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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Valerie Richards

Valerie Richards -- Botanic artist

Eremophila sturtii

Why did you get involved in the Project?
I was interested, but thought it might be too hot. So when the others came back after the first year and told me it was spring like weather I decided to take the plunge.

Valerie's work area (Photocopyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
I came initially for the painting, but what surprised me was how much I liked wandering around looking for the plants. I really love the desert area.

Eremophila sturtii

What plant have you been working on this year?
I have 2 eremophilas. One is very charming and very pretty. We have only found a couple of specimens of one, so I wanted to capture it in case it is not around next year. Then it will be on the completed painting list.

The second it E. sturtii. It has an absolute profusion of lilac, pink and cream flowers. It was these colours that attracted me at first. From a distance it looks like a green shrub. As you get to close to it you see the beautiful flowers. The impact of the colours was such a surprise. The shrub is symmetrical, attactive shape. It grows to 1 to 2 metres.

Valerie's painting of E. sturtii (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

How will you go about painting your plant?
I draw an accurate drawing of the specimen onto tracing paper, go over the drawing on the reverse of the tracing paper and then transfer it to the good copy paper. The painting is done with watercolour. I am still thinking about drawing in the microscopic details.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Anne Lawson

Anne Lawson ~ botanic artist

Cullen discolor

What drew you participate in the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project?

From the outset I was drawn to the sense of history involved in the project. I loved the idea of continuing, even in a small way, the tradition of botanic art as part of history. Artists had often been included in expeditions, and this seems to follow on -- although I am in awe of artists like Ludwig Becker the artist on the Burke and Wills Expedition, Ferdinand Bauer who travelled with Flinders, and Sydney Parkinson, the artist on the Endeavour.

2013 was my third year and I keep coming back because, like many of the other artists, I have fallen in love with this arid country. As you drive along it looks like scrubby saltbush. But you only have to walk a little way off the road to see an amazing diversity of plants growing in a very difficult environment.
And to see the spectacular sunrises and sunsets is just magic.

Just go off the road a little way...... (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2012)

Tell us about the plant you are painting.

The plant belongs to a genus called Cullen. There are four Cullens on Beckler's List. I have found and identified three of them, and I hope to track down the fourth this September.

Cullen discolor, with the distinctive, trifoliate leaf (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2012)
I am currently working on Cullen discolor. It is a prostrate plant and its long runners twine through other low growing plants. All the Cullens have a particular leaf, with three leaflets.

Leaf and pods of C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

As they are members of the pea family they have the distinctive pea flower. However, I wasn't able to find a flower on any C. discolor plants. Help from our botanist, Andrew, and further reading told me that it can be cleistogamus, where the flowers remain closed. I wasn't seeing a flower because they were tucked inside the pod.

As my friends and family can tell you, I have become a little obsessed with Cullens! I have loved getting a more detailed understanding of them, and my knowledge of botany has increased in leaps and bounds!

How are you going about your painting?

I am always very conscious about the limited time we have in Menindee, so I try to collect as much visual information as I can about the plant. Photographs are one aid, but I also make detailed drawings that I can use as references. These may include drawings of the buds, how the leaves are attached to the stem or a drawing of how it grows along the ground. I also make a colour chart for reference back at home.

My painting is of one stem of C. discolor arching across the paper. Below that I am adding a habit drawing in pencil, to show how it grows.
Part of my work in progress (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Exciting news!

The Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project has been going for 5 years. Now while that is very exciting, it is not the exciting news.

Working in the Civic Hall, 2013
Tourist Information Centre, Menindee

We are organising to have an exhibition of photographs of our work in Menindee!! Now, that's exciting!

The dates? From Monday September 22nd to Sunday 28th September. It may even run longer than that.

Four wheel driving? No, one wheel driving!

So, if you live in Menindee or in the area, will be travelling through Menindee at that time or fancy a trip to see our work, be sure to check it out.

And of course, come and visit us in the Civic Hall. We will be there for those dates.

