I have just come back to Menindee after spending a few days in Mutawintji National Park. It is a couple of hours north east of Broken Hill.
Have you ever seen the movie “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”? It was filmed in Broken Hill. So if you have seen it you can visualise the landscape we were travelling through. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do, as it is a fabulous film!
We were following in the footsteps of Burke and Wills. Our guide was Garry, a member of the Burke and Wills Society who had been this way a few years ago. He was so knowledgeable about the area, even arranging for us to go onto private land to see where some of the paintings from the expedition were painted.
I have mentioned that I am up here, with other botanic artists to paint the plants collected by Hermann Beckler on the Expedition. The naturalist and artist on the Expedition was Ludwig Becker (similar name, but without the ‘l’). He was a very talented artist, producing some gems on the journey. Unfortunately he was one of the men who died during the trip.
The photo shows a copy of Becker’s landscape with the original view. It gives a good idea of the terrain. Difficult enough to travel through in a car — imagine how much more difficult on foot leading camels and horses.
Beckler also produced sketches on the journey, although not as good as Becker’s. I can just see them both sitting on the banks of the Darling River sketching and painting this scene. The first photo is Becker’s watercolour and the second Beckler’s sketch.
They headed to Mutawintji because they knew that it was a permanent water source. ‘Permanent water source’ in that environment often simply means a pool of water. There was certainly no flowing water in either the Homestead Creek or the Mutawintji Gorge when we camped there, although there were a couple of waterholes in the latter.
The National Park is the tribal area of the Malyankapa and Paadjikali People and there are many examples of their rock art. People have been gathering at this oasis for thousands of years for celebrations and ceremonies. The gatherings still go on today. In September 1998 the Mutawintji National Park was handed back to its traditional owners.
After the peace and isolation of Mutawintji I have come back to the Big Smoke of Menindee– and to the lovely hot showers in the caravan park!
(Hope this post works okay — it is difficult to preview. Fingers crossed!)
Before we went south to the Coorong and the Great Ocean Road I made the Fella we went to Port Augusta. For a couple of years I had wanted to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden there. To be completely open I wanted to see if they had any of the Cullen genus growing. Unfortunately not, but there were other things to see, and I found a plant that I certainly had not expected.
I was walking around I heard a rustle in the bushes. I envy you if you live in a place where, when hearing a rustle in the bushes, you don’t automatically think “SNAKE!”. I jumped and panicked because I was not wearing sensible, anti-snake clothes. Then, bravely walking on, giving wide berth to the rustling bush, I looked and saw….this magnificent fellow.
I don’t think he is a Showy Daisy Bush, despite the label he is sitting next to! Instead he is a Sand Goanna, Varanus gouldii.
A little further on I found this bush, and this where my story about this plant begins.
The plant is the Spiny Daisy, Acanthocladium dockeri. Not much to look at, and I wouldn’t have given more than a passing glance if I hadn’t read the sign that began
First collected 1860 by the Burke and Wills expedition in South-Western New South Wales.
My immediate thought was “Beckler!” Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will go “Ah, Beckler”. Those of you who are newer will go “Huh? Beckler?” So I have to explain. If you know who I am talking about, skip over this part.
As the sign says, in 1860 the Burke and Wills Expedition travelled through south-west NSW on their way to transverse Australia from south to north. The whole saga is fascinating and click here if you want to read more, but the Spiny Everlasting Daisy and I are staying in the south west, at Menindee. It was here that part of the Expedition, including Dr Hermann Beckler, stayed for a number of months. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected about 120 plants in the area during the enforced stay. These specimens were sent to his colleague, Ferdinand Von Mueller, who had established the Herbarium in Melbourne.
Fast forward 150 years…a group of botanical artists, including me, have a project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, to locate, identify, collect (with permission) and then paint these 120 plants. In fact a couple of weeks earlier I had been in Menindee for our annual collection and painting trip.
So, when I saw the sign I knew that this had to have been one of the plants on Beckler’s list. One that we needed to paint. Even that would have been exciting, but it was even better. I will let you read the rest of the sign.
Oh wow! Believed to be extinct, but 4 sites were discovered in South Australia!! I did some detective work, thanks to the internet. This is from the Australian Government’s Species Profile and Threats Database
The Spiny Everlasting was first recorded in NSW near the Darling River by Dr H Beckler during the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. The species was not recorded again until 1910, when herbarium specimens were collected at Overland Corner on the Murray River in South Australia. By 1992 the Spiny Everlasting was believed to be extinct, as extensive searches in its general known localities failed to locate it (Davies 1992).
