Hermann Beckler and the Burke and Wills Expedition

So now to the link between Hermann Beckler and the group of botanic artists (including me) that head up to Menindee in October. I wrote about the Burke and Wills Expedition into inland Australia here, and mentioned that part of the group had been left behind with the supplies at Menindee. Included in that group was Hermann Beckler.

Beckler was born in Bavaria in 1828. He trained as a doctor, but was always fascinated by plants. He came out to Australia, landing at Moreton Bay, Queensland in 1856, with a desire to explore inland Australia and collect plant specimens. While living in Brisbane he corresponded with Dr Ferdinand Mueller, the Colony of Victoria’s government botanist. To meet with Mueller, Beckler joined a party droving sheep through inland New South Wales and arrived in Melbourne in 1859.

In June 1860 Beckler applied to join the Victorian Exploring Expedition Party (aka the Burke and Wills Expedition). He had strong support from Mueller, who was also a member of the organising committee. Beckler was taken on as doctor and botanist. However, when the expedition reached Menindee in October 1860, Beckler resigned because he was so fed up with Burke’s erratic demands and poor leadership.

While waiting for the replacement doctor to come from Melbourne Beckler stayed with the supply party camped at Pamamaroo Creek. During this time that Beckler was able to collect specimens from the area, including Scropes Range to the north.

Meanwhile a group of men, who had set out with the intention of overtaking Burke’s group, had also met with disaster. Their Aboriginal guide, Dick returned to the supply camp after trudging 300 miles. A rescue party, which included Beckler, set off. On December 27th they found the missing men and slowly returned to Menindee.

There was another attempt to reach Cooper Creek. This time Beckler got as far north as Kooriatto Creek, where he remained with two dying men, Patten and Becker. This third journey took five months. Beckler, despite having to minister to the sick and dying, managed to collect 150 plant specimens and make botanical observations. During his three treks he collected approximately 500 specimens.


After testifying to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the expedition in 1862, Beckler returned to Germany and spent the rest of his life as a village doctor.

His plant collection however remained in Victoria. Mueller was establishing the National Herbarium of Victoria and was eager to add Beckler’s specimens to the collection. It is that collection that has sent us northward to Menindee.

(Many thanks to Linden Gillbank’s excellent chapter, ‘The botanical legacy of Ferdinand Mueller and Hermann Beckler’ in Burke and Wills: the Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition. But any mistakes are all my own!)


Off to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition — a walk through Melbourne

Two years ago, when I was new to the blogging world, I published this post about going to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. I am going to republish it, because I like it! Also, I have just been along much the same trail today, as I visited the 2014 Exhibition. I am going to tell you about the exhibition in my next post. However, for now, have wander through Melbourne.

Yesterday I did my volunteer stint at the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. It is a fabulous exhibition, with many beautiful paintings. If you are in Melbourne, follow my trail to Domain House to see these stunning works. If you can’t make it, enjoy the walk through Melbourne.

I got off the 57 tram and had coffee in Block Place, walked through the beautiful Block Arcade, over the mosaic floors,

The beautiful Block Arcade
Mosaic floor, Block Arcade





and down Melbourne’s lanes that are thronging with people drinking their lattes and eating lunch.

Melbourne Lane
Degraves St









The walk takes us past Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, to cross the Yarra


The Yarra River

go past the National Gallery of Victoria and further up, ‘Weary’ Dunlop’s lovely statue.

The National Gallery of Victoria
‘Weary’ Dunlop statue

We keep walking up St Kilda Road, under the trees with their spring growth to reach the outside of the Botanical Gardens. The Tan track circuits the Gardens and we have to dodge the runners and walkers, their dogs and pushers to reach the Shrine.

The Shrine

Only a little further now. Past the Observatory,

Melbourne Observatory and the glimpse of Government House
This is what I am heading for

turn right at the Herbarium,

The Herbarium

past Latrobe’s Cottage, with its spring flowers

Latrobe’s Cottage

to Domain House. And we are here. Enjoy the exhibition!

Domain House

(I will return to Beckler, Burke and Wills next time.)

