The Eric Worrell Archive

Song of the Snake Man:
Exploring the writings of Eric Worrell

Kevin Markwell


Eric Worrell (1924-1987) naturalist/herpetologist, established and operated the Australian Reptile Park (ARP) at Wyoming on the NSW Central Coast from the late 1950s until the mid 1980s. He, and the ARP, were well known throughout Australia for supplying venoms to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne which aided in the production of antivenoms for a range of Australian and PNG snakes as well as the Sydney funnel web spider. 

However, he was also a well-published author, and it was his many publications (as well as the numerous articles written about him and the Reptile Park that appeared in newspapers and magazines around the country) that helped create his identity as the ‘Australian Snake Man’ and as one of Australia’s most publicly recognised reptile experts. 

In this essay I explore the substantial body of work that Worrell wrote in article form that was published in magazines such as WILD LIFE, Outdoors and Fishing, WALKABOUT, Australian OUTDOORS, PEOPLE, Australian Country, Cavalcade, Modern Motor and Man as well in the scientific literature including Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Australian Zoologist and Western Australian Naturalist.  His chapter, ‘The unpopular ones’ in Professor Alan Marshall’s anthology, The Great Extermination (Heinemann, 1966) is also included in this essay. These publications form the bulk of work that comprises The Eric Worrell Archive. 

But wait! There’s more! Worrell published at least three poems and several fictional stories and wrote a number of editorials and some short articles for CYCAD, the newsletter of the Gosford District Flora and Fauna Society that he and then colleague and friend, Ken Slater, edited in the early 1960s. He also wrote the foreword for two children’s books by Faye Owner titled Mammals of Australia and New Zealand (1970) and Reptiles of Australia and New Zealand (1972) as well as a review of Hal Cogger’s Frogs of NSW (1961). Worrell was very much a man of letters! 

And, although these are not the focus of this essay, I want to at least acknowledge Worrell’s considerable output of books. Between 1952 and 1976 he published 11 titles, several of which involved revised editions. His most original contribution, and arguably, most influential, was Reptiles of Australia, initially published in 1963. This was the first book that dealt systematically with the entire Australian reptile fauna as was recognised at that time.  Worrell envisaged the book as a companion volume to Ellis Troughton’s Furred Animals of Australia (first published in 1943) and Neville Cayley’s What Bird is That? (first published in 1935).

An impressive 5000 copies were initially printed but demand was so great that Angus and Robertson (the great Australian publishing house that published all of Worrell’s books) reprinted the book in 1964 and again in 1966.  A second, very slightly revised edition, was published in 1970. Published responses to this book from some professional herpetologists were not as Worrell would have been hoping for, with Arnold Kluge writing an excoriating review in Copeia, while Robert Bustard, in the Introduction to his Lizards of Australia (1970:9) wrote that:

Shortly after I returned to Australia seven years ago to carry out research on Australian reptiles a book by Eric Worrell entitled Reptiles of Australia was published. The fact that this, the only recent guide to Australian reptiles in book form, was the work of an amateur, was a major impetus to Australian herpetology.

It’s not clear whether Bustard is suggesting that Worrell’s book provided an incentive to herpetology in Australia because of its content or because professional herpetologists didn’t want someone that he regarded as an ‘amateur’ to be leading their research field! However, other professional herpetologists who my colleague, Associate Professor Nancy Cushing and I spoke to when researching Snake-Bitten, Eric Worrell and the Australian Reptile Park  published by UNSW Press in 2010, while acknowledging some flaws, praised the book and Worrell’s efforts to make sense of the taxonomy of venomous snakes in particular.  It should also not be forgotten that the book was the first time that many of Australia’s reptiles were represented photographically. 

Worrell’s other books included his very popular handbook on the dangerous snakes of Australia, and later, New Guinea; his semi-autobiographical work, Song of the Snake; a more popular-style book on Australian reptiles; several photograph-based books on aspects of Australian wildlife; a children’s book; and one book aimed at a general market on venomous/poisonous Australian animals and plants. His books are listed below:

Dangerous Snakes of Australia (1952, second edition 1953, third edition 1957)

Song of the Snake (1958)

Dangerous Snakes of Australia and New Guinea (1961, with second edition 1963) [I regard this as a separate title to Dangerous Snakes of Australia].

Reptiles of Australia (1963, revised second edition 1970)

Australian Wildlife (1966)

Australian Snakes, Crocodiles, Turtles, Tortoises and Lizards (1966)

The Great Barrier Reef (1966)

Trees of the Australian Bush (1967 with Lois Sourry)

Making Friends with Animals (1968)

Eric Worrell’s Australian Birds and Animals (1970, revised second edition, 1977)

Things that Sting (1976, revised third edition with Graeme Gow, 1986)

When I commenced the research with Nancy, for the book that would become Snake-Bitten, I began to uncover a raft of Worrell’s articles that were new to me. John and Robyn Weigel kindly made available to Nancy and me a treasure trove of files that included many typescripts of articles by Worrell, which were a boon in later tracking down publications, as well as verifying Worrell’s various pseudonyms, about which more will be said, a little later in this essay. 

At some point early in that process of research for the book, herpetologist Richard Wells, who has amassed a substantial collection of what he fondly calls Worrelliana, generously emailed me an unpublished bibliography of Worrell’s works that he had previously compiled. However, to my utter embarrassment, it seems that I filed this away in a folder on my computer which I subsequently forgot about, ‘buried’ amongst other documents.  This explains why the bibliography that Nancy and I ultimately constructed, and which appears at the back of Snake-Bitten (pages 222-225), is a little different to Richard’s. For instance, in our bibliography, Worrell’s first article was given as being published in 1945 when in fact Richard’s bibliography shows his first publication was a year before in 1944 and that his last article was in 1980 (and not 1977 as in ours). It was only when I began updating Nancy’s and my bibliography for this current website in 2022 that I rediscovered Richard’s bibliography as I was trawling through old folders on my computer. Ouch! And apologies to Richard!

But the rediscovery of Richard’s bibliography was a huge help in putting together the Eric Worrell Archive. But I am also happy to say that I have discovered a number of other publications that had eluded even Richard’s well-honed bibliographic skills. Over the past twelve months or so I have searched the National Library’s online digital database of newspaper and magazines, Trove, as well as the equally wonderful digital Biodiversity Heritage Library for additional articles by Worrell. I have also manually searched series of magazines held at the State Libraries of NSW and Queensland: WILD LIFE, Outdoors and Fishing, Australian OUTDOORS, PEOPLE, PIX, Australian Country, Man, Man Junior, AM, among others. 

