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.
Despite me interrupting myself with posts about books and flowers, I am following a thread of the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project. Have a look here to see what this project is and here and here to find out about plant identification.
After the plant has been accurately identified it needs to be collected, labelled and pressed. (It is illegal to pick wildflowers in Australia. We have a permit that allows us to do so.)
Keep in mind that you can only collect a small percentage of the plants in the area. We needed 4 specimens — a maximum of 5% of all of that species around. If it was a specimen from tree or bush it could only be 5% of that plant.
Tabloid-size newspaper is laid so that one sheet is inside the other and so the writing is upside down. The scientific reason for doing this? So you wont be distracted by reading the articles!
If the specimen is too long it is bent, not cut. To help with identification it is necessary to include as many different parts of the plant as possible, including the root.
A tag, which includes the label number and plant name, is attached to the plant. This helps to keep track of the specimens. A collector will have many in the press by the end of the trip.
The name of the specimen is written on the end of the newspaper. It is another way to help keep track of the specimens. As well it saves having to open each one when looking for a particular specimen.
This process had to be repeated for 4 specimens of the plant. One will go to the National Herbarium of Victoria in Melbourne, as that is where Beckler’s specimens are. We are collecting in New South Wales, so, as a courtesy, one will go to the Herbarium of New South Wales in Sydney. One is for our own collection. Then there is the specimen we use for the painting.
Lastly, and very importantly, the label needs to be filled in. On this pad is recorded as much detail as possible about where the plant was collected. What is the habitat like? The soil type? Are there weeds about? Is it prolific? Under which trees? GPS co-ordinates will help future collectors know where to begin to look.
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.
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.
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.
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!