More information will be posted as details are finalised.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Evelyn Brandt

Evelyn Brandt -- Botanic artist

Chenopodium cristatum
Crested goose foot

I just love being part of the group project, knowing that I am part of something historic. This is my third year in a row and the project is important enough to me to come here in my holidays!
Evelyn's work space (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

It happens that I have been following plants that have the same habit. They are not in the same genus or family, but it means that I will have a series of paintings that look similar.

Chenopodium cristatum
At the moment I am really interested in microscopic work. I want to understand the important botanic characteristics that define the species. The key characteristic for this one, Chenopodium cristatum, is the perianth. This is part of the flower. There are 5 perianth segments that encapsulate the seed, which you can only see under the microscope. It is the characteristics of the perianth that define it and differentiate it from the other chenopodium species.

Our botanist found it out in the field because it had a distinctive aromatic smell. However we had to confirm it under the microscope back in the Hall.

I have developed my own process for the microscopic work I do for my paintings. I make reference drawings that I can use long after the plant has expired. I start with a habit photo in the exact position that I am going to paint. My next step is to dissect all the parts of the plant that require microscopic investigation, and check the plant's characteristics against descriptions in botanical reference books. I then sketch the subject and colour each sketch in, as the colour fades quickly under the lights of the microscope. I take USB microscopic photos of the fresh specimens and dissections as well.
Evelyn's drawing on tracing paper, with the actual specimen. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

After I have all the reference drawings, I start working on the final painting. The reference drawings are important in case the plant dies before I have a chance to finish the painting. I usually keep most of the plant samples in the fridge and keep one out to dry for reference material.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Shu-Yen Ee

Shu-Yen Ee -- Botanic artist

Atriplex limbata (Saltbush)

Why did you get involved with the Beckler Project ?

I became involved in the Project in a roundabout way. I must admit the lure of a trip/adventure to the outback was what enticed me initially. I can say now that I have been fully exposed to the Project and what it entails, and am keen to continue being involved and to contribute in what way I can. 

Shu's work space, showing the specimen and her drawing on tracing paper. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

What attracted your plant, Atriplex limbata?
Atriplex limbata (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

It is a saltbush, from the Chenopdiaceae family.

I was drawn to its pale minty colour, and hardy structure (the leaves, stems, fruit are fairly robust and could withstand a bit of handling). It turned out to be a good choice for me as I have a preference for drawing in pencil and I believe the pale colour of the plant would work well if presented in graphite, with potentially a hint of colour using dry brush technique.

A unique way of holding the specimen upright while keeping it in water!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

How are you going about your drawing?

I like drawing tiny things!
Very slowly, as with all my drawings. I studied the plant closely whilst in Menindee and have taken a number of close up photos of individual stems and of the plant itself. I did a couple of sketches to start, made various notes about the plant and worked up some colour samples. The drawing will have to be completed in Melbourne.

Have you enjoyed your time at Menindee?

Yes, thoroughly! It was good to do something that was, for me, completely out of the ordinary and I look forward to making a trip out to Menindee with the BBBs again sometime in the near future.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Lorraine Looney

Lorraine Looney, Councillor for Central Darling Shire Council

Introducing Lorraine, who has been a strong supporter of the Beckler Project from our first year.

Verbena africana

We bought our property in Menindee on the banks of the Darling River in 1973 and came out to live 1975. We saw the massive flood in 1976. As a child I grew up in Broken Hill and we did a lot of bush walking. I always wondered how Aboriginal people survived without a shop. I used to pick wild flows to take home to Mum, but they always wilted! That was the beginning of my interest in bush tucker food. I still walk a lot, and I love open spaces.

I went to school a couple of years back to do a night course in Aboriginal Studies. It came about because when I became a councillor an Aboriginal man approached me to have a look at their class. I was interested, so I enrolled from there. Unfortunately the course couldn't continue, but I would like to have been able to finish it.

As a councillor for the Central Darling Shire I was involved with the 150 year anniversary of the Burke and Will Expedition. We had a reinactment. When that was over I saw a piece in the school news about the open days of this project [Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project]. So I had to come and have a look! Looking at what everyone was doing was fascinating. People were looking under microscopes and identifying species.

Each year I have come back to say hello.