I’m now confident that most of Worrell’s published articles are archived on this website, but I also know that at least some other articles of Worrell’s remain yet to be discovered (at least by me) and I will continue searching. Please feel free to point me in the direction of any articles that I have not posted on this website.  

As I have made clear on the website’s landing page, I have tried my darndest to seek permission from copyright holders of Worrell’s articles but have been largely unsuccessful in tracking them down. If you are a copyright holder of any of the material I have placed on this website, first of all I apologise for not finding you, and second, I welcome you getting in touch with me. As I have also outlined, the purpose of building this website archive is simply to make Worrell’s publications more accessible to scholars interested in analysing and critiquing his work and to other people interested in Worrell’s literary output who wish to read and enjoy his writing.

Worrell the writer

As a boy, Worrell wrote little stories (as some of us did) that were published in the children’s pages of The Daily Telegraph and The Sun. His first published piece ‘Four Happy Little Friends’ comprises a few short paragraphs about his four pets at the time: a dog, a kitten a rabbit and a guinea pig. It was published in the Daily Telegraph when he was 10. Although I can only find one other, very short piece titled ‘My Wishes’, published when he was 11 and in which he wishes to be given, among other things, ‘a small zoo’, it looks likely that other pieces of his were published as he is listed in The Sun’s ‘Honor Roll’ for ‘very good stories, essays’ (November 1939), ‘artists’ (December 1939) and ‘writers’ (December, 1939). Unfortunately, I haven’t, to date, been able to find any of these other stories through Trove

These early publications suggest that Worrell enjoyed writing from a young age even though he ended his schooling at the age of 13 or 14. Perhaps he was fortunate to have had excellent teachers who instilled within him a love of reading and writing and helped him understand the craft of writing, or maybe his devoted parents, Percy and Rita, encouraged him to read and write. He may have also had a natural talent for writing. Although he wrote numerous articles and books for over three decades — it doesn’t appear that he ever kept diaries or journals. 

Nevertheless, Worrell was an enthusiastic and energetic writer beginning in his childhood and his energy and enthusiasm doesn’t appear to have waned when he was stationed in Darwin in 1944 with the Civil Construction Corps. During our research for Snake-Bitten, Nancy and I discovered many drafts of stories and articles he had written while in the CCC among the files held at the Australian Reptile Park. One of these was for a children’s book, titled In the Land of the Lizards, which was a whimsical story about a boy named Irwin, his gecko companion, and their quest among the billabongs of the Top End to meet the King of the Lizards. Worrell used whatever scraps of paper he could lay his hands on, including folded out envelopes and even the back of a page from a book bearing the stamp ‘Australian Army Education Library.’ 

In 1944 when based in Katherine, Worrell met and become friends with the poet and collector of First Nations stories, Roland Robinson. The two became good mates and travelled back to the Northern Territory in 1946 so that Robinson could continue collecting stories and Worrell could collect reptiles. Worrell had asked Robinson how to become a ‘good writer’ – what he meant by that was as a creative writer beyond journalistic reporting. Robinson told him to believe in himself and to write from within rather than for a particular magazine’s style. 

Robinson may well have had an influence on his writing, perhaps even reading and giving feedback on drafts, but we found no evidence of this. Perhaps other influences on Worrell were the American herpetologist, Raymond Ditmars, whose books Worrell may have read in his earlier years, courtesy of the library held by the Royal Zoological Society of NSW (which Worrell joined when he was 19 as an ‘ordinary member’, becoming a ‘life member’ by 1955, when he was 31). Locally, perhaps the writings of David Fleay, Donald Thomson, Charles Barrett and Roy Kinghorn, as well as Ion Idriess, helped shape his writings, but again, this is speculative. Idriess in particular, might have provided Worrell with some ideas around style and structure for his more adventure-style articles as the bulk of Idriess’ writings were based on real-life adventures in northern Australia. 

Given that Worrell’s first tranche of publications were in the Australian natural history magazine, WILD LIFE, it’s likely that his friend, George Longley (1873-1947), who also published articles in that magazine, encouraged him to write when Worrell was in his late teens. It is feasible that Longley read his drafts and gave him feedback for improvement. Decades later, Worrell would do the same for a schoolboy, Mark Friendship, who had accompanied Worrell on the boat, Coralita, looking for sea snakes in the Whitsundays, in the early 1970s.  I have a copy of Friendship’s original handwritten draft as well as the penultimate typescript of his account of that trip with Worrell’s many constructive edits and comments on them. The article was ultimately published in Herpetofauna in 1973. Perhaps Worrell’s willingness to provide feedback on the teenage boy’s draft was in some way a recognition and acknowledgment of Longley’s feedback on his own work. 

Longley was also a frequent contributor of short articles to the Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW and it is not surprising that Worrell used this publication venue for some of his articles as well. Longley, who was over 40 years Worrell’s senior, no doubt acted as a mentor to Worrell, both in terms of sharing knowledge about lizards (and their care) to him, as well as giving advice on how to write articles for publication. In return, Worrell provided Longley with animals he caught in the Northern Territory as well as taking photographs to accompany some of Longley’s articles. 

As Worrell stated at various times, he ‘inherited’ some of Longley’s extensive collection of lizards when Longley died in July 1947, at the age of 65. Sydney lawyer, and friend of both Longley and Worrell, Tony Ormsby, was the unofficial ‘trustee’ of Longley’s ‘reptilian estate’ and, according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Tuesday 2 September, 1947:2) kept at least some of Longley’s 60 lizards for his own collection, before dispersing the rest of the collection to ‘people who would give them “respectable quarters” and be prepared to carry on the care and scientific study given them by Mr. Longley”. 

By the time he was in his mid-20s, Worrell regarded writing (as well as his photographic practice) as important to his sense of who he was, and he is on record several times referring to himself at various points in his life as a photojournalist. During his most productive publishing years, from the late 1940s until the end of the 1950s, Worrell’s articles would have been an important source of income for him. The earnings from his articles complemented his income from the sale of reptiles to zoos and museums within and outside of Australia, the modest gate takings from Ocean Beach Aquarium, which he owned and operated from 1949 through to 1959 and from supplying the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories with snake venoms, which began towards the end of 1951. Worrell’s friend and editor, Jeff Carter told me that Worrell earned around £400 for his long form article on the life of the showmen (‘Life behind the blare of sideshow alley’) published by PEOPLE in 1957: ‘that was a huge amount of money in those days.’

Not all of Worrell’s articles attracted a writer’s fee, however, such as those published in scientific journals: Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW and Australian Zoologist. These were, however, important publications for establishing and maintaining his position as an authority on reptiles. 

