Tom the Naturalist


In the 1940s, when I was six years old, growing up in Sydney in a house in a forest with a creek out back full of yabbies and a glistening green snake by the letterbox, I loved listening to Tom the Naturalist’s weekly radio broadcasts during ‘Children’s Hour’. It was, as I recall, not only his warm voice and storyteller eye for the peculiar detail that held me but that he opened up an enchanted space, not so much biological as adventurous. It was proto-biopolitical, in a child’s format.

The fact that it was non-visual was key. This was Australia before TV and mobile-phone screens, and it left a lot to the imagin-ation, especially for a kid lolling around on the carpet in front of the speaker. Why, it was as if the kid became an animal, let’s say a shark guided by soundwaves and the occasional pilot fish darting forth from the glowing dials.



Title image:

Jungla No. 1, 2011
Digital image
Courtesy of the artists

Mick Taussig is from Sydney town, studied medicine then joined the revolution and ended up writing a bunch of books about Colombia and writing, beginning with The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (University of North Carolina Press, 1980) and ending with Mastery of Non-Mastery in the Age of Meltdown (University of Chicago Press, 2020), which has an exquisite cover.