One year I was encouraged to draw my own flower. It was Verbena africana -- the simple one! Mali gave me the choice of the verbena or the warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides). I chose the verbena because it was less complicated. It is a medicinal plant, so it interested me as well.
Verbena africana, original art work by Lorraine Looney
I also create art works of recycled objects. I have used window frames to make little dunnies. One of my specialities is red back spiders to go in the dunnies. They are made out of gum nuts and little twigs.

I made a mosaic of the Maidens Hotel, where Burke and Wills stayed. I found objects like little stones, glass and ceramic pieces from outside the hotel to decorate the frame.

Every year I have entered an exhibition that Netwaste run, called 'Waste to Art'. Each shire has a local competition and the winner goes to a regional exhibition. One year they had the exhibition here in Menindee. I won the Curator's award for one of my art works. It was creation of fungi made from various recycled things like cotton buds, and an old ball. I put it all in the lid of an old mushroom box.

Lorraine's art work, Winner of the Curator's Award in 'Waste to Art' Exhibition.

I would like to see the full collection of Beckler's plants being painted. That would be amazing.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

What a wonderful week!

Dear Beckler's Botanical Beauts and many friends,

What a wonderful week we had in Menindee this year, 2013, our 4th annual trip. The locals are getting to know us by name and regularly visit us in the hall. 

Our group this year consisted of 11 artists, one photographer and one botanist with his family. We booked the Hall for 9 days this year which turned out much better than previous years, of only 5 days. All artists chose at least one plant to illustrate and several artists collected up to three.

Results: 11 artists undergoing 17 new paintings with accompanying plant collections.

Amy, Valerie, Wal, Andrew and I arrived a couple of days early this year which turned out to be extremely helpful. ‘Gun’ Amy organised much collecting and Andrew spent long enthusiastic days identifying the plants. By the first day in the hall artists had a chosen species to illustrate!  As more artists arrived through the week they were able to choose from a list of identified Beckler plants flowering this year. As the arid species are so reliant on local weather conditions, we have come to understand it is best to be on site to see which species to choose to paint in any given year.
Sandy shore of receding Lake Menindee     (Photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)
We were in Menindee a little earlier this year and so it was a little cooler, the days were glorious with only a couple of very windy nights. Last to pack up the hall was Amy, Valerie, Wal and I, and so we thought it fitting to celebrate the end of another wonderful year in our fav arid zone with steak sandwiches and Cow Girl shots on the receding white sandy shores of Lake Menindee in Kinchega National Park. As you can see we got there rather late and missed the setting sun but were entranced by the lights of the Milky Way and saw 3 satellites and one majestic falling star.

Magical moonrise     (Photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)

This year I was invited to give a talk at the Mildura Arts Centre as part of the Art of Science Exhibition focusing on my role as expedition artist with special mention of the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty project .... great opportunity to spread the word ! Local radio is often interested in our story, this year we were interviewed by ABC Rural.

We plan to return to Menindee again next October to continue our project. Margot Muscat from the Darling Shire Council has asked us to contribute a photographic exhibition of our project to be displayed next year on our 5th visit. I have had brief discussions with a few curators regarding exhibition opportunities of our project including paintings, photographs, plant specimens and paraphernalia in 2015. Other opportunities for exhibition and publication continue to be discussed.

A special thanks to the National Herbarium of Victoria, whose ongoing support significantly enriches our project and secures us a place in history. An extra special thanks to our honorary botanist Andrew Denham who spends his holidays with us! Thus ensuring our project runs meltdown-free.

A great many thanks to all contributors whose happy energetic input make this project a special delight to be part of. As always, I look forward to the warmth of our fav arid zone country next October, our 5th year and our Milestone year.

Much love and many thanks to all ............. Mali
2013 -- The Year of the Flies!    (photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Menindee is the town where we go to paint. It is situated on the Darling River  and the chain of lakes known as the Menindee Lakes. It is also right on the edge of Kinchega National Park.
Carvings near the Tourist Information Centre
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

We go there because the Burke and Wills Expedition spent time there in 1860.

