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Basil and Howard's excellent adventure

By: Ms Prue Walker, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 03 Jul 2014

It all comes down to a passion for sea lions.

Hut and Lighthouse on Dangerous Reef

Howard Hughes © Australian Museum

Starting in July, 1967, two intrepid Australian Museum staff members made their home for a long 94 days on Dangerous Reef, a rocky island in Spencer Gulf, off the coast of South Australia.

Their accommodation was a little shed erected near the lighthouse. It was constructed at the Museum in Sydney and transported by road to South Australia. From there it was loaded onto the lighthouse tender, M. V. Cape Pillar, whose crew kindly set it up on the island.

Rose Docker gives a graphic account of Howard Hughes’ rather unhappy reaction to his stay on Dangerous Reef but Basil Marlow, the Mammalogist, was there to study sea lions and he felt entirely differently:

In spite of the isolation which occurred during 3 months on Dangerous Reef, far less hardship was experienced than was anticipated. Comfortable living conditions, a congenial companion and quite peaceful surroundings which contained a fascinating population of absorbingly interesting animals, made the stay there an extremely rewarding experience.’

Basil’s early career had been interrupted by World War II. He survived war service as a wireless operator and air gunner, and subsequently studied zoology at University College, London.  His first job after graduating with honours was with the Game and Tsetse Control Department in Africa.

Although he loved Africa, he left that job and moved to Australia in 1954 to work as a biological research officer for the CSIRO in Canberra, a job much more to his taste.

He was appointed Curator of Mammals at the Australian Museum in 1958, and continued working here until his retirement in 1980. During his time at the Museum he was able to pursue his research into two of his main areas of interest: ecology and the behaviour of mammals.

He was a well-liked member of staff ‘with a wicked sense of humour, often directed against himself.’ His book Marsupials of Australia was very well received, with four editions published between 1962 and 1981, but what he really enjoyed was getting away from the office and studying animals in their natural environment.

References:
Obituary: Vale Basil Joseph Guy Marlow published in Australian Zoologist, Vol. 29(1-2) from the eulogy given by Bob McEwan at Basil’s funeral at Pine Grove Crematorium, Eastern Creek, Sydney, on 31st March, 1993.

Tribute to Basil Marlow by Alex Ritchie of the Australian Museum published in Australian Zoologist, Vol. 29(1-2)