Worrell also experimented a little with poetry and a few fictional short stories.  He published three poems based on his experiences working for the Civil Construction Corps and living in the Top End. Two of these poems, ‘On going tropo’ and ‘A woman hater’s paradise’ have the metre, tone and humour of Australian bush poetry and they deal with the lonely and difficult experience of being away from loved ones while serving the nation at a time of war. 

Yet they are imbued with humour and the latter poem has a cleverly constructed unexpected ending. Interestingly, he uses the name, E.F.A Worrell (Eric Frederick Arthur Worrell was his full name) for these poems but never uses his full initials in any other publications. Several of his poems appear to have been published but unfortunately the single pages I have seen on which the three poems are printed are without any bibliographic detail, although it seems they were probably published in an ‘in-house’ publication of the Civil Construction Corps. 

Nancy and I found another poem which we think remains unpublished, this one dealing with the needless death of a python by the occupants of a tour bus in central Australia.  This is an excerpt of the poem he had handwritten on a torn-out page of an exercise book in 1949, while based at Mataranka homestead (and which appears in Snake-Bitten on p. 26):

Rest in Pieces

Here lies the body of a poor quiet snake

Murdered for warped conversation’s sake

Who lived where the nativewood and coolabah grows

And the fork-tailed kite-hawks fly with the crows

But one fatal day as he crossed the road

Came a Pioneer Coach with a tourist load

Then with sticks and stones, in sadistic glee,

They battered the snake they could not let be…

Mourned by Eric Worrell

The idea that a coachload of tourists would batter a python to death today is (almost) unthinkable and highlights the significant changes to the attitudes towards reptiles held by the Australian public over the decades, changes which, to some extent at least, are the result of the work of Worrell and other ‘people such as David Fleay, Harry Butler and Steve Irwin.

While the young Worrell, at least, explored several writing genres, most of his writings were nonfiction articles. Based on the publications that have been found, Worrell’s article-writing career begins in 1944, when he was 19, and ends in 1980, when he was 56. In that 36-year period, the prolific author published at least 105 articles, mostly in popular magazines. He published at least 33 articles in the last six years of the 1940s (an average of just over 5 articles per year). 

Admittedly many of these articles were only a few pages long, but his output and rate of publication is nevertheless substantial, particularly given that writing was just one string to his bow – and that he had left school at around 13. For instance, in the 16 years from 1944 until 1960, as well as being a writer of articles and books, he was an animal collector; a photographer; a documentary filmmaker; and a husband and father; he also founded and operated Ocean Beach Aquarium and he established himself as the principal supplier of snake venoms to the CSL. And towards the end of that period, he was beginning to establish the Australian Reptile Park. His animal collecting and venom supply work necessitated him travelling many thousands of kilometres per year throughout much of this period. So, it is remarkable that he found time for his writing at all in such a busy and fraught period. 

His publication rate declined significantly, however, by the 1960s (at least in terms of articles – he published six books in the 1960s) to just 11 articles across the decade. By the mid-1960s his writing career had pretty much come to an end.  He published only one article in the 1970s (co-authored with ARP keeping staff Bev Drake and Raija Krauss and detailing the captive breeding of the Australian Cassowary at ARP) while his final article, on the Sydney funnel web spider, was published in 1980. He died in 1987 at the age of 62.

Distribution of Eric Worrell’s published articles from 1940s through until 1980


Now, a few words about pseudonyms that Worrell used across the course of his writing career.  His first pseudonym, and the one he used most often, Karliboodi (which means ‘black snake’ in the Jawoyn language of Arnhem Land) was used for the first time in 1948 for his article ‘Buffalo hunters must be tough.’ Others under Karliboodi included ‘Murder by Magic’ (1948), ‘Learn from the Blackfellow’ (1948), ‘Have your fish and eat it’ (1949), ‘A race to the gulf in search of crocodiles’ (1952), ‘Fish of the North’ (1953), and ‘I hunted with the Blacks’ (1954). 

He began using the name Belvedere in 1949 for articles such as ‘Be your own taxidermist’, ‘Eagles are pests sometimes’ (1949), and ‘Museum of the Outdoors’ (1954). He used Crag Warrell only once for an article published in Man Junior (1952): ‘Snake-men play with death.’ However, I’m not convinced this name was really a pseudonym but instead was simply a mistake in the type-setting process with ‘Eric Worrell’ becoming ‘Crag Warrell.’ This name doesn’t appear again in any of his writings, and given the article concerns ‘reptile men’, it would be in keeping for Worrell to have used his own name.  Just as an aside, he uses ‘E. Worrell’ for his first 14 articles but from 1947 he mostly uses ‘Eric Worrell’ when using his real name. 

He also used the pseudonyms Sapengro, Sap-En-Gro, and Eric Sapengro for articles such as ‘Buffalo hunting, it’s no game for softies’(1959) and ‘Life behind the blare of side-show alley’ (1957) and ‘Cry Poacher’ (1954). I can’t tell you how excited Nancy and I were when we discovered that ‘sapengro’ was a Romany word for ‘snake tamer’ or ‘snake catcher’, so a fitting pseudonym for Worrell. He also authored several articles anonymously such as ‘Qld’s Lake Eacham’ (1954) and ‘A young giant in spiked shoes’ (1955) as well as those attributed to ‘Our Northern Correspondent’ such as ‘The buffalo industry in the Northern Territory’ (1953) and ‘With the buffalo hunters’ (1954). He was also ‘Our undercover man’ for the expose of crocodile poaching published in 1955 ‘Confessions of a crocodile poacher’ and finally he was ‘Our Western Correspondent’ for an article on falconry (1955). He used pseudonyms for articles published in Outdoors and Fishing, Australian OUTDOORS and for a couple of articles in PEOPLE. He stops using them by the end of the 1950s.

My view is that by using these pseudonyms, he was able to pursue a very broad writing career (with its accompanying financial rewards) without compromising the development of his emerging identity as a reptile authority. The only discernible pattern I can make out is that all his reptile natural history and taxonomy articles were under his real name, thus creating a substantial body of work in this field and concomitantly developing his reputation as an authority on reptiles, although he also uses his real name for articles on a variety of other topics. 

As his friends, Jeff and Mare Carter told Nancy and I in an interview we conducted with them as part of our research for Snake-Bitten in 2006, Eric wanted to develop a serious reputation in herpetology and so he wanted to separate his reptile writing from all his other writings.  He often had two or three articles published in a single issue of Outdoors and Fishing and it’s possible that pseudonyms were used to suggest a greater diversity of contributing authors than was the case, although Jeff Carter didn’t suggest this had been a reason. 