My art work

Burke, Wills and Menindee

Last time I mentioned that there was a link between a group of botanical artists, including myself, and the Burke and Wills Expedition. (Actually, although this name has gone deep into Australian folk lore, it was officically called the ‘Victorian Exploring Expedition’.) To explain the link, firstly I need to explain the expedition.

The intention of the expedition was to find an inland route from the more settled southern areas of Australia to the north, the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was organised by the Royal Society of Victoria in Melbourne, which, after much discussion, chose Robert O’Hara Burke as the leader of the expedition — a strange choice, as Burke had no experience with expeditions or the Australian interior.

They set off on 20th August 1860, with 18 men, 25 camels, 22 horses and 6 wagons carrying 21 tonnes of equipment. This included a cedar camp table and chairs and a Chinese gong! They left Royal Park in Melbourne but only made a few miles before nightfall. The first stopping place was Essendon, in what is now Queens Park.

The monument to the expedition at their starting point in Royal Park, Melbourne.
Plaque on the memorial
Memorial with modern explanation plaque
Camel sculpture in Queens Park, Essendon

They reached Menindee, via Swan Hill, on 12th October. It had taken two months to travel 750 km – the regular mail coach did the journey in little more than a week. There had been arguments and disputes for much of that journey. In Menindee James Landells, who was both second in  charge and the cameleer, resigned. William Wills was promoted to his position. Hermann Beckler, the surgeon, also resigned. (Remember Beckler, as he is the link to our botanic project.)

The camping area at Pamamaroo Creek, near Menindee

As the plaque says, at this point Burke decided to split the party, taking a smaller group ahead to Cooper Creek. The intention was that the others bring up the supplies from Menindee to Cooper Creek. Burke and his group arrived there on 11th November. They thought they would stay there until the end of summer and avoid travelling in the heat. However Burke wanted to make a dash for the Gulf of Carpentaria. Burke, Wills, John King and Charles Gray set off for the Gulf on 16th December, with six camels, one horse and enough food for just three months. The men left at Cooper Creek were instructed to wait for 4 months.

After 59 days they reached the Gulf — well almost. The mangroves were so thick that Burke and Wills turned back to rejoin Grey and King about 5 km away from the coast. They had food for 29 days and had to endure monsoonal rains on the return journey. They shot and ate the camels. On April 17th Grey died.

Meanwhile, back at Cooper Creek, the party had waited for Burke’s return. They were low on food and, thinking that Burke and the others must have perished, decided to return to Menindee. They buried provisions, marked the tree and left in the morning of Sunday 21 April. Burke, Wills and King returned THAT EVENING, missing the others by 9 hours. They realised that they didn’t have the strength to follow to Menindee and Burke decided that they would head south-west, to South Australia. They left a letter at the same tree, telling of their intentions. However, they didn’t alter the date marked on the tree. 2 men from the main party did return. They found the camp deserted, the tree markings the same, and assumed that Burke had not been there. They left, with Burke and the other 2 men only about 30 miles away.

Over the next few months Wills, and later Burke, died. King survived with the help of a local Aboriginal tribe and was found by one of the rescue expeditions that was mounted.

So that is the broad bones of the story. If you are interested in finding out more, the Burke and Wills Historical Society has a page of links to other information. There are many interesting books written about the expedition, with some of them listed here.

As mentioned before, my link is with Hermann Beckler, who was still in Menindee. More of him next time.

(Thanks to Bev, for picking up the misspelling of Landells’ name!)

Plants Travels

East to Menindee

I want to leave the Flinders Ranges now and head almost due east for about 500 km, to Menindee. It is a small town, about an hour south-east of Broken Hill, on the Darling River and right on the edge of the Menindee Lakes system and Kinchega National Park. It is big sky country — it is so flat that the sky arches from horizon to horizon. And it is red dirt country, semi-arid. So, why there?

Well, it is fascinating. The lakes and the river attract birds from far away. The habitats away from the water are full of secret treasures — plants, insects, reptiles. (Fortunately I didn’t see any snakes, but I know they are there.) Secret because driving past in the car it all looks like boring saltbush. But stop and investigate and a world opens up.

Once you start to explore you can see the diversity, and begin to appreciate how plants can survive in such harsh environments.

