The Naturalist: The remarkable life of Allan Riverstone McCulloch
Paperback | Oct 2022 | NewSouth | 9781742237756 | 208pp | 234x153mm | GEN | AUD$34.99, NZD$39.99
** Shortlisted, 2023 NSW Premier's History Awards, NSW Community & Regional History Prize **
For lovers of natural history, this is the first book to explore Allan Riverstone McCulloch’s scientific genius, artistic talents and his crucial role in the development of the Australian Museum.
Allan Riverstone McCulloch (1885–1925) was a leading scientist and talented illustrator, the Australian Museum’s most senior curator and its star exhibition designer. So why has history ignored his many contributions?
A free spirit and an expert on Australia’s fish species, McCulloch was happiest collecting specimens on field trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island and beyond. He escaped office politics at the museum to accompany cinematographer Frank Hurley on an expedition to tropical Papua in 1922, but controversy erupted when officials accused them of stealing sacred artefacts. The trip also left McCulloch with dysentery and malaria, and his mental health declined.
In The Naturalist, Brendan Atkins explores McCulloch’s scientific genius and artistic talents, and his crucial role in the development of the Australian Museum. It’s a revealing and unflinching look at the remarkable life of a brilliant yet troubled scientist.
‘An artist, a pioneering biologist, and someone who helped make our cherished Australian Museum one of the greatest in the world. At last, his enthralling story is being told.’ — Robyn Williams
‘Brendan Atkins’ book is a labour of love, a meticulously researched account of the life of Allan McCulloch, a senior and controversial figure at Sydney’s Australian Museum and one of the world’s leading ichthyologists or fish biologists. It chronicles his field work adventures across the Pacific and informs us about a myriad of topics along the way, from taxidermy and dioramas to the ongoing problem of museums and their often-plundered objects. McCulloch led a troubled life, something this book describes with honesty and insight. He was also an accomplished artist, studying under Julian Ashton; the remarkable sketches and paintings of species reproduced here indicate his complete dedication to his craft.’ — Ken Gelder is co-author of The Colonial Kangaroo Hunt (2020) and a Professor of English at the University of Melbourne
'A fascinating biography of a fascinating man; one who was a naturalist, adventurer, artist, and a genius who found his greatest struggle was to deal with his own demons.' — Louis Nowra
'A wonderful biography that takes us into the intricate and astonishing world of the natural history museum 100 years ago. Brendan Atkins recovers an important curator, the enigmatic and talented Allan McCulloch, with insight, humour and sensitivity. Along the way, he teases out distinctions between stealing and collecting, guilt and hubris, despair and genius.' — Cathy Perkins, author of The Shelf Life of Zora Cross
‘This fascinating story of a talented naturalist and his unravelling is also a portrait of the colonial madness of museums and collecting.’ — Delia Falconer
'Atkins’s biography of McCulloch does not shy away from the darker aspects of his subject but provides thoughtful and considered illumination of a complex life that contributed much to our understanding of Australia’s fish, in particular, and the natural world of the Australasian region.' — Australian Book Review
'Quite the story.' — Cheryl Akle, Founder Of Better Reading, The Australian