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The Naturalist

The remarkable life of Allan Riverstone McCulloch

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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

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.’

Ken Gelder, co-author of The Colonial Kangaroo Hunt (2020) and 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