• The Easter Bilby: Enjoyed since 1993

    Hopefully the Easter Bilby will be bringing you plenty of Haigh’s chocolates this weekend. Here is the story of the Haigh’s bilby, which has indeed been Enjoyed for Generations – if only they were still life-size!

    Wrapping moulded chocolate and eggs ready for Easter. Circa 1965.

    The idea came from Erwin Shulten, a ranger at Bundaleer Forest Reserve at Jamestown, who asked Haigh’s and a couple of other manufacturers to create a chocolate bilby to replace the traditional Easter rabbit in support of the goals of the Foundation for Rabbit- Free Australia (RFA). Not only would an Easter bilby draw attention to the endangered status of this shy, long-eared Australian native marsupial but it would also promote a more realistic image of rabbits as destroyers of the environment rather than cute and cuddly pets. Alister had no hesitation in supporting the project, and Haigh’s supplied chocolate bilbies for the Bundaleer Forest Easter Egg Hunt for several years.

    The first bilbies in 1993, almost life-size, were an instant success; stores ran out of stocks, and people even followed Haigh’s delivery van in their desperate bilby quest. Two years later Haigh’s produced a series of smaller bilbies, using a simpler, stylised design that made the chocolates easier to unmould. With demand for the miniature bilbies even greater, the chocolate bunny was abandoned in 1995 and Haigh’s made the chocolate bilby a permanent feature of its Easter range. Since 1993 Haigh’s has donated part of the proceeds of bilby sales to promote awareness of the threat to the environment posed by rabbits and to help fund research into the development of biological controls, and continues to support RFA. Twenty years after the beginning of the partnership, in 2013, Haigh’s had produced more than half a million Easter Bilbies.

    Some years ago, two weeks before Easter, I was putting the sale of seven bilbies through for a lady. She told me it was her second purchase of seven bilbies in the same week. They were for her grandchildren but she had eaten the first lot. Jokingly I said I hoped she would not be back for another seven. Lo and behold, a few days before Easter she was back again. ‘The final seven,’ she told me, both of us laughing. Beverley Tripodi, Haigh’s employee

    Designed by Katharine Lahn, the bilby wears a Haigh’s apron and carries a basket of brightly coloured eggs.

    Find out more about Enjoyed for Generations here.

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  • Australia’s Muslim Cameleers

    Australia’s Muslim Cameleers is back in stock (and on its way to Canberra to be gifted by the Prime Minister to some special visiting guests). Between 1870 and 1920 as many as 2000 cameleers and 20,000 camels arrived in Australia from Afghanistan and northern India; each has their own fascinating story.

    Dost Mahomed

    Dost Mahomed was the son of Mullah Mohamed Jullah of Gaznee. A Pashtun, he served as a ‘Sepoy’ in the British-Indian army before being recruited by George Landells. At 45 years he was the oldest cameleer in the Burke and Wills exploration party. Burke included Dost Mohamed in his advance from Menindee to the Cooper Creek but left him there with Brahe’s party while taking some camels on his desperate dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Dost helped supplement the waiting party’s diet with ducks and fish and accompanied Brahe’s party when it left for Menindee on the very morning of Burke’s longoverdue return to the Cooper depot. During Howitt’s Victorian Relief Expedition, which recovered the bodies of Burke and Wills, Dost Mohamed was bitten by a bull camel. It ‘lifted him off the ground and shook him with great ease, as a cat would shake a mouse’. He permanently lost the use of his right arm, and was later awarded 200 pounds by the Victorian Government. After the expedition he worked in William Ah Chung’s market garden in Menindee, where he died in the early 1880s. [William Strutt album, State Library of New South Wales]

    Abdul Wahid

    Abdul Wahid or Wade, a major camel entrepreneur. Originally from Quetta, he arrived in Australia in 1879. In 1895 he established the Bourke Carrying Company, importing his own camels and cameleers. He helped fund the construction of the Adelaide mosque. Abdul Wade was known for his adoption of western clothes, and later built a large house on Sydney Harbour. Photographed at the Mount Garnet mine, Queensland, 1890s. [13127, State Library of Queensland]

    Juma Khan

    Under the Commonwealth’s Immigration Restriction Act 1901, intending or returning immigrants faced a dictation test (set in any language), established as a means of keeping Australia’s population ‘white’. [Juma Khan, 53 years, Afghan (1924) was one of the many cameleers who] obtained exemptions from the dictation text, enabling them to visit their homelands and return to Australia.

    Find out more about Australia’s Muslim Cameleers here.