The anonymity that was afforded to him when he was a ‘northern correspondent’ or ‘undercover man’ was probably important for those more contentious articles on the buffalo and crocodile industries with their questionable animal welfare in the case of the buffalo industry and ecological impacts in the case of the crocodile shooting industry.  

Finally, why am I confident that these pseudonyms were indeed used by Worrell? As I wrote earlier, Nancy and I were given access to archives of files by John and Robyn Weigel while undertaking research for Snake-Bitten. There were many typescripts of articles in these files which used various pseudonyms as well as his real name. Friends of Worrell’s such as John Cann, John Dwyer and Jeff Carter had also told us about Worrell’s use of pseudonyms. I am also confident with the articles authored anonymously or that used appellations such as ‘Our Northern Correspondent’ because these articles were written in the style of Worrell and usually featured photographs by Worrell (although these photographs were not always attributed with a photographer’s name). So, for example, the anonymously authored article ‘Qld’s Lake Eacham’ (1954) includes a photograph of Worrell’s friend, John Dwyer with a young kangaroo while another shows Wal Lorking holding a rather large red bellied black snake, with a caption stating: ‘Blacksnake caught for Ocean Beach Aquarium meets the park ranger’s wife’. It was fun detective work discovering and verifying Worrell’s multiple literary identities!

Topics and themes in Worrell’s articles published in popular magazines

Worrell was fortunate that during the period he was most productive, between the middle of the 1940s until the end of the 1950s, there was an array of popular magazines seeking to promote and popularise Australiana and Australian wildlife, each of which was hungry for interesting articles. The majority of these magazines belonged to the ‘stable’ of Ken Murray, whose K.G. Murray Publishing Company included Outdoors and Fishing, Australian Outdoors, Australian Country Magazine, Man, Man Junior, Australian Motor and Cavalcade. 

Worrell’s focus on aspects of country life, natural history, particularly dangerous snakes, and the Australian frontier of the Northern Territory, with its buffalo and crocodile hunting, fitted very nicely with the predominantly male readership of these magazines.  As the graph below shows, throughout his writing career Worrell wrote across a number of topics: obviously, reptiles, and in particular, venomous snakes; but also life in the Northern Territory including articles on aspects of the crocodile and buffalo hunting industries; wildlife and its conservation; aspects of Aboriginal culture from his perspective; as well as on a raft of other topics that can’t be easily categorised that include taxidermy, using ferrets to hunt rabbits, NT tourism, fish, life of the ‘show people’ and falconry. No doubt a lot of these articles were opportunities to earn a fee from writing, but nevertheless, the breadth of his writing was impressive.

Distribution of topics that Eric Worrell wrote about in his published articles

His prowess with the camera, even early in his writing career, meant that he was able to richly illustrate his articles with attention-grabbing and never-before-seen images which added to their appeal, albeit in black and white. Worrell was awarded ‘Picture of the Month’ in the August 1955 issue of Outdoors and Fishing for a dramatic photograph of two mainland tigersnakes biting each other, to the death, in this instance.

Worrell was also lucky that photographer, author and filmmaker, Jeff Carter, was the editor of Outdoors and Fishing from 1949 until 1955. Clearly, Carter liked Worrell’s work, although Worrell’s articles began appearing in the magazine the year before Carter came on board. And it was through the magazine that the two met and became firm friends: ‘I met him in the office one day and we just hit it off,’ Jeff told Nancy and I when we interviewed him and his wife, Mare, for Snake-Bitten, in the mid 2000s.  Worrell published nearly 30 articles in that magazine while Carter was editor, although he went on to publish many more following Carter’s resignation, as well as in the successor to Outdoors and Fishing, Australian OUTDOORS

Carter became a close, life-long friend of Worrell’s and provided him with advice on, and assistance with, his photography. ‘We talked about photography all the time and we learned off each other. He was ahead of me for a while. And I’d pick up a few things from him. I was also talking to other photographers and learning things from them, and I’d pass on info to Eric.’ Jeff and his wife, Mare, also contributed to Worrell’s growing celebrity through articles they wrote, illustrated by Jeff’s striking photography, in magazines such as PEOPLE. By the way, for a magazine focused predominantly on the outdoor pursuits of fishing and hunting, Outdoors and Fishing’s editorial board was rather impressive, zoologically, and included Ellis Troughton (mammals), Gilbert Whitley (ichthyology) and Worrell (herpetology).

When Worrell began writing about reptiles, few other Australian naturalists focused their attention on this class of animals. The zoologist/anthropologist Donald Thomson wrote the occasional article on reptiles for his nature column in a Melbourne newspaper and the astonishingly prolific naturalist and natural historian, Charles Barrett, also wrote newspaper columns about snakes and other reptiles.  Barrett published his Reptiles of Australia in 1950, a book that strangely leaves out freshwater and marine turtles. Occasional articles on reptiles were also being published in WALKABOUT (such as an article on snakes by Tarlton Rayment in January 1944; ‘At home with crocodiles’ by Beatrice Grimshaw, 1944 and ‘Sea snakes of the tropics’, 1945) and in WILD LIFE

But no author had established a sustained body of work on reptiles when Worrell began writing about them other than naturalist/zoologist David Fleay and Worrell’s mentor, George Longley.  Fleay published a number of articles on reptiles in WALKABOUT, as well as Victorian Naturalist, Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW (PRZSNSW) and WILD LIFE magazine. Longley was a very energetic author of short articles on lizards, based on observations often of captive animals, in the PRZSNSW and also in WILD LIFE. Indeed, it was common in the 1940s for there to be two or three articles by Longley in the one issue of the PRZSNSW. Curator of Reptiles at the Australian Museum at the time, Roy Kinghorn, regarded Longley as the ‘Commonwealth’s foremost specialist in lizards’ and that Longley did outstanding work in the keeping, rearing and breeding of them (SMH, 2 September, 1947:2).

While most of Worrell’s articles were published in popular magazines, he also published 19 ‘technical’ articles that focus on aspects of herpetology: observations of reptiles in captivity and in the wild, as well as reptile (mostly snake) taxonomy and systematics. The majority of these were published in scientific journals such as the Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Australian Zoologist, West Australian Naturalist, and two in his own (very short-lived) journal, Australian Reptile Park Records

I will leave a detailed analysis of Worrell’s writings for an academic article that I am currently working on, and instead provide here a broad overview of the themes and topics that are present in Worrell’s writings. 

