by James Woodford
Text Publishing, Melbourne
The sub-title of this book: “The incredible discovery of a living fossil from the age of the dinosaurs”, only hints at the contents. Australian Geographic’s revue “A fascinating mix of detective story, scientific mystery and human drama” is closer to the mark.
Woodford is a science and environment journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald. He has won prizes for environmental journalism and science journalism. This is his first novel, in which he has managed to bring together the details of the discovery of the Wollemi Pine into a fascinating story, which includes pen portraits of all the people involved in the discovery, research, preservation and conservation of this remarkable “living fossil”.
The Wollemi wilderness is an unfriendly area with steep gorges and treacherous terrain, where people have disappeared never to be seen again. It contains approximately 500 canyons, of which more than 100 are thought never to have been visited by a white person (or perhaps any person at all), within its 502,000 hectares. Many relict Gondwanan plants and animals survive in the canyons, where the ecosystem has scarcely changed for thousands of years.
The name is believed to be from the Darkinjung word wollumnii meaning “look around you” or “watch your step” - very appropriate! It is protected as a declared wilderness, and can only be accessed on foot - although the area is a serious challenge to even the most fit and experienced hiker.
The confusion, the research, then the excitement at realising that this was indeed a new species, have been captured by the author.
Woodford’s writing style, journalistic rather than scientific, would make the driest topic interesting (and this, to anyone with a remote interest in native plants, particularly the survivors of Gondwanan times, is hardly a dry topic!) I particularly liked his description of the freeway that takes traffic from Sydney to the Blue Mountains: “…… the giant expressway that bullies its way through the city’s western suburbs....”
Apart from the fascination of the topic, the book is a darned good read, and it is hard to imagine that anyone would fail to enjoy it.
Price: $24.95 + postage $8.00
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