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Idling in Green Places: A Life of Alec Chisholm

2020 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments

A fine biography of Alec Chisholm, a pioneering naturalist and conservationist who was at risk of slipping into obscurity.  Chisholm’s love of nature began in childhood; his last bird watching observations were recorded in 1976, shortly before his death at 86. Largely self-taught, Chisholm was a prolific author who enthused a generation to appreciate nature, enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, dabbled in history and later became the imperious general editor of the landmark Australian Encyclopedia.

McGregor draws insightful conclusions as he outlines Chisholm’s character and achievements against the wider social and historical context of his time including his grumpiness as his attitudes and expertise lost relevance. Chisholm’s popular writing and interest in bird behaviour, for a time dismissed as anthropomorphism, is sensitively relocated in the context of recent scientific research. McGregor’s lightness of touch belies extensive research and sophisticated analysis. His writing is admirably clear and graceful; his judgements thoughtful and fair. When many of the environmental concerns Chisholm aired have become freshly pressing, it is heartening to read this elegant account of an unsung environmental pioneer.


About the author

Russell McGregor

Russell McGregor is an award-winning historian and adjunct professor at James Cook University. He writes mainly onAustralian environmental history, nationalism and race relations. His latest book, Idling in Green Places: A Life of Alec Chisholm, tells the story of one of Australia’s most influential nature writers. Like Alec, Russell is a keen birder.