The first thing that is apparent is the importance of the Northern Territory as a subject or location for a large swathe of his work. Two thirds of his 1940s output and almost 30% of his 1950s output was based on NT subjects.  This is not surprising – Worrell made quite a few trips to the Northern territory in the 1940s and lived for long periods of time in parts of the Territory, beginning with his posting to Darwin in 1944.  Clearly, the Territory provided him with an array of topics to write about: crocodiles and crocodile hunting; snakes; the buffalo hunting industry; and Aboriginal culture. 

These articles were often filled with adrenalin-fuelled adventure: 

The buffalo lowered its head and lifted him on its muzzle. Hunter desperately grasped the horns and hung on, until exhausted by the beast shaking its head, he fell, winded to the ground. He was nosed limply along the ground for over an hour, until the buffalo, presumably supposing him dead, ambled back to the scrub (‘Buffalo hunters must be tough’, 1948: 349).

In ‘Snake catching, a lively occupation’ (1948: 423), Worrell describes the difficult capture of a large olive python:

Early in 1945 as “Snow”, Bert and I were driving past the limestone caves south of Katherine, the truck’s headlights outlined an Olive-python stretched across the road [Note: in his ‘Snake catching in the Northern Territory’, p.37, Worrell calls this snake a ‘brown python, Liasis fuscus’, which today goes by the common name of water python]. “Snow” applied the brakes, and I jumped from the vehicle with the over-confident intention of securing a neck-hold and wrestling the python single-handed. Unfortunately, the python had other ideas…We shuffled towards the reptile and as it lashed out, lassooed its head. The power of the snake was terrific… “Snow” and Bert rushed over to assist and in a few moments we were a struggling tangle of legs, arms and snake coils.


You can imagine how a reader sitting in their suburban lounge room in Sydney or Melbourne must have felt reading about apoplectic buffaloes trying to kill their tormentors and powerful pythons lashing out as Worrell attempts a capture in this harsh, northern frontier of Australia. The Northern Territory was an alien land to most Australians at the time, and Worrell’s captivating stories entertained and enthralled his readers.

Worrell often evoked beautifully the sometimes unforgiving, often stunning landscapes, in which his stories were embedded. Some of his most expressive writing about place can be found in his earliest articles, such as this passage taken from his first publication, ‘Is the war influencing our wildlife?’ (1944:264). Worrell was clearly experimenting with the use of adjectives to enliven his prose:

When the glowering sun sinks beneath the shimmering sea and the tropic moon hangs high in the heavens, Darwin teems with night life. The squeaking bark of tiny geckoes as they gorge upon the myriads of insects vibrates through the rafters; pandanus and Carpet snakes glide through the twisted vines and creepers…Thousands of hermit crabs are scattered along the high tide mark and venture on to the coral reef at low tide. The newcomer is enthralled by the beauties of the variegated corals and other natural wonders of the reef. Multi-coloured crabs inhabit the shore, and gorgeous coral-fish dart about in the clear sea pools. Small octopus, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps and beche-de-mere are here in profusion.

In ‘The wet comes to Darwin’ (1946), Worrell conjures for us the ferocity and strength as the monsoonal rains break:

A blinding, searing flash and the rumble, now overhead, becomes a roar terminating in a vibrating crash. Warm drops of water are felt. Rain falls suddenly, at first in tiny dusty splashes, and then in little showers of mud. The trembling thunder reaches a crescendo as the elements duel. A ripping sound begins high in the darkness, and in ever-increasing volume and velocity hurtles earthwards until one would consider the earth as a voracious monster waiting to engulf its unseen crumpling force.

His time in the NT also gave him direct experience with Aboriginal people and cultures and he wrote six articles relating to aspects of Aboriginal art and culture, most under the pseudonym, Karliboodi, and sometimes using his own name.  In an article titled ‘Song of the snake’ (1949), which he used again for his book of the same name published in 1958, Worrell recounts the story of Nargorcor, the ‘black man’s creator’ which had been told/sung to him by Don, a Djowan man, who he came to know while living in the Katherine area. Worrell concludes his article with these insights:

A legend as this serves a much broader purpose than merely being the black man’s explanation of the origin of everything. To the blackfellow it is a Geography lesson. White men express surprise at the fact that blacks can describe an area hundreds of miles distant with the locality of waterholes and description of game, even though the blacks themselves have never been within yak-i of the place.

All this information is handed down through the generations in songs that may sometimes take hours to sing, and in the same manner the habits of food animals are sung until even their gait is known by heart. Hence the aborigines’ uncanny knowledge of nature (p. 237).

Worrell, who was then 25, wrote these words at a time when Aboriginal children were being forcibly removed from their families, segregation was common and state-sanctioned, systemic discrimination was the norm. Worrell’s writings such as this article and others such as ‘Learn from the Blackfellow’ (1948) show that he had a deep respect for Aboriginal cultures, languages and people. Aboriginal people (usually referred to by Worrell as ‘blacks’ or ‘blackfellows’) were also active, named participants in his articles concerning buffalo and crocodile industries.

By the 1950s, a period of extraordinary productivity for Worrell (he published almost 60 articles, averaging 5.6/year), the geographical loci for his output had broadened to include North Queensland and the Furneaux islands of Bass Strait. It was during this decade that Worrell became directly involved in the capture of coastal taipans for venom extraction purposes as well as falling under the spell of Chappell Island and the large black tigersnakes that live among the muttonbirds. 

His quest for the taipan and his experiences with the Chappell Island tigersnakes provided wonderful material that could be converted into gripping articles, especially when you consider that he first went in search of, caught and milked taipans prior to the development of a specific taipan antivenom. Had he, or any of his mates, John Dwyer and Wal Lorking, been bitten, it would have meant their almost certain death. All up he wrote six articles on the taipan (he certainly ‘milked’ that species for all the stories he could) and another three articles on the tigersnakes of Bass Strait. In the evocatively titled ‘Killer of the Queensland canefields’, Worrell includes reconstructions of conversations between himself and his mates, Dwyer and Lorking. The dialogue adds drama to the article, and it is a literary device he had not previously used very much. 

Reptiles, or course, comprise the focus for well over half of his popular articles and all of his technical or scientific papers. In the popular magazines, he writes about pythons, tigersnakes, coastal taipans, snakes and dangerous snakes more generally, and snakebite and snake catching, as well as on frilled lizards, goannas, freshwater turtles and crocodiles. Indeed, crocodiles and crocodile hunting comprise about 15% of the total number of articles he produced and his chapter ‘The unpopular ones’ (1966) also features a significant amount of page space given to crocodiles and the need for their protection. 

