I was born in Chinchilla, Queensland, and grew up in Brisbane. My parents loved to talk about Australian history, our forbears, and everything to do with gardens. I was quite young when I become enchanted with plants and insects, had my own garden, and followed the behavior of insects.
At the University of Queensland I studied zoology, botany and entomology, and developed an interest in music and theater. Soon after graduation I traveled by ship to Europe, intending to have the two-year working holiday before returning home. The journey involved disembarking in Gibraltar and hitchhiking around Europe before reaching London on a motorized bicycle purchased in Holland.
In London I enjoyed the anonymity, the great cultural experience, and the ritual slumming in a series of bed-sitting rooms and gloomy flats. I relished the experience of English countryside, temperate seasons, trees and flowers known from books, and the presence everywhere of history. After a number of temporary jobs I taught high school biology in the East End of London where I learned cockney humor and rhyming slang.
While teaching I obtained a Master of Science in Entomology from the University of London – two years of night classes. This led to a Ph.D. in Entomology also from the University of London, and then a job with the British government in a small unit called the Anti-Locust Research Centre. In time, this became the Centre for Overseas Pest Research, and I worked in several African countries and in India in between periods of research in the London-based laboratories of the COPR.
After thirteen years of work as a British government scientist I became a professor of Entomology at the University of California Berkeley, and spent six wonderfully happy years there living in a redwood house that looked out to the Golden Gate. I was intellectually invigorated at the university and socially converted to the hitherto unknown “American way.” All of this with my soul mate, Reg Chapman.
Finally, Reg and I were offered jobs at the University of Arizona: I came as head of the department of Entomology, Reg as a professor in the Arizona Research Laboratories Division of Neurobiology; and so began thirteen years of fruitful collaborative research, and the beginning of a love affair with the Sonoran desert. Our colleagues were supportive, the students interested, and many ideas came to fruition in our research.
After Reg died, I turned my efforts more towards writing, completed a childhood memoir, and obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. And so I write. I write about life’s experiences, the desert, art, people and animals. I live in my sprawling Tucson home, set in four acres of desert that is brimming with wildlife. I enjoy the tiniest flowers in spring, the amazing endurance of animals in the dry heat of June, the excitement of summer rain storms in August, the glory of fresh vegetation and insects in September, and the easy warmth of winter.
My writing explores the meaning of experience, the strangeness of nostalgia, the meaning of home, the origins and purpose of art, the importance of sharing our lives with the rest of the living world, and the value of seeing the humor in our species.
Copyright Elizabeth Bernays. All rights reserved. Photography by Elizabeth A. Bernays. Web design by Jessica Lamberton.