You might call it evolution in action. When Chris Darwin inherited a family fortune passed down from his great-great-grandfather, Charles, he searched high and low for a way to use it in a way his famous ancestor have wished.
As the only descendant of the great naturalist and author of the revolutionary Origin of Species living in Australia, Darwin felt he had to do something special. Australia held special significance in Charles Darwin’s work. He spent several months in Australia in 1836 and was fascinated by the rich variety of the unique plants and animals which had developed over the millions of years of the continent’s isolation.
“Charles Darwin said late in his life that his only regret was he had not done all he could for his ‘fellow creatures’. That resonated with me and I decided to use the inheritance to do what I could to help stem the destruction of the diversity of species on this planet.”
He searched for some time until he found an extraordinary tract of bush land in Western Australia containing an incredible 25 threatened and rare plant and animal species. He bought 689 square kilometres of the land for AU$300,000 and called it The Charles Darwin Reserve.
The reserve is about the size of Singapore. It is 0.00046 percent of the planet’s land surface yet contains 12 percent of the world’s rare and threatened species including a pseudoscorpion and a skink (a type of lizard) found nowhere else.
“It has a plant that is as rare as the panda bear,” said Darwin proudly. “There are 900 known plants of this type of acacia in the world, and 500 of them are in the reserve.
“We had a moth expert do a survey on the reserve. He’d spent his life studying moths in England but before this had discovered only one new species of moth. He found 32 new species of moth in just five days on the reserve.” He now feels the reserve is the best thing he has ever done. “I have saved this land and preserved all these rare species of life. I feel I have given something back not only to Australia but to the world, and carried on Charles Darwin’s legacy.”
That legacy has always been a big part of Chris Darwin’s life.
He was born in England and at school bore the nickname ‘the missing link’ with good humour. He was teased mercilessly when he failed a biology exam. As a young adult he was an innovator, introducing London’s first rickshaw taxis and the first round-Britain windsurf expedition.
At the age of 25 and fed up with the gloomy London weather, he jumped at the chance to come out to Australia to work in the advertising industry. He fell in love with the country and decided to stay.
“It was a bit of a novelty being the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, but it wasn’t such a big deal in Australia as it was in Britain. In Britain people try to work out where you are in the pecking order of society through your family connections and social standing. In Australia people are far more egalitarian and accept you for who you are.”
Of course, Chris Darwin loved the sunshine, wildlife and wide open spaces of Australia. But he also came to admire the Australian way of life.
“The people are friendly and open with a wonderful lack of pretensions. The atmosphere here is so up-beat compared to Britain. In Australia people smile and laugh in the street, while in London they are grim and dour and suspicious of anybody who comes near them.
“In London my family were fairly well off and we had a small garden, but here I live with my wife and three young children in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney in a house on the edge of a forest. We have seven acres (2.8 hectares) of bushland where birds and animals visit us every day. There’s a river at the bottom where we go exploring in a canoe. This is paradise.”
On weekends he literally walks in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, conducting guided tours of Charles Darwin’s exploratory walks in the Blue Mountains. Charles Darwin as a young man was a tireless adventurer; when in Australia he rode a horse over the Blue Mountains searching the bush and forests for new species of animals and plants.
Today, his descendant Chris Darwin is continuing that proud legacy.
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