However, the area has a long Aboriginal history. Fossil finds show that Aborigines lived here 27,000 years ago. The Barkinji or Paakantji people still have a strong connection to their land. (There are varied spellings of the name)
Details of the fabulous carvings.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Major Mitchell came through the area in 1835 and  named it "Laidley's Ponds". When Burke, Wills, Beckler and the rest of the expedition arrived in 1860, Menindee was at the edge of white settlement.
The new plaque outside the Maidens Hotel (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Map of the journey, from the plaque (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a small country town, with about 1000 people. That number swells with visitors. They visit Kinchega or go fishing in the lakes or on the river. Some are following the Burke and Wills trail; some have come from Lake Mungo. The bird life is wonderful and, as we know, the wild flowers are fabulous.
There is an information centre and inside is a little art gallery. When we were there it had an exhibition of Annette Minchin's stunning textile art. And you have to see the 4 wheel drive wheelbarrow!
The Tourist Information Centre
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Wheelbarrow with all the options!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
It is a welcoming town, definitely worth a visit if you are wandering up that way. If you come next October (2014) drop into the Civic Centre and say "Hello". 

Becklers Botanical Bounty on the ABC

During our recent time in Menindee Mali, Margaret and Andrew were interviewed for an ABC Rural Radio programme. Follow the link to hear them talking more about the Project.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Painting in Menindee, September 2013

Our time in the wonderful Big Sky Country of Menindee and Kinchega National Park has come and gone.

Menindee Civic Hall
Ten botanic artists, one botanist and our fabulous support crew (of one!) gathered in the Civic Hall in Menindee.

From there we went out into the local area to find the plants that were on Hermann Beckler's original list.
(Click here for the background to our project.)

Back in the Hall we would work on our paintings. This involved getting to know the plants in detail. We used microscopes to explore the intricate worlds of seeds, reproductive parts and leaf surfaces.

Working in the Hall

Many artists drew enlargements of those dissections to include on their finished paintings. We created detailed drawings of our plants. While we were preparing this visual information we were conscious of the composition of the final painting. decisions had to be made about where to place the microscopic drawings, how to show the habit of the plant and which parts of the plant were vital for identification.

Drawing from live specimens means a race against time before the plant wilts and dies. Sometimes the angle of a leaf will change or a seed head will continue to develop. Reference photos become really important.

We investigated a number of options for keeping our specimens alive. The chip bucket was handy.....

..... until Valerie discovered that the take away coffee container was even better!

Over the coming months there will be posts on this blog from individual artists, talking about their plants, their paintings and why they have travelled so far from home to be involved in the Project.

Also there will be a post about the town of Menindee. So thank you to the people who live here, who welcome us each year. People recognise us in the street and pub now. Some come into the Hall to see what we are doing and tell us stories about the area.

But our adventure up here would be very different without the help of Margot, Bruce and Lorraine. So an extra big thank you to them. They provide us with plants, information, assistance and resources -- invaluable support that we could not provide ourselves.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Back in Menindee, 2013

Our Beckler Project continues, for the 4th year!

A group of ten botanic artists, a botanist and a photographer have come together. We have settled into the Civic Hall in Menindee, and are happily working our way through Hermann Beckler's plant list.  Posts about our works will be published over the coming weeks.

Habitat full of  interesting specimens!

A plant from Beckler's list -- Centaurium spicatum

My name is Roslyn Glow and am one of the original members of the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project. The name of one of the plants I have collected has a fascinating, but convoluted, history. 

Centaurium spicatum (L.) Fritsch ex Janch.

This plant is a small annual (sometimes biannual) herb, from 2 to 30 cms high.  Reportedly it can have pink, red or yellow flowers, but I have seen and collected only the pink flowered specimen.

Photo of Centaurium spicatum (L.) Janch.

It is listed as Centaurium spicatum (L.) Fritsch ex Janch in the list of plants collected near Menindee by Beckler in October 1860, and in the current plant list of Kinchega National Park.

The species was first collected by Robert Brown. He was the naturalist on the Investigator, and sailed with Matthew Flinders from 1801 to 1805. On board was his friend and artist, Ferdinand Bauer. The type specimen of C. spicatum was collected in Western Australia during the 42 days of collection there in 1801.  

