The Red Centre (Paperback)
The most formative book for me was H.H. Finlayson's 1935 classic The Red Centre... Finlayson was the last to collect and record many of these mammal species: he witnessed this loss. But in his many scientific papers, and in The Red Centre, he also foretold it, explained it and mourned it.
Species that are now extinct, such as the Desert rat-kangaroo and Toolache wallaby, come alive in Finlayson's words. For several species, his notes are all that has been - will ever be - reported of their ecology. He was a brilliant and perceptive observer, and could portray the form, the behaviour, the fit of an animal to its environment. I can see them still from his words. And he wrote beautifully. Musing in The Red Centre on the losses:
...The old Australia is passing... The environment which moulded the most remarkable fauna in the world is beset on all sides by influences which are reducing it to a medley of semi-artificial environments, in which the original plan is lost and the final outcome of which no man may predict.
From more than 80 years ago, these words still haunt; and they still describe the ongoing loss of Australian nature - due to what we have done to this country.
Finlayson's ecological understanding was profound. He could read the landscape. He gifts this understanding to the reader of The Red Centre. Of course, the ecological perceptiveness displayed in The Red Centre and Finlayson's scientific papers owes much to his long association with and respect for the Indigenous people. Finlayson understood the connections of Indigenous people with country, and in The Red Centre often reveres and celebrates that knowledge and culture.
It is a classic of Australian writing on the environment, an exquisite and poignant account of a now-lost nature, an enduring blueprint for understanding our country. I owe a lot to it. - John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University.