Tuesday 9 October 2012

Topsy-turvy World: how Australian animals puzzled early explorers

Topsy-turvy World by Kirsty Murray (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9780642277497
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Topsy-turvy World is an exceptional exploration of the wonder, surprise and disbelief early Europeans felt when encountering Australia’s unique wildlife in the early years of colonisation. Utilising early drawings from the National Library of Australia’s own collection, Kirsty Murray shows through stories of actual characters and events these initial reactions and the many misinterpretations European scientists had of Australian fauna. Even drawing these creatures were difficult as they were outside any previous knowledge of animal biology: kangaroos were drawn more like rabbits or rats; an echidna’s hind paws were shown facing forwards rather than backwards; a depiction of a platypus and a thylacine fighting depicted similar sized animals …

Each animal entry is formatted the same way. It begins with a story, some information regarding early experiences of the animal and then a What the Europeans needed to learn section. A fast facts section is also included with essential details regarding size, habitat, diet, locality, Indigenous names etc.

The book can be read from front to cover, as I did, or a specific animal selected from the contents page. Not only Australia’s famous mammals are included. There are also birds, reptiles and a sea creature. A brief biographical section on the Europeans mentioned throughout as well as a glossary, index and list of illustrations complete this beautifully presented book should grace the shelves of every library in Australia, be it school, public or home.       

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