In 1999, a population of Spiny Everlasting was discovered near Laura, in the mid-north of South Australia; a further four populations have since been located in the region, with the latest population discovered in January 2007.
So yes, it was on Beckler’s list. Even more importantly, it is not extinct. Hanging on by the wispiest of roots, but still there, enhancing our world. It is still critically endangered, especially from these threats outlined in the Species Profile and Threats Database:
Habitat Fragmentation, Population Isolation and Low Genetic Variability
The grassland habitat in which Spiny Everlasting occurs has been heavily fragmented and selectively cleared for agriculture in the Southern Lofty Ranges [South Australia] (Davies 1982, 2000), with the result that all remaining subpopulations are isolated from each other. The five known subpopulations represent five quite distinct genetic clones (Jusaitis & Adams 2005, Jusaitis 2007).
Pollen Viability and Seedling Recruitment
Trials have found low levels of seed set as a result of low pollen viability. In the field, plants have only been observed reproducing vegetatively by suckering from roots and shoots. In the laboratory, seedlings have only been successfully raised by tissue culture, indicating low seedling vigour (Jusaitis & Adams 2005; Robertson 2002a). …….Lack of successful sexual reproduction threatens Spiny Everlasting in the longer term, as it prevents maintenance of genetic diversity through recombination.
Herbivory by Snails
The introduced common White or Vineyard Snail Cernuella virgata has a dramatic impact on individuals of Spiny Everlasting during the wetter months. Trials have shown that the snails actively graze on both stems and leaves of the plant during winter and spring (Jusaitis, cited in Robertson 2002a). This removes the outer tissue layers, resulting in weakening or ringbarking of the stems, death of leaves and often death of complete shoots above the site of injury. Plants may resprout below, or occasionally above, the injury (Robertson 2002a). These snails have been in the Laura district for only about 10 years and their impact may be increasing. They are found at the sites of all Spiny Everlasting subpopulations (Robertson 2002a, b, c, d, e). If snail numbers continue to increase, their impact is likely to become increasingly severe, making the subpopulations more vulnerable to other factors.
Grazing of Habitat by Vertebrates
The Spiny Everlasting has apparently become extinct along the Murray and Darling Rivers. Davies (1992) and Robertson (2002a) hypothesise that one contributing factor was degradation of its former habitats by rabbits and sheep grazing.
There is a plan in place, including five translocation sites that have been established for education awareness in public gardens. These are at the Laura Parklands, the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, Hart Field Day Site, the Mid-North Plant Diversity Nursery in Blyth, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.
Another three translocations have been established to provide back-up for the natural extant subpopulations.
The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project will not be able to collect any specimens of the Spiny Everlasting Daisy, but perhaps we will be able to go to one of the translocation sites and paint this amazing plant. That would be another great story to add to Project.
There is another personal layer to this too. After we left Port Augusta we camped for a few nights at Melrose, at the foot of Mt Remarkable. Somewhere close to Melrose is one of the sites where the daisy was rediscovered. We had coffee in the Laura bakery. I was that close to seeing it in the wild, but I didn’t know until I had passed on by. I am not sure that I would have gone looking for it. A species that is critically endangered needs to be treasured and supported, not tramped over. I am just happy that it is still in our world.
Not only have I organised my painting for the Exhibition , but I have been organising another exhibition.
You will remember that I am a member of a group of botanical artists who, each year, go up to the small town of Menindee in the arid outback of New South Wales. We go there to collect and paint the plants that Dr Hermann Beckler collected while he was at the supply camp of the Burke and Wills Expedition. You can read more about it here, and you might like to visit our blog becklersbotanicals.blogspot.com
(My Cullen pallidum painting, that I have been raving telling you about in recent posts, was part of that project. But this is a different exhibition.)
The project a fascinating meeting of history, art and science. We have always intended to have an exhibition of our work and this one is a smaller version, a practice run! It is being held up at Menindee. There is a little gallery in the Information Centre and our 30 works should fit in very nicely. We decided to exhibit prints of our originals, which we are donating to the community at the end of the exhibition. They will be there for people to use as they need.
I have had fun doing the work, but it has been a steep learning curve! Fortunately John, the curator up at the gallery, has been holding my hand via emails and phone calls.