But also because it is an area that features in the Burke and Wills story. For Australians those names are legendary. For others I will explain in the next few posts who they were and why their story sent me and other botanical artists to Menindee. For now, enjoy some of the beauty of Copi Hollow, and the caravan park where we stayed.

We saw this view of the lake, Copi Hollow, every time we went outside the caravan.
Looking back to the caravan park, evening light
The beautiful evening light

Leaving the Flinders Ranges

I am going to leave blogging about the Flinders Ranges for awhile. Time to move east to Menindee and Kinchega National Park. So, one last photo……

Path along a ridge, where you were definitely walking on the bones of the Earth. (I think the white plant is Silver mulla mulla.)

…..and a link to a blog that has beautiful photos of the Ranges.

I came across Peter McDonald’s stunning photos in the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna — aerial photos of Lake Eyre in flood, taken from such an altitude that they became abstracts. Beautiful…..

My art work Travels

Travel journal

Like most people I collect things as I travel. I have inherited my Mum’s passion for brochures but I also add my own treasures from the natural world — feathers and shells and seed pods and flowers (often photos, because I know I can’t pick native plants). Then there are the memories and the information. On past travels I have kept written journals. However, over this year I have become more fascinated with pictorial journals, looking at how other artists create their keepsakes. This time I decided to record this journey to Menindee and the Flinders Ranges differently.

I have used a Daler-Rowney book. Its paper is 150 gsm, and a good quality cartridge which took watercolour washes quite well. It is 27 by 22 cm and is landscape. Although it is bound and not spiral, I really like how it opens flat. I have been able to work comfortably across the double pages.

I had so much fun at night  working on this journal. (No TV in the caravan!) I needed to think about the layout, how to make it visually interesting, what I wanted to record, as well as making each page cohesive.

I would love to know how you record your special memories. Why don’t you leave me a comment?

Birds Travels

Emus in the Flinders Ranges


There are so many emus across the more arid areas we travelled through — from Menindee, out of Broken Hill, to the Flinders Ranges, including this one at the very aptly named Emu Creek, Kinchega National Park.

This photo is my favourite though. We were ambling along the Brachina Gorge track and came across this adult and chicks. They just sauntered up the road, and then up the bank. The adult, a male, waited until all the chicks had scrambled up the bank before he moved them on.

It is a male because male emus not only do most of the incubation, but then rear the chicks for the next 6 months. They will usually have a number of young to look after, and  have been known to take orphaned and abandoned chicks into their care too. Someone at the caravan park had a photo that showed one adult with 24 chicks!

My art work

Goose feather

Just finished and listed in the Etsy shop, a pencil drawing of a goose feather.


The yellow footed rock wallaby in the Flinders Ranges


Seeing the yellow footed rock wallaby was one of the highlights of my stay in the Flinders Ranges. These little marsupials are also known by their Adnyamathanha name, Andu. A colony of them live in the Brachina Gorge and if you are quiet and observant you can see them on a rock scree.

They are shy and very well camouflaged. Can you spot the 2 andu in this photo?

Before white people came to the area they used to be very common but their status now is vulnerable. They were hunted for their skins and to cut down on competition for the grazing sheep brought in by pastoralists.

As well, their populations have been decimated by foxes and feral cats.

The andu, as marsupials, carry their joeys in pouches. As the joey grows it becomes more difficult for the mother to jump from rock to rock. So the joeys are left in rock crevices while the mother forages. A great idea when there was no real danger from bigger predators. However foxes and cats changed that. Instead of being a safe creche, the crevice made the joey easy pickings. Now, the National Park has established programmes to help protect them.

This andu came out after the other photographers had gone, and posed just for me!

And then bounded away!


Sacred Gorge in the Flinders Ranges

The Sacred Gorge is another stunning gorge in the Flinders Ranges. You walk (clamber at times!) up the creek bed, looking at the marvellous rock formations. This makes it more intimate than Brachina Gorge, which is a drive, not a walk.

The other thrill in this gorge is the Aboriginal art that has been carved into the rock. It is not always obvious, which makes it even more special. The Adnyamathanha people believe that the art was created in the Dreamtime. Given the beauty and age of this serene place, that seems quite possible.