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  • Ministers and the Media

    Launching this week is Never a True Wordthe debut political thriller from Michael McGuire. The book follows Jack, a journalist who thinks he’s met every shade of nutter, narcissist and bully, until he enters the bizarre world of politics as a spin doctor. Perhaps Jack might have benefitted from reading John Hill’s how-to, On Being a Minister – here John discusses his experiences with Adelaide’s ‘best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers’, Matt and Dave.

     

    My first Matt and Dave interview, as a minister, happened on my second day in the job. They asked me why I hadn’t fixed some problem or other in the environment area. I think my response was along the lines of ‘Give us a break; I haven’t been in the job 24 hours yet!’ I don’t think either they or their listeners ever care what the minister’s reason is – there’s a problem and it’s your job to fix it, no excuses! Fair enough.

    In almost 11 years as a minister rarely a week went by that I wasn’t cross-examined, poked, accused, joked with or challenged on their morning program. Many weeks I was the minister du jour two or three times – depending on the issue. The environment and health portfolios always had something of interest happening. That means that I did in the order of 500 or so live interviews with two of the best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers in the business.

    Matt’s and Dave’s specialty is what I call the ‘twist and turn’. They like to take something you say and then use it against you (the twist) or jump from one issue to another (the turn). The fact there are two of them against one of you makes these interviews a challenging experience. I can’t say I ever looked forward to these interviews, but I usually felt OK once they were over. To be honest, I generally enjoyed the contest – a seasoned gladiator in the arena with two growling middle-aged lions.

    Some would argue that there is often little point going on these kinds of shows – relatively few people listen and the audience is generally older with established political points of view. Why go on and potentially make the issue worse? There is obviously merit in this argument; from a strict media management point of view it makes sense. And maybe my point of view is old-fashioned, but I think that if you can’t stand up to tough media interviews you really shouldn’t be in the job. It’s like wanting to be a top cricketer without facing fast bowling. Ministers should front for a variety of reasons: it’s part of their job, it toughens them (or destroys them) and helps build their reputation for openness (the public hates politicians who hide behind media management).

     

     

    Find out more about On Being a Minister here. Never a True Word launches 4 April at 6.30 pm at the Advertiser; find out more here.

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  • Anchovy Special (from your own brick oven)

    Quiet weekend ahead? How about building your own brick oven? Russell Jeavons channel his years of running a pizza restaurant on the Fluerieu Peninsula into his essential guide, Your Brick OvenAnd once the work is done, Russell provides plenty of delicious recipe suggestions, like this Anchovy Special.

     

    A version of the French Pissaladiere, this is how we deal with those kinky anchovy people. Anchovy haters should skip this one or leave the anchovies out. Anchovy lovers, read on. The sweet onions and salty olives and anchovies will bring out the best in your crisp white and sparkling wines. We use a fresh tin of anchovies for each pizza as they deteriorate very quickly after the tin is opened.

    1 large onion, sliced

    olive oil

    1 red capsicum

    1 zucchini, small to medium

    pepper and salt

    250 g prepared dough

    1/2 cup seeded black olive halves (good ones! with flavour!)

    1 x 25 g tin of anchovies in olive oil

    chopped parsley

    Sweeten the sliced onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small pot over low heat. They should be soft, creamy and sweet, but not caramelised. Cut the four sides off the capsicum and slice the zucchini into 5 millimetre long ways strips. Toss the zucchini strips and capsicum in a bowl with a little oil and pepper and salt, then lay them on a roasting tray and cook fast over coals raked to the front of your oven. The aim is to use sufficient heat to colour them on both sides without overcooking. This is an essential brick-oven skill also used to cook vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, capsicums, pumpkin and fennel bulb. Tear the capsicum into strips1 centimetre wide.

    Press out your dough and spread on the sliced onions. Place the vegetable strips with kinks and the olives pushed down into the onion. Open the tin of anchovies and lay them around. Season with salt and pepper. After cooking, sprinkle with chopped parsley for the essential fresh finish.

    Brick oven and pizza dough, both under construction.

    Hungry? Inspired? Find out more about Your Brick Oven here.

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  • The beginnings of a town like Atherreyurre

    Publicist Ayesha is visiting Alice Springs at the moment. We’ve taken the opportunity to dip back into the history books, this time looking at the creation of the first permanent structure in Alice (or Atherreyurre, in Arrenrnte language): a ‘fortress’ telegraph station set against the ‘stunning backdrop’ of the MacDonnell ranges. You can still visit the Alice Springs Telegraph Station today. The following excerpt is from Stuart Traynor’s Alice Springs: From singing wire to iconic outback town.

     

    The singing wire to the Alice wasn’t pretty but it worked. William Mills’s section took a crooked route through the MacDonnell Ranges but that could be straightened out later. The young surveyor had repaid the confidence Charles Todd and Gilbert McMinn had shown in him.

