Dear Sir David,
I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Sarah. She lived in a small Adelaide Hills township during the 1980s with her collection of Enid Blyton novels and miscellaneous pets and siblings.
Sarah had science in her genes. Her Mum was an agricultural scientist, microbiologist, teacher and future medico. Her Dad was a geologist with a passion for gardening and hobby farming al la The Good Life. An uncle, grandfather and even great aunt taught and studied science.
Despite her heritage, Sarah didn’t yet know what science really was. This realisation was quietly lurking in her subconscious. At the surface a few things were clear however. She knew that whenever her Dad harped on and on about the layers of rocks in the cliffs around them, she did secretly listen whilst pretending to be mortified. She was aware that she got a shiver of enjoyment up her spine when as a group they collected amazing critters from under the rocks in running streams. She felt a bit weird but also proud being the only kid who had borrowed 12 books on sharks all at the same time from the local library. And she knew that her favourite thing in the world was to huddle up as a pyjamed family on the couch to watch Life on Earth. Mum would be feeding or cuddling a younger sister. Dad would be resting his feet on the labrador, smiling and shaking his head in amazement. Future engineering brother would put down the Lego and hide behind the furniture as predators attacked. These were safe, united family moments. Nobody could touch us on those nights.
The years rolled by, Sarah grew up. The childhood, secret thrills based around the natural world morphed into fraught and yet wonderful years of study and work in science. Sarah even met a knight in shining armour, and produced her own family.
And those Life on Earth moments repeated themselves in the new generation.
That Sarah is me, and the new generation is now. As a group of 5, my family and I wander on isolated beaches to find cuttle bones, hammer-oyster shells and Port Jackson shark egg cases. We gaze tirelessly into the open ocean to spot sea lions, dolphins and stingrays. We search our garden daily at sunset for the activities of our resident orbe spider – it’s ground-hog day for that hard-working female, again. My son brings home endless tomes on African predators and ‘the world’s deadliest creatures’ from not just his school but the local council library as well. My daughter throws herself after butterflies in our native-flower-filled garden in the hope of catching the elusive Tailed Emperor. The toddler also practises entomology, squashing ants in trying to match his sister’s prowess.
And at every opportunity, we bunch together on the couch united by a documentary – not always one of yours – but a nature documentary nonetheless. We relax, forget our daily troubles, and just be.
So my dear Sir David, I shan’t thank you for making me a scientist; I believe my genes and my immediate environment took care of that. I won’t be attending your shows in Australia. But I will most sincerely thank you for creating one of my most precious, recurring childhood memories which has shaped the way I live and parent.
Long live the naturalist in all of us.
With my very best wishes,
Dr Sarah Keenihan