For example I had to put together the plant names for the catalogue. Unfortunately it is not enough to just say “daisy” or “saltbush”. The scientific names are needed. Boy, are some of those Latin spellings tricky! Also, botanic convention means that there is a precise way of writing them, italicised in the right way, commas at the right place, capitals and non-capitals, etc.
I have also been talking to media people in Broken Hill, the biggest town in the area. I am not good at ringing up people, especially people I don’t know. Emails, texts, even blogs, no worries; phone calls make me quite anxious. But I did it, and found lovely helpful people at the other end, just like I knew I would.
So, just incase you should happen to be passing through Menindee in September and October drop into the exhibition. If you are in Broken Hill or Mildura, make a detour. And if you can’t be there in person check out our Beckler Blog or wait for me to post some photos here. The details, for those of you lucky enough to be up in that marvellous part of the world, are
BECKLER’S BOTANICAL BOUNTY EXHIBITION
Monday 22nd September to Sunday 12th October 2014 (inclusive)
Darling River Art Gallery
Menindee Visitor Information Centre
49 Yartla St Menindee
Open daily, 10 am to 2 pm
I will leave you with some photos of us collecting and painting over the last few years.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I am involved in a botanic art project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. I want to let you know about my painting for this project, about the exhibition we have planned and other things. However, you may like the chance to find out a bit of the background to the project. The link below will fill you in on a bit more detail. I also have a category of Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, that will have more of my posts on the subject. Once you are up to speed I will tell you about my painting.
[I hope this works. I tried to repost the original post, but it seemed to float off into the ether somewhere. Are there aliens reading my blog now? 🙂 I would appreciate some advice, if anyone can tell me what I should have done.]
It is an interview with Evelyn, one of the artists involved. Her work is wonderfully detailed ~ detail achieved by her microscopic work. So if you have ever wondered about the role of microscopes in botanic art, head over to read her interview.
As I mentioned before, I am becoming very fond of Menindee. It seems to be a town that people in the area think highly of, and want it to succeed. So many towns are dying and we loose the places that have shaped communities. The people in those communities have to move to larger towns and cities, and the character of the area is lost.
In Menindee there are people that give hope. Margot is an excellent Shire representative. The Resource Centre is that — a resource, with a computer hub and small library, both available for anyone to use. Necessary admin functions, like CentreLink are run from here. Margot is our go-to-person, who hires out the hall to us and organises our wifi. And she welcomes us each year!
Information Centre is another great resource. It also has a small art gallery. This year it had an exhibition of a local artist, Annette Minchin. She does wonderful textile work, using fabrics and found objects to represent the countryside.
The women in the supermarket have got it up an running, with a variety of food. I was impressed to know that I could make sushi if I wanted to! John is opening up a pizza restaurant, where he will continue to make his excellent coffee.
There is a monthly market. I love markets and was delighted to chat with the guy selling produce from the school, the lady who makes relishes, jams and cakes — and delicious lamingtons — and Bruce selling his plants. Margot was there too. I don’t know how she finds the time to sew the bags and aprons she was selling.
The town is lucky that it has the draw cards of the Darling River, the Menindee Lakes system and the Kinchega National Park. But it is even luckier to have these, and no doubt many other people who give it a helping hand.
Keep heading north from Mildura and you reach Broken Hill. Then turn south-east along the Menindee Road, drive for about 100 kms or about an hour to come to the township of Menindee.
Menindee is a small country town in outback NSW. It isn’t the sort of place you just stumble across — you have to know that that’s where you are going. However, lots of people have found it, including Burke and Wills. In 1860 their expedition spent a few months here, as it is where Burke established the supply camp.
The aim of the Expedition was to discover an inland route from the south of Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. I have written about the Expedition before. So, if you are interested, have a look here. A new plaque has been put up outside the Maidens Hotel, where Burke and Wills stayed. This is the map of their journey, from the plaque.
It was because of the Burke and Wills Expedition that the Fella and I headed to Menindee. A group of botanic artists, including myself, have a project to collect (with permission) and then paint the specimens that were collected at Menindee by the doctor on the Expedition, Hermann Beckler. We call ourselves Beckler’s Botanical Beauts. Again, to find out more information about Beckler and my involvement, have a look here.
