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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McKeown, Keith Collingwood (1892–1952)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Keith Collingwood McKeown (1892-1952), entomologist, naturalist and author, was born on 6 November 1892 at Burwood, Sydney, second son of George Maurice McKeown, agriculturalist, and his wife Emmeline Mary, née Mayhew. His early years were spent on the Wollongbar Experimental Farm, between Lismore and Ballina, where his father was officer in charge. At 3 'with a cicada in both fists and a dead field mouse in his pocket' he began his lifelong interest in natural history. In November 1897 his father became manager of the experiment farm at Wagga Wagga where Keith received his schooling and taught himself entomology in his spare time; in the school holidays he delighted in visits to the Australian Museum, Sydney.

In September 1915 he was appointed to the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission at Leeton as a clerk. He joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1917 and next year published, in the Australian Naturalist, his first paper, which dealt with the habits of the Carpenter bee of the grass trees (Lestis bambylans). In 1920 at the request of (Sir) John Cleland he reported on the presence of the anopheline mosquito in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Other notes and papers followed and in January 1927 he was appointed entomological research officer in the commission to work in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture on the various insect pests in the M.I.A. In June 1929 he was appointed scientific assistant (second class) to Anthony Musgrave at the Australian Museum, at a salary of £368; he later became assistant curator of insects. On 29 December 1932 he married Marie Julia Matthew at the Registrar General's Office, Sydney.

McKeown popularized Australian nature studies through numerous articles in the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Museum Magazine and especially through his very readable and popular books. His Insect Wonders of Australia (1935) and Spider Wonders of Australia (1936) both ran to several editions. These were followed by the Land of Byamee, Australian Wild Life in Legend and Fact (1938), based on his observations of the Aborigines of the Wiradjurie tribe in the Riverina district (regarded by Dame Mary Gilmore as 'one of the most important books written on the aborigines'); an Alice in Wonderland-type children's fantasy, The Magic Seeds: Tessa in Termitaria (1940); Australian Insects: An Introductory Handbook (1942), published by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales of which he was a fellow and council-member; and Nature in Australia (1949).

As well as his popular writings McKeown published specialist scientific papers on the orders Coleoptera, Neuroptera and Orthoptera including the authoritative Catalogue of the Cerambycidae, Coleoptera, of Australia (1947). He also turned his attention to the economic aspects of entomology and published his observations on the food of birds and fish. He was a member of the scientific advisory committee to the Mount Kosciusko State Park Trust and a keen amateur photographer.

McKeown collapsed during the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Sydney and died of heart disease on 21 August 1952, survived by his wife and young son who shared his father's love of natural history. He was cremated after an Anglican service.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology 1775-1930 (Syd, 1932)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1922, 1, p 181, 1927, 3, p 447
  • Australian Museum Magazine, 15 Sept 1952, p 371
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, May 1954, p 6
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 Dec 1949
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Aug 1952.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'McKeown, Keith Collingwood (1892–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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