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Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art Plants

Back in Menindee

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project is happening again in Menindee, outback New South Wales. This is my seventh time up here, so many of you are familiar with the story. But just in case you don’t know, here is the short version. (For the longer version you can jump to our website Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. Sorry, can’t do a hyperlink.)

In 1860 the Bourke and Wills Expedition set up their supply camp in Menindee, a small town on the Darling River. The Expedition was to be the first crossing of the continent from Melbourne in the south to north at the Gulf of Carpentaria. While Bourke and three others made it there, the Expedition was a disaster.

However, our project is connected to Hermann Beckler, the doctor on the Expedition. He remained in Menindee, where he had resigned in furious disagreement with Bourke. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected widely in the area. His friendship with Ferdinand Mueller at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens meant that the specimens collected by Beckler became part of the collection in the Herbarium.

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The Darling River (copyright: AnneLawson 2018)

Fast forward 150 years to 2010, when the Project began as a celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Expedition. We have been collecting the same species Beckler collected, and then painting these plants.

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My Cullen paintings at our Beckler exhibition in Ballarat earlier this year.

There were 120 plants on Beckler’s List. This year we have only 38 more to find!

However, I doubt that we will find any plants to collect and paint this year. (Warning: from here on in I am writing about the effects of drought, and I am feeling angry about the state of affairs.)

The drought has been on the news lately, mainly showing politicians in Akubra hats pontinficating about their ‘generosity’ with belated funding. Up here it hits you in the face.

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It is so dry, unbelievably dry. It’s an environment that always looks ragged, but we have always found things growing, often carpets of daisies, things twining through the salt bushes or flashes of colour on the sandy banks.

This year there is so little; no annuals at all. No daisies, not even the fried eggs one that has been so common. No pimeleas dancing in the breeze. No Cullens, the plants I have been painting, not even Cullen discolor a prostrate version and has been growing abundantly on the golf course in past years. (I have found one plant, growing in the nature strip in town!) Not even very much onion weed, that has always grown everywhere.

Even the perennials are stressed. Much of the saltbush looks dead. I say “looks” because a local has told us that with the first rains it will grow again from the centre. But to see a bare landscape, with even the saltbush dead or struggling is heartbreaking.

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The mighty river red gums are holding their own down on the banks of the Darling River, but the leaf and bark litter and fallen limbs tell of their stress. Beneath them are Swainsonia greyana ready to burst into purple flower and is the only species that looks to be flourishing. The sennas are holding their own too, providing a burst of yellow in a sere landscape.

There is no moisture in the soil, and there are no roots of the annuals to bind it. So the soil just flies away. The Fella and I drove into Broken Hill on the day of high wind, and we could see the dust storm carrying away the soil.

And it’s not Summer yet.

It is distressing. I admire the resilience and courage of those that live here, building communities and lives.

I know that drought has been a part of the Australian landscape. I find a glimmer of reassurance knowing that the native plants are adapted to these periods of drought. However, I also know that we humans are affecting the climate and that we must reduce our CO2 emissions. Instead we have a government that refuses to set any emission targets, preferring coal over green energy. Some on the government benches refuse to acknowledge that climate change is influenced by human action.

Last month we changed prime ministers, not through a general vote and not over policy, but because some members thought Malcolm Turnbull would loose seats in the next election. These Climate Change Deniers have that sort of influence.

Meanwhile our environment, and the people living in it are suffering.

I know that the plants here have evolved with drought, and when the next rains come there will be a blossoming of life. It’s important to know. But climate change is putting unnecessary stresses on them, and it is that that we must do something about. And that requires serious, concerted political action, and that is what we are not getting.

I was going to leave you with a sunrise photo, help you understand the beauty of this place, but internet connection is so frustrating. (This post has taken nearly a day to write.) I will post more when I get home next week, and show you more than the drought.

21 replies on “Back in Menindee”

Anne, you could well be writing this about our country, our “leadership” and the stubborn refusal to take climate change seriously. It is confounding! I’m sorry to see these bleak, dry images, the ungrounded dust tossed about for lack of rain. Here we’ve seen larger forest fires (in the West), punishing hurricanes (to the East) and storm surges that have cut off entire communities. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a confounding day with the computer and the internet. Those can be exasperating.