    McMinn’s men actually strung up the last stretches of Mills’s wire so he and his crew could work on the unfinished northern section. Gilbert McMinn also took on the job of building a repeater station at the waterhole Mills had found on 11 March 1871. Daytime temperatures were climbing steadily by the time he got there on 18 November and there was no time to waste. His first priority was to get temporary shelter erected to protect the telegraph instruments and batteries. They were on their way from South Australia with the men Charles Todd had chosen to operate the stations at the Alice, Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek. He wanted them to establish communication with Adelaide as soon as possible.

    Mills named the waterhole in honour of Todd’s wife Alice but it was Atherreyurre (a-tuh-ree-oo-ra) to the local Arrernte people. Of all the locations where Todd’s men built telegraph stations, this was undoubtedly the most picturesque. It’s nestled amid distinctive, rocky hills strewn with large boulders, and the majestic main range of the MacDonnells forming a stunning backdrop. The hills around the waterhole are remnants of molten granite that came from deep below the earth’s surface over 1.6 billion years ago. Gilbert McMinn’s men began stockpiling suitable pieces of this rock to construct the walls of a substantial stone building designed by Todd. It was U-shaped, with a galvanised-iron roof to collect rainwater. Similar-looking telegraph stations were built at Charlotte Waters and Barrow Creek.

    The men had to go further afield to collect limestone to burn and make lime for their mortar. There was an extensive formation of this rock on the southern side of Heavitree Gap, eight kilometres away. They dug a limekiln in early December and laid the foundations for the building in the week before Christmas. The work proceeded slowly due to the absence of skilled stonemasons but they eventually produced an impressive structure that has stood the test of time.

    It was built like a fortress with gun ports in its external walls through which the men could fire on any would-be attackers. This was never necessary because the local Arrernte people were remarkably tolerant of the intruders squatting on one of their prime pieces of real estate.

    Surveyor Edwin Berry’s 1873 sketch is the earliest known image of the Alice Springs telegraph station. [NTAS ASTS 1351 Miscellaneous Collection]

    Find out more about Alice Springs here.

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  • Adelaide Entertainment Royalty

    While most of Adelaide has settled down for a well-deserved nap following the end of festival season, one favourite festival venue has no time to rest. Her Majesty’s Theatre is continuing its campaign to raise funds for its major upgrade, due to be completed in 2019. In 2013 Her Majesty’s Theatre celebrated its centenary with a beautiful book, Her Majesty’s Pleasure. What better time to look back on Adelaide’s beginnings as a ‘theatre town’ and the birth of what was originally to be called the Princess Theatre?

     

    In 1913 Adelaide was home to around 200,000 people; another 210,000 lived elsewhere in the state. Electricity had lit the city’s streets since 1900 and, from 1909, powered the city’s tram network. In show business jargon, Adelaide was ‘a theatre town’. The city’s long theatrical history had begun in 1838 when the ballroom of the Adelaide Tavern in Franklin Street was transformed into a cramped but convivial playhouse. Many other theatres came and went until the city’s first major theatre, the opulent Royal in Hindley Street, opened in 1878, replacing two earlier, smaller theatres on that site. It established Hindley Street as the city’s main entertainment hub.

    The Royal catered for the city’s thirst for ‘legitimate’ fare, hosting touring productions of drama, light opera, grand opera and pantomime. Meanwhile, minstrel shows and vaudeville found a home in what had originally been White’s Rooms in King William Street. In 1900 the Sydney-based vaudeville entrepreneur Harry Rickards transformed the 44-year-old venue into Adelaide’s first Tivoli Theatre, presenting there the same parade of international stars and upand- coming locals that were a staple of the other theatres on his busy Australia-wide circuit.

    At the same time, Adelaide was quickly falling in love with the movies. Soon flickering films – silent, of course – were unreeling in any available hall, in tents, skating rinks or, in the warmer months, in the open air. One of the first al fresco venues was the Hippodrome in Grote Street, where movies were supplemented with vaudeville acts. Situated next to the markets, it was operated by entrepreneurs Lennon, Hyman and Lennon. In 1908 the American showman T.J. West leased the Cyclorama and transformed it into West’s Olympia, with seating for 2248 patrons. It was reborn in 1913 as the Wondergraph, the first of Adelaide’s grand picture palaces. It dominated Hindley Street, providing a provocative challenge to the Theatre Royal across the road.