The plant was first published in 1810, being one of 2000 species named in Prodromus florae Novae Hollandia, half of Brown’s collections of 4000 specimens from the voyage.  It was hoped that this work would be illustrated, but it was not. Ferdinand Bauer made a prodigious number of drawings on this expedition. These remain archived, but not indexed, so it is not known if he illustrated this plant.

In 1917, this plant was reclassified by George Claridge Druce, who considered that Erythracea was an illegitimate synonym of Centaurium.  The plant then became Centaurium australe.

In 1928 Karel Domin reclassified it to Erythraea, as E.  spicata.

In 1996 the plant was restored to Centaurium, as C. australis (L.) Fritsch ex Janch.

In 2004 the Centaurium genus was revised by Mansion. Using chromosome analysis he differentiated the Australian species Schenkia australis  from others (S. spicata).  This name is accepted in the Australian Plant Census, but the previous name Centaurium spicatum, is still used in several Australian herbariums, including the State Herbarium of Victoria. 

Schenkia australisis is endemic to Australia.  It is common in all states, except Tasmania, where it is rare.  

C. spicatum, growing on the banks of the Menindee Lakes.
(Photograph copyright Roslyn Glow)

Some sources suggest that this plant is an environmental weed, and indeed it may be in some locations, but there is also the possibility that it has been confused with Centaurium erythraea, among whose common names is European Centaury.
Lake edge where C. spicatum was collected
(Photograph copyright of Roslyn Glow)

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Where did Beckler's Botanical Bounty come from.... and why do we do it?

To many people our project, Beckler's Botanical Bounty, is exciting, but they often ask where the idea for the project came from. Bev Wood has contributed this post to explain.

The Burke and Wills 150th Anniversary celebrations brought together many people with a keen interest in the Victorian exploring expedition (VEE).  The complex story and its many facets continues to create interest, investigation and study.   It brings so many aspects of life, art and science into play such as surveying, botany, zoology, the weather, the stars, health, anthropology, art, survival, food, money, politics and relationships.

The Burke and Wills Historical Society ( came into being in 2003, when 35 enthousiasts met in Cloncurry to discuss their mutual interests.  The other organisations with a particular interest in developing interpretation of the VEE are the Royal Society of Victoria (who organised the VEE in the first place) ( and the State Library of Victoria (keeper of most of the records) (

Menindie was the small settlement on the Darling River (in south-west New South Wales) where Burke and Wills slept in a bed for the last time, before taking off overland for Coopers’ Creek.    Burke was impatient, the expedition was already behind time.  He halved the expedition and left the Supply Party behind at Menindie (October 19, 1860) with most of the expeditions supplies (food, drugs, camping equipment, camels and horses, and so on).

This group subsequently moved to camp on Pamameroo Creek about 10km away.  It took them a long time (three months) to re-organise themselves and follow Burke, by which time it was the height of summer and a severe drought.

Although Dr Beckler was a German Medical Doctor, he had been appointed in Melbourne as one of the VEE Expedition Officers (Scientific Observers’ Botanical Observer).  Unhappy with Burke’s leadership, he resigned at Menindie in the middle of October 1860.  Burke asked him to remain with the Supply Party to take care of the stores and the remaining animals until a replacement could be found.

In the three months he was in the area with the Supply Party (until January 26th, 1861) he undertook two expeditions.  One was the round trip rescue of two men from death at Duroadoo on the way to Coopers’ Creek.  The second was the exploration of the nearby Scrope’s Range where he collected hundreds of new plants (taxa) which had not been seen before.   He was passionate about identifying and collecting plants and sent hundreds of them back to Dr Ferdinand Mueller, Director of the National Herbarium of Victoria in Melbourne. 

There these plants remain stored in dried, pressed and catalogued form – a very important national treasure which belongs to us all.  Beckler also completed some landscape drawings and paintings in the general area, and collected 120 new specimens of plants around Menindie itself, which I will refer to as Beckler’s List.  This is where our group known as Beckler’s Botanical Bounty comes in.

In 2009, the well known Melbourne Botanical Artist and teacher - Mali Moir ( arranged an excursion to the National Herbarium of Victoria for the Botanical Illustrators group at the Royal Botanical Gardens.   As one of the students - Bev Wood - was keen to see some of the plants from the 1860 collections associated with the VEE, this was kindly arranged by the Collections Manager – Dr Pina Milne.         . 