His early friendships with commercial crocodile hunters, Jim Edwards and George Harritos, allowed him to witness first-hand the methods used to hunt crocodiles, as well as giving him opportunities to dissect the stomachs of a large number (apparently around 400) of shot crocodiles to find out what they were eating. Although he unfortunately never published this information, he does refer to the stomach contents findings in Reptiles of Australia (1963: 2), as well as the phenomenon of gravel and stones in the crocodiles’ stomachs (p.1). 

While some of the crocodile articles accentuate the danger and adventure involved in hunting and killing these animals, even from his earliest writings he is alert to the significant impact that commercial hunting (especially the newly introduced night-hunting with the aid of spotlights) was having on crocodile populations. He is initially concerned more for what he terms, ‘the unjustified slaughter’ he witnessed of the Johnstone’s crocodile, which, unlike the estuarine crocodile, was not a threat to human life, but later he builds an argument for actions to regulate both commercial and non-commercial hunting of estuarine crocodiles, which he articulates in ‘The case for the croc’ (1952). 

This article comprises an address he wrote, and which was read out at the annual conference of the Australian Crocodile Shooters’ Club on his behalf, in which he describes himself as ‘an ex-professional crocodile hunter and herpetologist who has made a ten-year study of the crocodile in its native haunts’ (p.423). I think he may have been exaggerating his involvement with crocodile hunting somewhat to garner some ‘street cred’ with the crocodile shooters, but perhaps he did make some money from crocodile shooting with Edwards and Harritos. He certainly shot a number of crocodiles, (including Johnstone’s) himself which he details in several articles such as ‘Crocodiles on the Edith’ (1945).

Advocacy for the appreciation, protection and conservation of reptiles and other wildlife is apparent in quite a few of his articles starting with his very first article in 1944 which concludes with: ‘the wild life of Darwin is holding its own and adapting generally to the changed conditions…[and] on the whole it is safe to say that our lads up here are learning to appreciate the creatures of the wild. May this appreciation return south with them!’ 

Other articles with a clear conservation message include ‘Most snakes are harmless’ (1947), ‘The case for the croc’ (1952), ‘Stop! Spare that goanna’ (1957), ‘The need to protect native lizards’ (1961) and his chapter, ‘The unpopular ones’ published in 1966, in which he continues his advocacy for the legalised protection of both species of Australian crocodiles as well as lizards and harmless snakes. In this chapter he also identifies and discusses threats to Australian reptiles including feral animals, pesticides, cane toads as well as public attitudes, although he omits habitat destruction. However, it must be conceded that by his own admissions in some of his articles (such as ‘Trapping diving lizards’ [1945:16) where he caught ’40 odd adults and over a dozen young’ and ‘Hold that tiger’ (1952:335) where almost 300 tigersnakes were caught] Worrell did take from the wild numbers of reptiles which today would be considered excessive. He ‘filled his bags with shiny black tigersnakes’ on each of his trips down to Chappell and nearby islands. Admittedly, the snakes were being killed in large numbers by the muttonbirders as they posed a serious danger, so Worrell no doubt felt justified in taking as many as he wanted.

In terms of helping to shift attitudes towards reptiles, even when he writes about the species that draws the most fear from people, what we now call the coastal taipan (in Worrell’s day it was simply ‘the taipan’), he tells the reader that it is a generally shy snake, always quick to escape. There are some exceptions of course. In ‘The island of snakes’ (1957) he writes of the ‘vicious black tiger snakes, whose bite often means death’ (p.27). However, later in the article, he reverts to form, stating ‘As a rule…we found the island’s tiger snakes remarkable docile, especially the larger ones. After a few days in captivity, they took food readily from our hands’ (p.29). 

Finally, Worrell’s prowess as a photojournalist is epitomised in his magnificent ‘Behind the blare of sideshow alley’ published in PEOPLE in 1957. This long-form article stretches across 10 A3 size pages and includes 30 superb photographs that portray the unique and idiosyncratic lives of the ‘show people’ he sought to bring to life on paper. It’s not surprising that he would have been paid handsomely for this article, which was based on a trip that Worrell, accompanied by his wife Carol, and their two young children, Kim and Mark, made with the ‘showies’ as they travelled their 5000km tour of eastern Queensland on the “Showman’s Train”, finishing in Rockhampton.

The Showman’s Train that travelled the east coast of Queensland was said to be the longest showtrain in the world. Photograph supplied by John Cann
People wore their finest clothes to go to the Show in the 1950s. Sideshow Alley. Photograph supplied by John Cann
Performers in the ‘African pygmies show’: Ubangi Chilliwingi, Shona, behind Shona is Samba, then Arabi Ben Qakbar, Raincloud and Dave Meekin (show owner). Ms Chilliwingi was promoted as the ‘world’s smallest female’. The show made Meekin, at least, very wealthy. Photograph supplied by John Cann

The article is full of fascinating people Worrell meets: Marianna the Hungarian chimpanzee trainer and puppeteer who had fled communism and ended up as an exotic dancer in Sydney nightclubs; Paula Perry, whose acts often featured her dancing with pythons draped over her body, and who had been interned in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines; and Johnny Foster, who could juggle, walk the tight-rope, eat fire and tame lions. Expressing an interest to photograph Foster’s lion, Worrell was told by Foster that the only way he could do that was to follow him into the lion’s cage. 

Foster kept backing around the cage with me behind him, poking my camera around every now and then and flashing a shot of the lion. At one stage we were backing around the cage so quickly I couldn’t tell whether we were chasing the lion or the lion was chasing us…

’I’ll bet a quid you were shaking too much to get a decent picture’, Foster grinned at Worrell. Worrell’s close up of the snarling lion’s face, staring at Worrell from behind the legs of a chair, is reproduced on p. 33 of the article. Foster owed Worrell that quid.

According to John Cann, son of George Cann, the ‘snake man of La Perouse’ and a friend of Worrell’s, and who I interviewed for Snake-Bitten, Worrell was fascinated by the stories of the show circuit recounted by George. Through George and through other means, Worrell met and became friends with some of the ‘showies’ and this ultimately led to Worrell undertaking this incredible trip and writing the article. This was an era when sideshow attractions included a preoccupation with so called ‘freaks’, both human and animal: ‘pygmies’ from Africa, ‘Zanadu’ the quarter boy (his body terminated at his torso), miniature horses and two headed pigs, as well as Polynesian dancing troupes, risqué burlesque acts, boxing demonstrations and of course the snake pit inevitably worked by a ‘snakey’ which Worrell wrote about in another PEOPLE article published in 1960. 

