Winston Churchill’s ‘magnificently idiotic’ platypus quest – and more strange stories of Australian animals abroad – Rights History
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Winston Churchill’s ‘magnificently idiotic’ platypus quest – and more strange stories of Australian animals abroad

The colonisation of Australia coincided with a boom in European interest in exotic animals – so kangaroos, dingoes, wombats and more were shipped off, regardless of practicalities

In early 1943, the second world war raged across multiple theatres. Hitler’s army had just suffered a historic defeat at Stalingrad, but U-boats still prowled the Atlantic and Britain’s resources were stretched to the limit. So it must have come as a surprise to Australian prime minister, John Curtin, when a telegram arrived from Winston Churchill requesting six platypuses be sent to Britain forthwith, in a scheme conservationist Gerald Durrell described as “magnificently idiotic”.

Historians have tried to place this episode in a broader context of empire and international geopolitics, but it seems Churchill just really wanted a platypus. He had collected exotic animals throughout his life, including black swans, a white kangaroo, a budgie named Toby who attended ministerial meetings, and a lion named Rota, which he sensibly kept at London Zoo.

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