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Reportage

The butterfly effect

Stalking a giant in PNG

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
Edward Lorenz, American Association for the
Advancement of Science, 1972

 

SOMETIME IN 1906, butterfly hunter Albert Stewart Meek disembarks from an old pearler named Hekla on the north-east coast of New Guinea. He unloads his provisions and tools of trade: killing bottles with cyanide of potassium for small insects, syringes with acetic acid for larger ones, non-rusting pins for setting his trophies, cork-lined collecting cases. He waves off the boat with instructions to the skipper to return for him in three months.

He has high hopes of claiming discoveries in a wilderness still largely unexplored by Europeans. But things are not going so well.

By his own account – A Naturalist in Cannibal Land – Meek is the swashbuckling, superior Edwardian opportunist from central casting. The son of a naturalist, but with no formal scientific training, he’d travelled... Read more

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From Griffith Review Edition 63: Writing the Country © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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