Review Blog

Nov 06 2012

Topsy-turvy world by Kirsty Murray

cover image

National Library of Australia, 2012. ISBN 978 0 642 27749 7.
(Ages: 10+) Recommended. Non fiction. Australian animals. Subtitled, How Australian animals puzzled early explorers, this attractively produced large non fiction book will amaze and intrigue readers as they look inside its pages. Not only do they see pictures of animals drawn by the earliest explorers and their illustrators, but they have descriptions taken from their journals, ready for the reading market back in Europe. Europeans were fascinated by stories from unknown lands and read journals and books about explorations and discoveries with fervour. Each of the animals is given between four and six pages, the ones that caused the most controversy having the larger number of pages allocated. Each section begins with a full page portrait, usually done by an artist who accompanied the expeditions. Following this is a page of information, then two or more pages giving more illustrations and information, including a fact file and small map. The fifteen animals included range from the expected kangaroo, thylacine and platypus to the lesser known bandicoot, flying fox and sea dragon.
Several were of exceptional interest to me and a perusal of the information given gives an idea of the sort of things included for all the other animals.
The pig-footed bandicoot was fist journalled by the explorer Thomas Mitchell in 1836. He described this lovely little animal as pig-footed, the size of a young wild rabbit and with a backward facing pouch. He asked local people for examples but was unable to add to his information. The drawings done by naturalists show a strange long eared creature the shape of a small pig with a snout, all rather at odds with the photo of the stuffed example found in a museum. But before scientists could properly examine this new creature it had died out, probably through the arrival of cattle. It used to frequent poor land, and so a common expression in the nineteenth century was the term, bandicoot run, used to describe a strip of poor land.
I found each of the four pages devoted to this small animal, enthralling, as I would expect many readers would, who like to follow up examples of Australian animals, and the way they were first seen by Europeans.
This book would be well used in classes looking at the early history of Australia, the history of European settlement, the story of the animals, and particularly the extinction of several species covered in this book, the thylacine and the pig-footed bandicoot.
A detailed index, a glossary of the people who first noted and drew these animals, along with glossary of terms and lists of where the illustrations came from, complete this inviting book.
Fran Knight

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