This edited article about Darwin in Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 757 published on 17th July 1976.
It was on Christmas Day, 1974 that a hurricane named Tracy hit the northern coast of Australia and virtually wiped out the 27 square mile city of Darwin, chief port and administrative centre of the Northern Territory. The rest of the world was shocked at the extent of the damage, although most people had to reach for a map in order to discover exactly where Darwin was.
Gone were the 1930s when it had been well known as the goal of daring round-the-world flyers, even though the name was familiar. Probably, people surmised, it had been named after Charles Darwin. But had the great British naturalist ever been as far afield as Australia? The doubts were not surprising, for few associated photographs of a bearded 80 year old with the young man of 22 who had made one of the most significant voyages of all time. This was a voyage to the New World in 1831.
With the help of an artist, Darwin’s task was to record and obtain specimens of the plant and animal life of the countries visited, and for the next five years he worked with enthusiasm as the Beagle, on which he was travelling, slowly made her way along the coasts of South America and onwards to lands that were still mentioned very hazily in even the best geography books. Tahiti, the Maldives, Keeling Island, Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia, Darwin saw them all, and as he noted, collected and catalogued his specimens a new and extraordinary conviction began to form in his mind.
It had begun to grow after his visit to the Galapagos Islands, where he had light-heartedly ridden on the back of a giant tortoise and faithfully logged its speed as 4 miles per day. The islands abounded in a number of different types of finch, each specially equipped by nature for a particular task. On one island the birds had strong beaks for cracking the local nuts, on another they had small beaks for catching insects. There were woodpecker-like finches, and fruit-eating finches and even one that dug grubs from holes with a cactus spine. It seemed to Darwin reasonable to suppose that they had evolved, and adapted their shape over the centuries in order to suit their surroundings.
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