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The Naturalist: The remarkable life of Allan Riverstone McCulloch

2023 - Shortlisted


Judges' Comments

In lesser hands this biography might have been little more than a pedestrian reconstruction of Alan McCulloch’s relatively unknown life and career. But Brendan Atkins brings McCulloch to life in unexpected and revealing ways. Built on painstaking historical research that is always lightly worn, Atkins’ finely polished and empathetic narrative places McCulloch — naturalist, fish biologist, artist and senior curator — at the centre of the extraordinary history of the Australian Museum in the early twentieth century. 

Atkins skilfully draws the reader into McCulloch’s world. The narrative follows a driven, restless and profoundly troubled man from his office desk to faraway locations — including Lord Howe Island, Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands — and provides rare insight into the culture and dubious collecting practices of Australia’s first public museum. Adorned with McCulloch’s exquisite illustrations and propelled by Atkins’ refreshing yet meticulously crafted prose, The Naturalist is both a compelling biography and a penetrating institutional history.