Amazing National Park animals
Author Gina Newton explains her connection to the amazing animals of Australia's National Parks
29 August 2016
Writing Amazing Animals of Australia's National Parks, which showcases Australia's unique native wildlife and spectacular National Parks, has been an amazing experience for me as a scientist and children's book author. It's my first non-fiction children's book, following on from my two Blossom Possum picture books. The concept of linking Australia's National Parks and native wildlife was a brilliant idea by the National Library. After all, it is the National Parks that are home to a vast number of species and provide some of the best places to see them. With over 700 parks and reserves around the country (both on land and in the ocean), these important areas are serving a vital role in the conservation of Australia's unique biodiversity. And that's something I'm personally very passionate about.
From a young age, I have had a soft spot for and a deep interest in Aussie animals and their conservation, and even studied zoology, ecology and wildlife conservation at university. At the age of 10, I joined the Australian Wildlife Protection Council and started a petition to save kangaroos (that were being cruelly shot and harmed in the name of sport). For most of my career, I focused on marine and freshwater habitats and animals, but writing this book has enabled me to also become more immersed in terrestrial habitats and their associated critters.
Very early in the planning of this book, it was clear that the major habitats provided the perfect template for the book's sections. So, each section starts with a description of the feature habitat and an array of stunning photographs of National Parks that showcase that habitat. While there are many more detailed habitat types, I decided that the main high-level habitats would be: Woodlands & Grasslands; Forests; Rainforests; Arid Zones; Mountains; Wetlands & Waterways; and Coasts, Oceans & Islands. What is incredible is that more than two thirds of the Australian continent is made up of the Arid Zone!
It's so important to learn about all these habitats and what animals live there. Each habitat offers its own benefits and challenges to the animals. While researching the book, I was amazed at the diversity and ingenuity of the many physical and behavioural adaptations our native animals have developed over thousands and millions of years to reap those benefits and meet those challenges. For example, in the Arid Zone, the Thorny Devil is a fearsome-looking (but also cute) dragon lizard that collects water on its skin and eats up to 2,500 ants in a meal, while the Southern Marsupial Mole lives and breathes in a cool underground world, digging blindly underneath the sand dunes. Then there's the frog that swells so much with water that desert people used to drink from them.
I had a very enjoyable time researching the literature and latest reference books to make sure that I captured the most up-to-date and the most interesting information, facts and figures for the book. Also, it was great to be able to talk with over 100 experts from around Australia who spend their days actually researching and observing these amazing animals. The experts checked that the information in the book was accurate and they also helped to fill in gaps. Many of these generous folk also donated photos for the book and the Library's Pictures Collection. I am really grateful and enjoyed getting to know them a little. For me, the hardest part of writing this book was deciding what animals to leave out, as there are so many more that need to be introduced! Perhaps you will see some of them anyway, as well as the critters that are featured in the book, on one of your many visits to Australia's incredible National Parks.