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Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds-On the Track of… (1999)

by Tim F. Flannery

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280671,327 (3.92)6
Throwim Way Leg is unputdownable, a book of wonder and excitement, of struggle and sadness, a love letter to an untamed place. This book brims with marvellous stories. Tim Flannery meets skilled hunters and befriends a shaman. He climbs mountains never before scaled by Europeans, discovers new species and stumbles across the giant bones of extinct marsupials. And he writes movingly about the fate of indigenous people when their intricate cultures collide with mining companies and the high-tech world of the late twentieth century. 'In New Guinea Pidgin ', Tim Flannery explains, 'throwim way leg means to go on a journey. It describes the action of thrusting out your leg to take the first step of what can be a long march. ' With these words he invites us to share in his breathtaking adventures in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. You will never think about the bird-shaped island to the north of Australia in the same way again.… (more)
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Interesting if at times slightly dry, and now slightly dated, recollection of a biologists explorations and field trips in the un-explored jungles of Papua New Guinea.

His specialty is mammals, of which the Tree-Kangeroo is perhaps the most unusual, however almost no animals actually feature in the book. He (or rather his native hunters) catch a lot of large rats of various species (I didn't realise there were that many different types of rat) and possums complete with Latin names, and at times he discovers species 'new to science' and gets to the name them. All of which were promptly eaten by his hosts. So most of the specimens he collected were bones and skin - and unusual state for modern biology which is more concerned with conservation than the museum preservation of type specimens. Many of these trips were in the 70s and 80s though so it so does highlight how things have changed. There's also a clear distinction between a biology researcher and an animal collector like Gerald Durrell, who's books are vastly more entertaining, and where the animals feature prominently, but the science is less evident.

Tim has obviously had quite some adventures over the course of many trips. However he's never quite made the jump from academic writing to pop-sci, and doesn't quite manage to convey the personalities involved, so some of the more adrenaline coursing moments are rendered with a careful understatement. He tells you about the various natives he became acquainted with, but rarely shows them as people and characters. The only passion evidenced at any point are the very last chapters when he's invited (at some expense) by the mining companies to conduct a survey of the otherwise inaccessible terrain surrounding the vast copper mines in the Indonesian controlled northern island. Here Tim becomes quite upset at the plight of the natives who've been displaced and otherwise disregarded by the mining corp.

Entertaining read, but could do with a slightly more personal touch. ( )
1 vote reading_fox | Jan 12, 2019 |
Tree-kangaroos, possums, and penis gourds. On the track of unknown mammals in wildest New Guinea
  jhawn | Aug 1, 2017 |
Extraordinary tales of scientific travels in New Guinea by an apparently ordinary man.
Read Samoa Jan 2004 ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 29, 2015 |
$2 today 11/7/11. Did not think I would find this one 2nd hand. wheee! Includes colour photos and maps/illustrations ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Flannery comes across as a bit of a contradiction in this narrative of years spent searching for rare mammal species across the length and breadth of the island of New Guinea. His work takes him into the high mountains and tropical rainforest, yet he has an abiding fear of spiders and snakes, and suffers from altitude sickness. He collects (and more often pays the local people to collect) extremely rare species, but in all but one case the animals are killed (and usually eaten). A radio tracking exercise results in the death of two of the three animals tracked, apparently from wounds inflicted when they were captured and tagged. His interest in a taboo area which is a refuge for rare animals apparently prompts the locals to have the an exorcism conducted, following which the locals destroy these refuge populations.

Flannery I suspect would argue (although he does not do so here) that the advancement of scientific knowledge justifies some casualties. But this moral question is an interesting undercurrent in the book, more so for Flannery never actually bringing it to the forefront. What he has done is be absolutely candid about what he is doing. The reader then is left to draw their own conclusions, or perhaps find themselves (as I suspect Flannery finds himself) suspended somewhere between the beauty of the knowledge and the horror at the methods by which it is obtained.

What makes this book much more than a ´narrative of a collector´ is Flannery´s descriptions of the life of the native peoples of New Guinea which is based on his real sympathy with their lives and situation, and coloured by the strong friendships he has made wherever he travelled. As he talks of the people he talks about their relations with the natural world they live in, and how that relationship is changing, and largely changing for the worse. In the same vein, he talks about the relations between peoples, the traditional owners and the newcomers; and of the tensions between tradition and modernity. And here, perhaps, Flannery comes hard up against the final contradiction, his acceptance of support from the mining companies to assist his animal research versus his growing distaste at their methods and impact on the local peoples of Irian Jaya. One has a sense that, at the very end of his book (and in a postscript describing the deteriorating social situation in Irian Jaya) that Flannery is beginning - just beginning - to examine his own role in that world.

So as a story of New Guinea and wildlife this book is very highly recommended. Flannery writes well and graciously. And as a commentary on the extraordinary social situation in New Guinea, where stone age meets the 21st Century daily, this is a useful addition to the field. But I like the book most of all for its honesty, and that very faintest of threads of a story, the gradual troubling of the social conscience in the mind of the scientist/collector. ( )
3 vote nandadevi | May 21, 2012 |
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Throwim Way Leg is unputdownable, a book of wonder and excitement, of struggle and sadness, a love letter to an untamed place. This book brims with marvellous stories. Tim Flannery meets skilled hunters and befriends a shaman. He climbs mountains never before scaled by Europeans, discovers new species and stumbles across the giant bones of extinct marsupials. And he writes movingly about the fate of indigenous people when their intricate cultures collide with mining companies and the high-tech world of the late twentieth century. 'In New Guinea Pidgin ', Tim Flannery explains, 'throwim way leg means to go on a journey. It describes the action of thrusting out your leg to take the first step of what can be a long march. ' With these words he invites us to share in his breathtaking adventures in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. You will never think about the bird-shaped island to the north of Australia in the same way again.

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Penguin Australia

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