathered together Aboriginal peoples' contributions to demonstrate the crucial role they played in early Australian zoology, and also explores the meaningful relationships formed between European explorers and Aboriginal people.

Lavishly illustrated, Australia's First Naturalists heightens our appreciation of the previously unrecognised complex knowledge of Indigenous societies.

Penny Olsen is an Honorary Professor in the Division of Ecology, Evolution and Genetics at The Australian National University. After a career as a field biologist and ecological consultant, she has is now mostly occupied writing books about Australian natural history and its recorders, both artistic and scientific. She has written extensively for the National Library of Australia, including Collecting Ladies : Ferdinand von Mueller and Women Botanical Artists (2103) and Australian Predators of the Sky (2015).

Lynette Russell is a Professor at Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, Monash University. Lynette's focus is on developing an anthropological approach to the story of the past. While her historical interests are far ranging – across the 18th to the 20th centuries, from Aboriginal people in the maritime industry, the Gunditjmara and Wurundjeri people of Victoria to the Smoki people in Prescott, Arizona – one of her major concerns is with the history of anthropology itself.

Australia's First Naturalists
NLA Publishing
Authosr: Penny Olsen and Lynette Russell
ISBN: 9780642279378
RRP: $44.99

Interview with Penny Olsen

Question: What inspired you to write Australia's First Naturalists?

Penny Olsen: During research for my other books on early natural history in Australia, time and time again, the assistance of the Indigenous people to zoological collectors came up. Not only did they give European naturalists them their first views of many of our unique animals, but they accompanied expeditions that defined the species' distributions before the spread of colonial settlement. The accounts are scattered, hidden away, and the Indigenous contribution marginilised, So I thought it was important to gather them together and set the record straight.

Lynette Russell : I was very grateful for the invitation to co-author this book with Penny. My motivation, based on many years of working with Aboriginal communities doing historical, archival and museum-based research, was to highlight the role played by Indigenous faunal and ecological knowledge.


Question: Can you tell us about the research you conducted prior to writing Australia's First Naturalists?

Penny Olsen: I went through the literature, including First Fleet and explorers' journals, accounts by naturalists, books by and about natural history collectors, and the like. Unfortunately, the voices are all European, or Indigenous voices as reported by Europeans. We invited my co-author Lynette Russell to provide a greater Indigenous perspective.

Lynette Russell : As a specialist in nineteenth century ethnography I had decades of research that feed into my contribution. The indigenous perspective I provide is both personal and professional, derived from countless conversations with elders across dozens of communities.


Question: What message do you hope readers take from Australia's First Naturalists?

Penny Olsen: I hope for an appreciation of the positive contribution that Aboriginal people have made to Western zoology, the advancement of Australia and the building of the nation.

Lynette Russell : I hope it stands as a testament to the relationships that emerged out of the arrival of Europeans, and shows the agency and complexity of Indigenous peoples and cultures.


Interview by Brooke Hunter

Australia's First Naturalists
NLA Publishing
Authosr: Penny Olsen and Lynette Russell
ISBN: 9780642279378
RRP: $44.99




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