Cann reproduced many of Worrell’s stunning photographs (most of which had not been published before) in his Historical Snakeys, published in 2014. Cann, who competed at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was himself the subject of another article by Worrell, ‘A young giant in spiked shoes’ published anonymously in 1955 in Sporting Life.

Finally, it is important to mention that Worrell began editing two columns for Australian OUTDOORS: ‘Walkabout’ and ‘Nature in the Mailbag’ from 1956 for several years. These columns (usually of about half a page)provided Worrell with a platform where he could comment on various issues and topics related in some way to nature and wildlife (‘Walkabout’) as well as responding to letters that had been sent into the magazine for him to deal with (‘Nature in the Mailbag’). These columns were another means through which Worrell consolidated his authority. He was no longer only a contributor of articles but an editor with power to set his own agenda.

Themes and topics in Worrell’s scientific writing

Worrell’s first ‘scientific’ article appeared in the PRZSNSW in 1945, a short piece about some observations he had made while keeping the freshwater or Johnstone’s crocodile in captivity. Another five articles were published in that journal during this decade, each being just one or two pages in length.  The short length was not unusual for the journal at the time, which frequently published articles based on field observations of Australian animal species, and which by doing so, probably served to differentiate it from its more academic sister publication, Australian Zoologist, also published by the Royal Zoological Society of NSW. 

One of Worrell’s articles is particularly interesting: ‘Emotion in reptiles’ (1947). Worrell explored some of the ‘emotions’ that he believed reptiles expressed through a range of behaviours including ‘agitation’, ‘aggressiveness’ and ‘equanimity’. Significantly, Worrell framed the article in terms of Darwin’s book, Expressions of Emotion in Man and Animals (1872), of which he must have been aware, presumably through the Zoological Society’s library, which, as a member, he would have had access to. In other words, he applied a ‘theoretical lens’ (provided by Darwin’s work) to make sense of the observations he was making of reptiles as a 22 year old young man who, by now, seemed to have committed to a life involving reptiles. 

Worrell suggested that Darwin’s relative lack of focus on emotions in reptiles was due to his attention on mammals which possessed faces that readily showed emotion. He argued that emotion in reptiles was instead manifest through ‘stance or gesture’. It was an unusual topic to write about for the time and suggests that Worrell was thinking about reptiles in ways somewhat different from others who were writing about them during the same period. This article is also the first which includes a photograph of the highly photogenic Carol Hawkins, who was to become his (first) wife the following year, and who Worrell frequently included in photographs in his articles into the 1950s. 

Although Worrell had no formal training in zoology, he developed a particular interest in (mostly) snake taxonomy and wrote thirteen articles that dealt with aspects of reptile systematics and taxonomy which were published in PRZSNSW, Australian Zoologist, Western Australian Naturalist and the short-lived Australian Reptile Park Records. He had also written several other manuscripts describing other, what he regarded as new species and sub-species, including a new skink, which he proposed to name Leiolopisma moorakae and a subspecies of Cunningham’s skink which he proposed to name Egernia cunninghami brevispina. These papers were never published.

Worrell’s first venture into reptile systematics and taxonomy began with a publication in 1955, when he was 31. ‘A new elapine snake from Queensland’ was published in the PRZSNSW. The snake he named was Glyphodon dunmalli, but it is now called Furina dunmalli. Worrell often used skull bones as diagnostic characters and the first two paragraphs of the description involve a detailed and what seems to me, at least, to be a sophisticated account of the snake’s skull ‘…the suture of the maxilla-ectopterygoid is moderately long and diagonal’. The term ‘moderately long’ in this context is, however, rather unhelpful (what does ‘moderately long’ actually mean?)  and Worrell’s taxonomic work often copped some criticism about what was considered an over-reliance on skull characters and imprecise descriptions. He then goes on to describe the scalation of the two snakes he uses as the ‘type’ and the ‘allotype’. 

Unfortunately, neither the type nor the allotype was deposited in a Museum collection, but instead in his friends, John and Ken Dwyer’s private collection and in his own collection. Unfortunately, neither collection of preserved snakes had provenance data. I have seen the Dwyers’ collection and several people who were interviewed for Snake-Bitten commented about the lack of data held in Worrell’s collection.  Worrell provided three illustrations of the head of G.dunmalli as well as two black and white photographs of the snake. Initially I assumed the illustrations were the work of John Dwyer, Worrell’s friend, who, with his brother, Ken, supplied Worrell with one of the specimens. But comparing these illustrations with others attributed to Dwyer, I would say they are indeed the work of Worrell (whose illustration skills were well below Dwyer’s). 

Worrell ends the article with ‘I am indebted to Mr C. Brazenor of the National Museum, Melbourne, for his kind assistance with the preparation of this paper’ (p.42).

C. W. Brazenor was a mammologist at the National Museum who became its director between 1957 and 1961. According to Wikispecies Brazenor described two species of mammals, Notomys amplus, the short-tailed hopping mouse and another rodent, Pseudomys fumeus, the smoky Pseudomys. Given this was Worrell’s first attempt at taxonomic work, it could reasonably be assumed that the professional zoologist, Brazenor, while not someone with much experience in describing new species, would have provided guidance to Worrell in writing the paper. I’m not aware of how Worrell (based on the NSW Central Coast) and Brazenor (based in Melbourne) became friendly enough for Brazenor to provide guidance to Worrell on this paper, however.  

Worrell had some bad luck with his taxonomic work. Two of the species he described as being new to science, Varanus bulliwalla and Liasis taronga had, in fact, already been described, as Varanus mertensi (Mertens Water Monitor) and Morelia (now Simalia) boelleni (Boelen’s Python). These are understandable errors for someone who was not a professional zoologist attached to a museum or university and thus without easy access to the technical literature to make, but they nevertheless worked against his attempts to build his credibility as someone wanting to contribute to reptile systematics.

Worrell was, by the way, aware of the new water monitor in 1944 well before it was described by Glauert in 1951, but he would not have been in a position to have described it at that stage of his career. He was also ‘pipped at the post’ in his description of what is now Egernia hosmeri, described by Kinghorn in 1955. Worrell knew of the lizard and had written a manuscript naming it as E. robichauxi but Kinghorn published his description before Worrell had a chance to do so. There is some suggestion that there had been some skull-duggery behind Worrell missing out on the privilege of describing this new skink (see John Cann’s Historical Snakeys, 2014, p. 234).

By the 1960s, there is a stronger emphasis on snake taxonomy in Worrell’s output with five out of the nine articles he published in that decade concerning aspects of taxonomy, systematics and nomenclature. To this end, he publishes the first two issues of the Australian Reptile Park Records, both of which contain only one article each, and both written by Worrell. Presumably, this publication was to provide opportunities for Worrell and ARP staff to publish taxonomic, and perhaps ecological, papers on reptiles, in order to help fulfil one of the Australian reptile Park’s stated objectives of ‘research,’ but it ceased production after the first two issues. 

