Years ago when Tom’s Mum was having a bookshelf clean out she gave us an old copy of Buller’s Birds – a might tome of a book in it’s own cardboard case with a cover that looked marbled and historically important. The images, while reproductions, are hinged into the book like artworks and there’s something quite lovely about holding and reading a book that feels so much like a piece of New Zealand history.
Earlier this year Te Papa Press updated Buller’s Birds and almost certainly reintroduced it to a new crowd of people. In the last few years you’ll have noticed the appetite for birds has skyrocketed.
Having the chance to rediscover New Zealand’s native birds here was wonderful. And nostalgic too because to me the names Grey Warbler, Bellbird, Tui and Fantail will always bring to mind our pack of Brownie sixes doing inspection in a wooden hall at the back of Anne McIntosh’s house.
The new edition, which is given a terracotta cloth cover with matching case and navy ribbon is even more beautiful. The reproductions are bright and fresh and given full pages with a lot of white space. There’s also a whole lot of new content; to quote Te Papa Press, “new reproductions of original watercolour-and-pencil paintings for Buller’s second edition and its supplement, made possible by the author’s rediscovery of these works at the Ornithological Branch of the British Natural History Museum”.
There’s an introduction by Stephen Fry and a very good illustrated introductory essay complete with a historical photo of a man being towed in a cart by a zebra.
Buller’s Birds is the kind of universal authority that at one time every home would have owned. And they should now too – there’s something quite satisfying about sitting in the sun and reading and looking, a couple at a time, at New Zealand’s wonderous and beautiful birds. Sure, you can look these all up on the internet but having them brought together here, having the weight of a large book on your lap and really studying the quality of the drawings is incomparable.
Buller’s Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Work of JG Keulmans
by Geoff Norman
Published by Te Papa Press
Thank you to Te Papa Press for a review copy of this book. If you’d like to buy this please do so at your local bookshop.