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I don’t understand how anyone can look at the world and refuse to see there is a problem. You highlight the weather extremes in the US at the moment, and if we went around the world we would be able to add so many more. I am home now, back in the south, where things are not so extreme, so I have to remember how it is for our friends further north.
And yes, back home to decent internet connection where photos load easily! ☺️

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thanks for the update, the drought and general changes in the worlds’ climate is certainly a topic that keeps coming to the forefront…how it is stopped seems to be a mammoth task which no one seems to understand exactly what needs to be done…it always seems to be a “drop in the ocean” whatever one small country tries to do…

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My frustration is that governments in Australia are not prepared to tackle the issues. Their only thoughts seem to be “more coal fired power stations”, which are some of the worst at spewing CO2 into the atmosphere. Individuals can do a lot, but the heavy lifting has to come from good policy decisions and the will to carry them through. Grrrr (When I rule the world…….!)

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Pontificating is the word for it… I simply don’t uunderstand why elected members of governments don’t see it is their duty to solve problems for their constituents. The mismanagement going on at the moment worldwide is incredible: climate change, the refugee crisis, healthcare… a total disaster. So sad…

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That is so true. I think for some politicians in Australia they are in thrall to the coal industry, and therefore push for more coal fired power stations ~ now there’s a good idea NOT! And the refugee situation is another that makes me sick and angry. Both sides of our parliament are prepared to let children suffer in detention centres so that they can look tough on border issues. Oh, I need go and paint some flowers!

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The photos of the drought are really shocking. I keep forgetting it its not even summer yet. The climate change deniers, seem to get into power around the world because “people” want simple answers to complicated issues.

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I wonder too how they will get through the Summer. It is shocking to see, especially as we, the artists in the Project, are so familiar with the plants that should be there. The lack of annuals was particularly confronting.

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It seems as if /this/ drought has taken us by surprise. By us I mean coastal city dwellers, of course. I’ve started to see the effects of the drought in unseasonably dry soil in Warrandyte. This time of year I should be squelching through wet soil. Not happening. If it’s getting so dry down here, I shudder to think what it must be like north of the divide.
Australia is as much the canary in the coal mine as some of the Pacific island states slowly drowning as the sea levels rise. Climate change is real, and no, it isn’t just a cyclic ‘thing’. -rolls eyes-
The thing I’ve never been able to understand is why people who accept every single benefit that technology has to offer are so skeptical about the science that made all that technology possible?
-sigh-
I hope that next time you visit Menindee, it’ll be after rain and the landscape will be alive again.

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Seeing the lack of plants that are familiar really brought the drought home to me. You are right that we have been taken by surprise, and that the lack of rain is being felt further south. We stopped at Wycheproof, along the Calder, and the woman in the Bakery remarked on how difficult it was becoming in this area too.
Thank you for your lovely wish about seeing regeneration next time I go. I certainly hope so too. xx

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-nods- I saw those images of drought on TV and somehow thought they only applied to NSW. Then I started noticing how dry my own block was becoming. Yesterday I bought another bag of chaff for the alpacas and the guys said they were running out and wouldn’t be getting more.
Now I’m worried for our two, smelly, bad-tempered alpacas coz there’s very little green left on our combined blocks. 😦
We had years of drought, and water restrictions leading up to Black Saturday. How did we forget what it was like?

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Oh, how awful! And you know exactly what the changes are, since you’ve been monitoring the same spot for years. I am so distressed and pessimistic about these issues of climate change. Our country has drought AND fire AND flooding AND, and, and . . . a government that just pretends it’s normal.

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The States have certainly been knocked around lately. It is beyond my comprehension as to why people (leaders?) can’t see what is in front of them, and act to make this a world that future generations can live in. You are so right that going to the same place every year has really brought home to me what is not growing there now, and how vulnerable the environment is.

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Oh what stunning and stark photos and how sad and dismal the story they tell. Worrying… because although Australia is famously a sunburnt country, of pitiless blue sky and drought… a wide brown land, I can’t help but be miserable for its denizens and concerned how far will it go, will our weather and seasons change so much as be be unrecognizable for what they once were.

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The story is very dismal. I worry about those issues too. The lack of plant life impacts on all life there, and the sheep and goats nibble things right down and even pull up the roots. They are adding a further strain to the stressed environment. Then there are the issues of salt…..
The communities are surprisingly resilient, and I am going to write a blog about the fabulous Menindee community,

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Thanks for sharing such vivid photos and thoughts on what is really happening to our great country. My family are farmers, and they are always hit so hard by it. Let’s hope we at least don’t have a terrible summer.

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I was affected by what I was seeing, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for farmers to loose their stock and crops. Your family would understand exactly what is happening, and the impacts it has on so many communities ~ plant, animal and human.

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