Great news that Bob Brockie was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the recent Queen’s Birthday honours. Bob’s award is richly deserved for his eclectic achievements in science and cartooning. We celebrate especially because Bob is a long-term friend of Te Ara, writing three major biological entries in The Bush theme – Native plants and animals, Introduced animal pests and Weeds of the bush – as well as allowing us to use his cartoons to illustrate a variety of entries.
Bob is possibly unique in being a Te Ara contributor whose scientific work was quoted in Te Ara’s predecessor, the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand. His PhD research on hedgehogs was then the definitive work on the subject and, almost 50 years later, he is still the acknowledged expert.
By training Bob is an ecologist, and he has mainly worked on the impact of introduced animals. In this video clip he illustrates the impact that possums have had on our native forests. As well as being an expert on possums and hedgehogs, he has an amazingly broad biological knowledge and has published scientific papers on topics as diverse as sparrows, magpies, starlings, mange mites and flax flowering patterns.
One of Bob’s most fascinating projects has been a study of road kill (animals hit by cars) throughout the North Island. Repeated surveys in 1984, 1999 and 2005 have shown dramatic changes – rabbit numbers rose, hedgehogs fell dramatically, and possum numbers rose and then declined. These results were analysed and written up in a scientific paper, but it is typical of Bob’s approach that he has repackaged the information in a number of articles so that the research results are available to a wide range of non-specialist readers.
Bob is probably best known to the general public for his regular weekly science columns in the Dominion Post, covering a wide range of topics, both local and international – the first page I look for in the paper every Monday morning. A selection of his articles were reprinted in The prehistoric boy-racer gene and other tales from modern science (Random House, 2003). One of the distinctive features of his columns is that he has forthright opinions and does not shy away from confronting non-scientific beliefs and practices that rarely get challenged in the media. Topics such as homeopathy, post-modern philosophy, iridology, organic ideology, Rudolf Steiner beliefs, alternative medicine, anti-fluoridation campaigns and the safety of genetically engineered products have come under his gaze, ensuring that readers get a critical evaluation of some of the unscientific ideas that float around.
Among his many other talents, Bob is an accomplished cartoonist, with enough self-confidence not to worry about milking sacred cows. He started providing cartoons for the Victoria University magazine Salient in 1953, and has been contributing a weekly cartoon to the National Business Review since 1975. While not a magazine I normally read, it was always a regular stop at the supermarket news stand to look up the latest Brockie cartoon. Sadly, the proprietors of the NBR seem to have got wind of this and have recently started wrapping their magazine in plastic.
Bob has been most generous in allowing Te Ara to use many of his cartoon as illustrations – and here is a selection of my favourites:
- buck-passing about leaky buildings
- pay equity
- All Blacks and the national anthem
- comparing qualifications.
Bob, we salute you as a scientist and social commentator, and look forward to more of your articles and cartoons.