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Finlayson, Hedley Herbert (1895–1991)

Well respected South Australian pioneer conservationist Mr Hedley Herbert Finlayson has died, aged 96.

One of seven children from a family which founded the suburb of Mitcham, Mr Finlayson was an organic chemist teaching at the University of Adelaide for 44 years, an author, photographer, and honorary curator of mammals at the South Australian Museum for 35 years.

Despite the loss of his left hand and right eyesight in an accident when he was 20 years old, Mr Finlayson made several dangerous expeditions by camel along uncharted routes to Central Australia to study its wildlife. 

During these expeditions he collected 2903 specimens of mammals which he recorded meticulously in a register, labelled, and preserved. The collection is among the most important in Australia and includes specimens of species now extinct, such as the lesser bilby and desert rat kangaroo. 

Well known among Aboriginal communities for his interest in their relationship with their natural environment, Mr Finlayson took more than 5000 photographs recording their life and wildlife in the desert. 

In 1935 he published a book entitled The Red Centre. The book, which has been reprinted eight times, warns of severe environmental impact on the land from feral horses and cattle.  

Mr Finlayson never owned a television or car, refused to install a phone and at 90 years old was still walking once a week to the Central Market from his home in North Adelaide to buy vegetables.  

He never married.

Original publication

  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 August 1991

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Citation details

'Finlayson, Hedley Herbert (1895–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/finlayson-hedley-herbert-14881/text26257, accessed 18 October 2018.

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