Categories
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.

20180917_141401
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.

20180224_102359.jpg
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.

20180918_111557

It is so┬ádry, 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.

20180918_111706

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.

Categories
Beckler's Botanical Bounty Odds and Ends Plants Texture Travels

Travel theme: Earth

Thanks to Ailsa at Where’s my backpack? for this theme, which is in celebration of Earth Day. Hopefully we will be able to encourage our politicians to have policies that support our Earth too.

It is tempting to publish beautiful photos of sunsets or mountains or glorious landscapes. I want to show you one of my favourite parts of the Earth, the area around Menindee. It is an arid area of Western New South Wales, an hour away from Broken Hill. It is flat and looks uninspiring. However, the more you look, the more beauty you see in this unique landscape.

Big skies…..

IMG_5082

red dirt…..

IMG_5134

and amazing colours.

IMG_5111

What part of our Earth do you cherish?

Categories
Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art Uncategorized

Back in Menindee

Life was busy lately, organising the house and packing the van to get away to Menindee. Organising the house so that my friends could move in while we are away. But now I am up here. If you have followed my blog for awhile you will know that I am up here as part of the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project. I am part of a group of botanic artists who are collecting the plant specimens that were collected by Dr Hermann Beckler on the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Our intention is to have paintings of each of specimens. We have been coming here for a few years now, so we are the pointy end of Beckler’s list. (If you would like to find out more, click on the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty category on the right hand bar. Normally I would give you the link, but it is a little hard to do at the moment.

Next time I will post some photos of us collecting in the field and working in the Civic Centre, but for now I will just give you some photos of the water. Menindee is in the arid outback region of New South Wales, near Broken Hill. Normally it is dry up here. Last year there were grave concerns about having any water in the Menindee Lakes system. However, the rain further up the Darling River is gradually making its way down, and now Lake Pamamaroo and Copi Hollow are well over half full. Lake Menindee will begin to fill soon. Recent rain in the area has added to the water, with big puddles and mud patches around. A most unusual sight!

Copi Hollow, over 60% full

Below is a photo of Lake Pamamaroo from last year, 2015.  The plant I collected and painted was growing about 30 metres from the sandy shore if the lake.


This is the lake now! 

Categories
Botanic Art Plants Travels

What a good season for Cullens!

As you know, I have an interest, maybe even a passion for, a genus of plants called Cullens. The species I have painted grow in outback New South Wales, where the rainfall can be very variable. Like all semi-arid plants they are very opportunistic when it comes to water. I am not sure what the rainfall has been this year, but it must have suited the Cullens, because they are at their showy best.

I mentioned in the last post how Cullen australasicum grows on the side of the road. C. discolor is not as showy, but grows determinedly along the ground. Small plants were growing in lots of places.

IMG_0341-2.JPG

But the most amazing were the C. pallidum plants.

IMG_0712.JPG
These lush bushes were growing at the boat launching ramp at Sunset Strip, a little cluster of houses at one end of Lake Menindee. There is very little water in the lake this year, so there is no way that boats could be launched. The sandy beach extends way out, and it is in this sand that C. pallidum loves to grow. It is flourishing here, with more little ones on the way.

IMG_0719.JPG

IMG_0720.JPG
The boat launching ramp at Sunset Strip

IMG_0727.JPG
The lack of water was quite a shock. I have not seen it so low. According to the locals the water has been taken out for use further down stream, some say for wetlands in South Australia.
Those of you outside of Australia may not know that the question of water in the Murray/Darling Basin, the main water system in Australia, and one that crosses through four of our States, is a very vexed one. It is used for irrigation and other agricultural purposes, as well as water for many towns and cities, and, often at the bottom of the list, wetland preservation. There have been many attempts to work out equatable usage, but I fear that there is just too little and that a drop of water can only be stretched so far. Is our environment having to pay the price for our unsustainable practises?