Worrell does not publish any more taxonomic papers after 1963 – indeed he stops publishing articles altogether, other than one multi-authored one in 1975 and his very final publication in 1980.  This article concerns the Sydney funnel web spider and it details the ARP’s long-term involvement in the procurement of venom which was necessary for the development of the specific antivenom for this species, first successfully used to treat a patient in 1981, the year following the article’s publication. It was published in Wildlife in Australia, edited by his friend, the great Australian naturalist, Vincent Serventy, and brother of the ornithologist, Dom Serventy, who was also a friend of Worrell’s, who he met on one of his trips to the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait chasing tigersnakes.

Probably the most contentious article Worrell published was his ‘Herpetological name changes’ published in the Western Australian Naturalist in 1961. His aim in that article was to explain or justify a number of changes to (mostly) elapid taxonomy that he would be using in his Reptiles of Australia, published two years later. In his Acknowledgements at the start of the paper he thanks Hal Cogger, who was by this stage, Curator of Retiles and Amphibians at the Australian Museum, along with Ken Slater, a one-time friend and employee of his, for their ‘painstaking assistance’ (p.18). 

In correspondence between Hal Cogger and Worrell, it is abundantly clear that Hal was not at all happy with the form of acknowledgement given by Worrell as the beginning of the article, as it implied a much greater involvement for him in the paper than was the case.

Hal was very uneasy with many of Eric’s proposals and noted that the paper contained many errors and unsubstantiated claims. He made his concerns clear to Eric in a series of letters, although Eric himself seemed unaffected, didn’t seem to have taken the criticism personally and was quite pragmatic when he responded to Hal

Hal and Roy Mackay found an array of errors or claims without adequate justification with the paper, which they highlighted for Eric. However, even so, it should be noted that quite a few of his proposals are still recognised today: Dendrelaphis replacing Ahaetulla; recognising Pseudonaja as distinct from Demansia; and erecting new genera: Drysdalia, Cryptophis, Parasuta and Suta.

It’s not clear to me why he chose The Western Australian Naturalist to publish this paper, rather than Australian Zoologist, for example, where he had published a couple of papers some years previously. However, he had already published a paper in TWAN in 1960 and the journal certainly published articles on herpetology with numerous papers by Ludwig Glauert and Glenn Storr, although Storr, in particular, was no fan of Worrell’s taxonomic work. Perhaps the fact that Worrell’s friend, Dr Dom Serventy was the editor at the time was a factor also.

Concluding Comments

I hope that I have demonstrated through this essay that Worrell was a prolific author across three decades, from the 1940s until the middle of the 1960s. He was able to take advantage of the explosion in popular magazines that were eager to publish stories about aspects of Australia that encompassed adventure, novelty, nature and danger. Worrell established himself as a nationally known snake expert with his articles detailing his efforts to catch and milk dangerous snakes such as coastal taipans and tigersnakes as well as a series of articles on venomous snakes more generally which included contemporary advice on snakebite. His articles conveyed well the excitement and danger inherent in searching for and capturing these deadly snakes. 

Many of his articles included photographs of himself catching and holding dangerously venomous snakes, further reinforcing his status as an authority on reptiles. He also wrote articles on other reptiles, most of which focused on crocodiles and commercial crocodile hunting, but it was his articles on snakes that cemented his identity as Australia’s Snake Man.  In an era when television was yet to flicker into cathodic life in Australia and the immediate years that followed it, it was these popular magazine articles that helped make Worrell a naturalist-celebrity. These magazines had national circulations enabling a potentially huge audience to read about his work milking snakes for their venoms as a first stage in the process of manufacturing antivenenes (what we call antivenoms today). 

But as I show, Worrell wrote articles on a very broad range of topics from hunting with ferrets, taxidermy, fishing, tourism in the Top End, buffalo hunting and Aboriginal culture. Towards the end of his article writing career, he writes some long form and beautifully crafted articles – the peak of which, in my view, is his ‘Behind the blare of sideshow alley’. To be able to write across so many fields and so many topics is a testament to his versatility and his skills as a writer and photographer. 

Conservation is one of the themes that runs through a number of his publications. He was one of the first Australian naturalists to champion the protection of both the freshwater and saltwater crocodiles and he published several articles calling for the protection of raptors, dingoes, goannas and other lizards. The chapter, ‘The Unloved Ones’ in The Great Extermination is the most comprehensive and well-developed argument for the protection of reptiles that had been published in Australia up to that point. The philosophy that underpinned his argument is a utilitarian one: reptiles do good by keeping pest species such as rodents and insects under control, and so it is in our own interests to protect these species. He adopts what might be called an ‘ecosystem service’ approach to defending reptiles and their place in the ecosystem. 

Worrell also contributed to the scientific literature through nearly 20 publications in journals such as Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Australian Zoologist and The Western Australian Naturalist, as well as in his own journal, Australian Reptile Park Records. His early papers were usually brief and focus on a particular species of reptile that was not well known at the time or more abstract topics such as emotion in reptiles, which as I suggested earlier, was an interesting topic to write on in the 1950s, well ahead of his time. 

His record in the systematics and taxonomy of reptiles was mixed, with two species that he described already having been previously described (but clearly the editors of the journals in which he published these descriptions as well as the referees of the manuscripts he submitted also weren’t aware that these species had already been described) and criticisms levelled at some of his work by other taxonomists. Nevertheless, quite a few of his taxonomic proposals, including five genera that he erected, are still recognised as valid today. Indeed, with respect to terrestrial elapids, only the German zoologist, Albert Günther, working in the late 1800s and early 1900s, erected more genera of Australian elapids that remain valid today, than Worrell.

On the inside of the dustjacket of Worrell’s 1966 book, Australian Wildlife, Worrell is quoted as saying:

I enjoy working on a book like this – with the help of my many friends. In a strange way they have confidence in what I do. Some are scientists: they say my work is artistic. Some are artists: they say I am a perceptive zoologist. Some are photographers: they admire my literary style. Some are writers: they like my photographs. 

Let me end this essay on this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating comment from Eric Frederick Arthur Worrell, because I think it nicely captures the breadth of ability of the man, while at the same time acknowledging that criticism will always be a part of any writer/artist/scientist’s life who dares to enter the public realm of ideas.

1 Richard Wells was going to use this for the title of a book he was hoping to publish about Worrell. He generously gave me permission to use it here.