Libby Robin

The Anthropocene by Julia Adeney Thomas, Mark Williams, and Jan Zalasiewicz & Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

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March 2021, no. 429

When fourteen-year-old Dara McAnulty penned a diary entry on 7 August 2018, his grief poured out in stanzas. He felt an acute need for ‘birdsong, abundant fluttering / humming, no more poison, destruction. / Growing for growth, it has to end.’ One month later, he took these words to the People’s Walk for Wildlife in London: ‘I call it a poem but I am not sure it is. I feel it would be good to say aloud, to a crowd … the words spilled out.’ For the event, McAnulty added a title: Anthropocene.

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One of the pleasures of reviewing a book is reading it slowly, paying attention to the rhythms and its author’s intentions, impulses, and indulgences. Reading is always a conversation between writer and reader. A major collection like Life: Selected writings takes this experience to a new level. This is not just a conversation between a writer now and a reader now, but a writer then, his choices now, the sum of those choices as arrayed in a substantial blue volume, and the reader with a ‘long now’ to luxuriate in the exchange.

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The enchanting of rats has a long history. The Pied Piper, who enchanted first the rats then the children of Hamelin, is familiar to European readers. Here, Tim Bonyhady brings us a new story of rat enchantment by the Diyari and the Yandruwandha people in the eastern Lake Eyre basin. According to explorer Edwin Welch, they sang ‘in low, weird and dirge-like tones ...

The Environment: A History of the Idea by Paul Warde, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin

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January-February 2019, no. 408

On 6 October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning of the dangers of surpassing a 1.5° Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels in average global temperatures. They are many, and dire. To halt at 1.5°, carbon emissions need to fall by forty per cent globally by 2030 ...

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Cane Toads are peculiarly Australian. They don’t belong, yet they thrive here. They breed unnaturally fast – even faster than rabbits. They are ugly, ecosystem-changing, and despised. Introduced in 1935 to eat the pests of sugar cane in Queensland, their numbers have exploded right across Australia’s ...

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Desert Channels: The Impulse to Conserve by Libby Robin, Chris Dickman, and Mandy Martin

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May 2011, no. 331

In recent months a significant part of Australia has been subject to deluge and flood. As the continent recharges its waterways and water tables, we are like an ant nest into which a curious child has thrust a hose – rushing about rescuing and shoring up, patching and rebuilding, behaving as if this upheaval is an aberration, and as if building towns and cities on flood plains is sensible.

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Boom & Bust: Bird stories for a dry country edited by Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohn and Leo Joseph

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June 2009, no. 312

The concept behind this book is unusual and ambitious. In twelve essays centred on charismatic birds of Australia’s inland, the authors attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the ecology of arid Australia. They also hope that their writings will provide insights and inspiration about how humans might live there in a more sustainable way. Birds were selected as the linking theme of these essays because their ecology is comparatively well known, because their mobility increases the options available for surviving in the harsh and unpredictable desert environment, and because birds, to many readers, are the most familiar group of animals.

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Regardless of debates over Australian cultural identity, the flag and a potential republic, the ‘Green and Gold’ colours of our national sporting teams are recognised worldwide. The Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), from which these colours are derived, was first proposed as a national flower in the 1880s during the prelude to Federation. However, it was not until the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations that it was formally declared as Australia’s floral emblem. Why was the wattle chosen for this honour over its main competitor, the spectacular red waratah? And what was the significance of using wattle as a symbol of national unity and mourning in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings?

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The Ice and the Inland by Brigid Hains & Australia’s Flying Doctors by Roger McDonald and Richard Woldendorp

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Australia’s frontier legend is alive and well, as is John Flynn’s contribution to it in these two new books. In Australia’s Flying Doctors, Richard Woldendorp’s glorious photographs celebrate a medical service that reaches about eighty per cent of the vast Australian landmass. They are complemented by Roger McDonald’s economical personal vignettes of outback spirit.

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Gilbert White, in 1789, declared that ‘the language of birds is very ancient and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical: little is said, but much is meant and understood’. How then to portray the speakers of such language? How to give them meaning and understanding as well as plumage?

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