The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman
important, insightful and a great pleasure to read
Reef’ is a vast system of geological, aquatic and biological systems with a
complexity that defies description. How then to write about it? McCalman
synthesizes the disparate aspects of the Great Barrier Reef into a lively topic
by chronicling human associations with the reef through twelve stories. He
commences with the disastrous discovery of the reef by Captain Cook. Then
stories weave in contact with the aboriginal inhabitants, integrating
conservation knowledge and lore and the confrontation, constantly misreported at
the time, between European and aboriginal cultures. Each chapter offers insights
about human encroachment onto the marine, climatic and ecological systems of
this vast landscape. And each chapter monitors that window of conditions that
allow the existence for this fragile entity. The closing story of Charlie Veron,
“Darwin of the coral”, provides a warm yet scientifically incisive discussion of
the reef’s current status and its future.
is an academic historian whose considerable abilities offer the reader a
thoroughly researched and balanced account of the reef and its human
associations. He assembles anecdote, history and passion into an enjoyable book.
Yet the strength of this book, as with his previous book Darwin’s Armada, is his
narrative ability to place the reader in the world of the beach comber, the
naturalist and the scientist. You can smell the sea breeze. His account of the
original indigenous stewards of the reef and of the comparable attempts of more
recent Australians is balanced and informative.