This post was first published on the Letters to Sir David Attenborough blog set up by my ASC pals @upulie and @ScientistMags.
Dear Sir David
Everyone has a collection of Very Special Things. These are the precious things, the first things into the car when a bushfire looms along with the kids and the pets. Keepsakes like negatives, lost teeth and Nanna’s china. On my list of Very Special Things, somewhere near my great-grandmother’s Queen Victoria mourning handkerchief from 1901 and the lock of hair from my son’s first hair cut, is my copy of the Trials of Life, autographed by you.
I was in third year at Uni in Sydney when the book and TV series came out; studying a unit on animal behaviour as part of my agricultural science degree so the timing was perfect. You were doing a signing at the ABC Shop in the Queen Victoria Building and it’s still the only book signing I’ve ever been to. I thought I’d got there pretty early, but the queue already snaked around the building, giving me plenty of time to rehearse my ‘speech’. I wanted to tell you how you’d been an inspiration for a generation of people like me, growing up in regional Australia in the Time Before Internet. You brought amazing images of the beauty and diversity of nature into our homes, our lounge rooms, giving us a window into our very own world. Watching your TV programs was a family ritual and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it all. I wanted to tell you that my love of science and desire to become a scientist was influenced by you. I wanted to say something profound and funny so that you might remember me out of the millions of people who queued up for your autograph. In the end, I was so nervous and awestruck that I’m not sure that I spoke at all, but I do remember that you smiled at me as you closed the cover of the book and pushed it towards me.
The book has always had pride of place on my book shelf. The dust cover has bite marks in it after a mouse plague in Queensland and maybe one day I’ll buy another copy so I can swap it over. Like the book I’m probably a little worse for wear now too. I didn’t make it as a scientist, but my fascination with living things has never left me. When I was trying to work out what else to do with my life, I remembered how hearing the rich, descriptive narrative of the story of life on this planet made me feel and the next step became obvious. I haven’t done anything profound or inspiring like you, but I have made a living talking to people about how amazing the living world is. And you showed me that was possible.
So now that I have the opportunity to talk to you again, all I really want to say is …
Thank you, Sir David.