Some of the VEE plants were on display for our visit.   Afterwards, we (Mali Moir and Bev Wood) determined that we would try to join the 2010 Burke and Wills 150th celebrations in Menindie with an interest in “growing” our experience in botanical illustration up there somehow. 

In searching for more purpose other than the painting of the local wild flowers, Mali was made aware of Dr Hermann Beckler’s role in the VEE by Museum Victoria curator John Kean, who advised ‘look at Beckler, he’s your man’.

Dr Beckler collected his plants over the Spring period and our group of botanical artists started the first of our week long annual Spring visits to Menindee in the year 2010.    We search for any of the 120 plants on Becklers List in the area of Menindee, we collect and illustrate them, and we press a specimen each for the National Herbarium of Victoria in Melbourne ( and the Herbarium of New South Wales in Sydney. 

On these expeditions we have been joined by some local Menindee people, along with botanists, historians, geologists and film makers.  We need their assistance as it is a real challenge for us “City slickers” to bumble around the bush to find each plant again, let alone illustrate and press them and find a week and more in our busy lives every year to do it!!  

Yet we have undertaken such a privileged endeavour for four years now, and we just love it.  As it has for thousands of other Australians, the story of the VEE continues to fascinate us and we now feel confident that we are contributing to its legacy in a very tangible way. 

In the bush with repeated visits, we are learning heaps about the context of Botanical Illustration.  We are learning about where particular plants grow, the effect of drought and other weather conditions, and the use of the plants by the indigenous people.   We are learning to illustrate the grasses, seeds, flowers, herbs, feathers, sticks and stones and bones gathered from the bush and the rivers and creeks by our own hands. 

It gives us a real sense of connection to the specimens and the story of the VEE.  But best of all it gives us a chance to be in "country” and explore our own land and its naturally growing plants in a very intimate way.

We are often asked what we are going to do with our paintings and drawings (about 40 to date), and we are looking for an opportunity to exhibit them all at once.  In the meantime, it is our personal and collective journeys in this wide brown land and the intimate observation of some of its plants in their own environment which really counts the most.

Beverley Wood
August 2013

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Beckler's Botanical Bounty 2010

The last couple of posts have been about the Burke and Wills Expedition and Hermann Beckler, the surgeon and naturalist of the expedition. When this blog was begun Mali Moir wrote about the Beckler's Botanical Project in October 2010. I am reposting some of that. 
Her passion comes shining through!

Our aim was to collect the same species of plants that Beckler collected in the same location. As botanical artists we proceeded to paint/illustrate some of the species we found.
As the fields were in spectacular bloom it was a challenge for us to choose which one we wanted to paint, and which ones were the same as Beckler's list.

We stopped at one site and noticed large patches of blue haze. This turned out to be hundreds of Wahlenbergia, the native bluebell! We were hooked and there we stayed for 3 hours discovering more and more -- the more we looked the more we found. Many daisies, salt bushes and blue bushes in full splendid colour.

Not the hazy blue Wahlenbergia, but it is the amazing habitat round Menindee

We spent 5 days in Menindee, 2 days searching, collecting and identifying, 3 days painting and illustrating.

We found 15 plants we are now painting. Out of a list of 120 we plan to return next October to continue the project.

Collecting plants for scientific research is of course very important. Illustration is a valuable tool in this research in particular as we painted these plants while they were fresh with colour.
(photo: copyright Anne Lawson)

Botanical art is very detailed and very accurate for the purpose of scientific identification. It also invokes awareness and educates the general public to the importance of science and research through its sheer beauty.

"Artists make science visible" I have lived by this philosophy for nearly 20 years now. Without artists and art the world would be a much darker and duller place.

It is our vision to fill in some of the gaps by illustrating the plants on Beckler's list. The importance of this project is immense. 

We aim to put our work on exhibition sometime in the future.

.......... Mali

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hermann Beckler

The last post briefly outlined the Burke and Wills Expedition. This one looks the expedition's doctor and botanist, Hermann Beckler, to see why he has inspired the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project.