The country is dry, red dirt. As you drive along it seems like only saltbushes and the occasional scrubby tree grow here. What’s to find there? Well, plenty. Beckler collected 120 specimens, and that was only some of the species that are out here. Many of the plants are small, growing up in the protection of the bushier ones; or they creep along the ground. Once you stop to look, you can see lots of beauties.
It’s a landscape that doesn’t look very promising.
But once you get out and look, there is plenty to see,
Next time I will tell you more about the town of Menindee. It was my third year of staying here, and I am becoming very fond of it.
For those of you who have been following my blog for a little while (and thank you to all who do follow) will know that I am involved in a project connecting botanical art with the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. If you don’t know what I am talking about, and would like to, either click on the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty category on the right sidebar, or click here.
I have been helping to set up a blog to explain that project. So if you are interested in finding out more then click the link, have a look and maybe join the community.
This is the beginning of today’s post about Hermann Beckler and why he has inspired us. Future posts will be about the people involved in the project, the plants we are painting, and some of the sights we see up in the Big Sky Country of Menindee.
Dr Hermann Beckler left Bavaria and arrived in Moreton Bay, Queensland in 1856. Aged 27, he bought his Munich medical qualifications and a consuming desire to explore Australia’s interior and to collect specimens. While in Queensland he corresponded with Ferdinand Mueller, Victoria’s first government botanist.
Beckler was excited by news from Mueller about the possibility of a job collecting plant specimens. So he joined a party droving sheep down through inland New South Wales to meet Mueller in Melbourne. He was given a job to help organise the growing Australian collection in Victoria’s herbarium, and he developed his knowledge of Australian plants.
Hermann Beckler collected 120 different species of plants around Menindee. It is that list that the Beckler Botanical Bounty Project is using. So correct identification is very important!
I am a gardener, not a botanist. I find it hard to hold the Latin names in my head. I have no idea of many of the botanical plant terms. So identifying plants was a huge learning curve for me — and I am still only a little way on that curve!
We have been so lucky to have had the support of a botanist whose work takes him regularly to Kinchega National Park. As you walk with him he points to plants and says, “That’s a so and so (fill in Latin plant name here), that’s a such and such (add different Latin name). That one over there is on Beckler’s list, this one isn’t.” So he was able to help sort plants in the field. That was a massive help.
However much we would have liked it, he couldn’t always be with us. And sometimes he was unsure. So then it was back to the reference books.
I am working on plants from the genus Cullen. This year I was working on a species Cullen discolor. But I had to be sure that my identification was correct.
It is described as ‘a perennial herb with stems prostrate to 1.5 metres’. Okay, I get those terms. Then the description said ‘tomentose to hispid’. These I discover are descriptions of hairiness. Its leaves are pinnately 3 foliate, narrow to broad, lanceolate to elliptic and less pubescent on the upper surface. The margins are toothed. There are petioles and stipules, peduncles and calyxes — and I never got to dissect the flower, which has more specialised terminology!
So, having nutted my way through the key, and gone to botanical dictionaries and other more knowledgeable people, I am confident that this is Cullen discolor.
At least I knew that this Cullen was ‘on the list’. Some artists went through the identification process, only to find it was one that Beckler hadn’t collected. Then it was out into the bush again to repeat the process.
Back in 1860 Hermann Beckler collected plant specimens during the Burke and Wills Expedition. (For posts about that check here and here.) Those specimens ended up in the Herbarium in Victoria. Now zoom forward 150 years to 2010, the 150th Anniversary of the Expedition.
There were a number of events and celebrations that year to mark the event. Mali Moir, respected and very talented botanic artist devised a botanic art project. After discussing her idea with some others the Beckler Botanical Bounty was begun. The idea was to go to Menindee, collect and press specimens of the same species that Beckler had collected. These specimens would sit alongside Beckler’s in the Herbarium. However, Mali’s truly fabulous inspiration was that each specimen would be painted. There is a list of 120 taxa collected in 1860 within 20km of Menindee. This list was the basis of our work.
So in 2010 the first group went to Menindee and began the process. I went in 2011 and 2012, and would love to be there again in 2013!
The broad process is that we identify the plant, collect it (with the correct permits, of course), press it and then start the painting. But things are not always that easy! Correctly identifying a plant can involve time, patience and some very thick reference books! Then there is a very good chance that it is not on Beckler’s list, so it is back outside again!
After the specimen is collected and pressed, the drawing and painting begins. If you are interested in finding out how individual artists go about their work you can follow the link to our Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Blog.