Balancing Biography and Institutional History: Eric Worrell’s Australian Reptile Park

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Nancy Cushing
Kevin Markwell


When a young naturalist opened his new wildlife park at Wyoming on the NSW Central Coast in the late 1950s, he gave it his own name: Eric Worrell’s Australian Reptile Park. Through the park, Worrell made a significant contribution to environmental education, the development of knowledge of captive animal care and display and the provision of antivenoms for the bites of a range of dangerous creatures. More than this, it was the geographic and emotional centre of Worrell’s world: the fulfilment of a childhood dream, a home for his family and a site for forming new personal and professional relationships. In preparation for the jubilee of the park, its history is being written by two academics from the University of Newcastle. An attractive means of creating the necessary narrative structure and human interest to ensure the wide appeal of this history is to follow Worrell’s lead and place his life at the centre of this institutional history. This is the direction suggested by the written sources on the park and it is accentuated by many of our oral informants who organise their memories of the park around Worrell. To what extent can an institutional history be a biography of the person at the heart of that institution? Is it possible to disentangle the life from the institution? This article offers some preliminary answers to these questions through a case study of the writing of a history of Eric Worrell’s Australian Reptile Park.

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Author Biographies

Nancy Cushing, University of Newcastle

Dr Nancy Cushing is a Lecturer in Australian history at the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast Campus. She has published several areas of Australian cultural history including the history of surf life saving and of the Pacific Highway. She and Dr Markwell are currently preparing a history of the Australian Reptile Park for its 50th anniversary and will next embark on a larger history of Australian naturalists of the postwar period.

Kevin Markwell, Southern Cross University

Associate Professor Kevin Markwell of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Southern Cross University has published widely in the areas of nature based tourism and gay and lesbian studies.