This information has come from 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 (ed E. B. Joyce and D. A. McCann)

illust: Herman Beckler

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.

In June 1860 Beckler applied to join the Victorian Exploring Expedition Party. In his application he offered his services 'as medical officer to the expedition' and also offered 'to serve further in the capacity of botanical collector'. After some problems with his Munich medical qualifications Beckler was accepted on the expedition.

As well as being the doctor and botanist, he was also given the responsibility of co-ordinating the transportation of the supplies during the expedition. Given that there were tonnes of supplies, this was an onerous task. But, despite this time- and energy-consuming responsibility, he managed to do as his instructions directed -- keep a diary and collect specimens.

So the expedition journeyed north from Melbourne, through mud and deep red sand, to reach the European outpost of Menindee. But all was not well. Dissension smouldered and then erupted, generating two resignations -- Landells, the camel handler and Beckler. On October 16th Beckler explained to Burke that his main reason for resigning was Burke's treatment of Landells and Landells' resignation, which, given the expedition's complete dependence on camels put the safety of the expedition at risk. Furthermore Beckler told Burke that he had had inadequate time for his scientific duties and could anticipate no future improvement. He had decided to  remain with the expedition until a replacement doctor could be sent from Melbourne.

The Camp at Pamamaroo Creek, as it is today
Despite these resignations, Burke took a smaller party which left Menindee for Cooper Creek on 19th October. The larger group was to follow on. Beckler still had responsibility for the care of the animals and remaining stores.  Horribly familiar with the arduous task of moving heavy stores, he moved the depot camp up the Darling River to the Pamamaroo Camp. While stranded at the depot camp he continued collecting plant specimens. 

As well as collecting around the Menindee area, Beckler took the opportunity to explore north in the Scropes Range. This range rewarded him with many 'new' plants, about two thirds of which were expedition novelties.

Above: Hermann Beckler, ‘View of a distant range of mountains, seen from Gogirga hills’. Picture Collection, H16486. Beckler painted this watercolour scene of Bilpa in the Scropes Range in November 1860. He visited this place during his first botanical excursion. Wills called this spot ‘The Gap’. [watercolour painting]
Hermann Beckler, 'View of a distant range of mountains, seen from Gogirga hills'.
He also had a chance to go even further north to help rescue others of the party. Two members had left with an Aboriginal guide to try to catch Burke's group. About one month later the guide staggered back into camp, having travelled about 300 km from Torowoto Swamp. They had not managed to catch Burke, and the two Europeans were stuck in the area. The rescue party set off on 21st December and found the others six days later. Even though they were moving quickly, and the rescue was the important goal, Beckler was able to collect his plants.

In his treks north of the Darling depot he collected approximately 500 specimens. These were added to the ones he collected around Menindee and sent back to Mueller. His collection is of huge botanical importance because of the expedition's route and timing, and the number and range of his specimens. They enriched Victoria's herbarium during its early stages and were invaluable for Mueller's documentation of Australia's flora. Specimens were used to establish new taxa. The Herbarium website says

These collections are an invaluable, permanent and verifiable record of the occurrence of over 500 different species. As part of a working scientific collection, they are still used by botanists today.

Beckler returned to Melbourne and gave evidence at the Commission of Enquiry that was set up to investigate the expedition. Soon after he returned to Germany where he worked as a doctor. He died on 10th December 1914.

It is Beckler's collection that has excited our interest. Our intention is to find the species that are on his list, collect a sample for the herbarium (with official collecting permission, of course) and then do a botanical painting of the specimen. To do this we have been returning to Menindee in October for the last three years -- and will be going there for a few more yet!

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Burke and Wills Expedition

In the previous post Mali mentioned that there was a link between our group of botanical artists 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 northern coast, 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.

Memorial in Royal Park, Melbourne

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.
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.)
Plaque at the site
The camp site at Pamamaroo Creek

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 staggered into the camp 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. That tree became famously known as the Dig Tree. 

The Dig Tree today (Photo copyright: Beverley Wood, Sept. 2012)

Two 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 two 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, our link is with Hermann Beckler, who was still in Menindee. More of him next time.