Shortlisted for the National Biography Award 2020
Alec Chisholm inspired Australians to see nature anew. His Mateship with Birds, published in 1922, is a classic of nature writing, and until his death in 1977 he urged his compatriots to cherish the natural world as their national heritage. Chisholm was a pioneer conservationist, a leading ornithologist, and much else besides. He earned renown – and some controversy – as a journalist, biographer, historian and encyclopaedia editor. Idling in Green Places is the first full biography of this intriguing and influential Australian.
‘Compelling and elegantly written. A life of one of Australia’s most gifted naturalists told by a historian with a profound understanding of the value of Australia’s natural heritage. Alec Chisholm was irascible, obsessive, and a brilliant populariser, who saw an emotional connection to nature as an anchor for the “appreciation of one’s own country”. McGregor’s biography – empathetic but always clear-eyed – reveals his unique talent for communicating his love of the natural world to all Australians.’
– Mark McKenna, Professor of History, University of Sydney
‘This is a perceptive portrait of a celebrated Australian journalist and nature writer. Russell McGregor expertly analyses Alec Chisholm’s life and work and traces the influence of his popular advocacy for nature and nation. Chisholm was, for a time, a household name, and his biography reminds us of an earlier era of nature appreciation and conservation politics. McGregor’s book is sympathetic and critical, scholarly and compelling, witty and judicious. To be read anywhere, but especially sitting on a log in the bush, with your field glasses and a bird book beside you.’
– Tom Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of History, Australian National University
‘Alec Chisholm might not always have been likeable but this is a very likeable book. Passionate conservationist, naturalist, historian, encyclopaedist, Chisholm helped forge a relationship between the natural world and ordinary Australians’ sense of themselves. But he also could be pedantic, vain and curmudgeonly. Russell McGregor has captured the whole man in a biography that is itself charming, astute, generous and illuminating – and a good read.’
– Richard White, Adjunct Professor of History, University of Sydney