    There were new live theatres, too. In 1909 Lennon, Hyman and Lennon replaced their open air Hippodrome with a vaudeville theatre, the Empire, though it soon concentrated on films. Another vaudeville venture, the King’s in King William Street, opened in 1911, but it was an uncongenial venue, plagued by poor sightlines and inadequate ventilation. Meanwhile, the venerable Theatre Royal was looking decidedly shabby.

    A spread from ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ shows some of Adelaide’s theatres in 1910.

    Clearly the entertainment business was booming – a fact not lost on Edwin Daw, a local identity best known as the man behind the city’s fish market and the associated ice-works. Mr Daw was the lucky owner of a large vacant site on the corner of Grote and Pitt Streets, directly opposite the markets and the Empire Theatre. A small stream meandered through the property, which became a favourite place for market stallholders to tether their horses and park their carts. In even earlier times a certain Richard George (better known rather unfortunately as ‘Flash Dick’) lived in a two-storey house on the site, and had stables there.

    In those days the market didn’t just sell produce. There were amusements such as shooting galleries, hoop-la stalls and dart competitions, and a handsome first floor assembly room for weddings, balls and community gatherings. The market not only drew large crowds, it also attracted more shops, hotels and cinemas to the area. Canny Mr Daw realised that his empty block was an ideal site for a grand picture palace.

    Daw discussed the idea with Albert (‘Bert’) Lennon, one of the trio running the Empire. Business there was booming, and the ‘House Full’ sign was out front most Friday and Saturday nights. A couple of years before, Lennon had gone into a new partnership with another showman, Bert Sayers. Sayers and Lennon Ltd were running successful shows in Broken Hill and were keen to expand to Adelaide. Daw offered the partnership a 30-year lease of the Grote Street site for the development of what was to be Adelaide’s finest cinema. The deal was signed in May 1912.

    Three months later there was a change of plans. In August Adelaidians learned that the site was not to be used for a 2500-seat cinema, but for a 3000-seat live theatre to be built, they were assured, ‘on an elaborate scale’.

    After that, things moved rapidly. By early October the partnership had commissioned designs from the prominent Adelaide architects David Williams and his brother-in-law Charles Thomas Good. Both South Australian born and trained, they designed everything from private homes to offices and warehouses – and the Majestic and King’s Theatres. Their other notable commissions included part of the Queen Adelaide Club in North Terrace, and St Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Wakefield Street. William Essery and John Hennessy were appointed contractors.

    On 14 October 1912 Mrs Bert Sayers laid the foundation stone for Adelaide’s grand new theatre. She proudly announced that it was to cost £31,000, and that it was to be christened the Princess.

    The architects’ elevation for what was originally to be called the Princess Theatre. A century later, the elegant Edwardian façade remains virtually unchanged. [Performing Arts Collection of South Australia]

    Her Majesty’s Theatre is looking to raise $3 million to complete it’s renewal; you can donate here. Find out more about Her Majesty’s Pleasure here.

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  • Adrian Mitchell on blending fact and fiction

    Adrian Mitchell is one of our most popular and prolific authors at Wakefield. From Plein Airs and Graces, the biography of George Collingridge that got Adrian shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, to Dampier’s Monkey, on the south seas voyages of William Dampier, Adrian’s skills at biography are well documented. But in his last couple of books he’s moved a little left of centre, using historical figures as the basis of fictionalised work. It started with The Profilist, a novel about Ethan Dibble, who bore more than a passing resemblance to S.T. Gill. His latest is The Beachcomber’s Wife, based on the life of E.J. Banfield.

    Adrian explains his inspiration in this lovely little author’s note:

     

    For twenty-five years E.J. Banfield rambled about Dunk Island, exploring its reefs and forests, drifting about its bays, and defending the liberties of its nutmeg pigeons and all other small birds. He sent off to the newspapers a steady stream of genial and sometimes whimsical articles about the natural history of the island, and the largely idyllic way of life there; and The Confessions of a Beachcomber (1908) inspired at least one enthusiastic reviewer to wish that he too could ‘go a-Dunking’.

    Astonishingly, what Banfield largely leaves out of account is the presence of his wife for all those years. Which strikes me as strange. Even Defoe’s castaway acknowledges his Man Friday. And keeps him in his place. What kind of beachcombing is it which involves a household?

    There can be all sorts of explanation for Banfield’s silence, of course, but what I have imagined here is how it might have been for her, over those years, and more particularly in the three days as she waited for help to come after her husband’s death. To that extent, yes, there is fabrication here. That is what writers do. But there is not falsification. I have been guided by my reading of the source material.

    Because I have helped myself comprehensively to details from Banfield’s publications, rearranging them to suit myself, and likewise from Michael Noonan’s helpful biography A Different Drummer: The  story of E.J. Banfield, Beachcomber of Dunk Island (1983), I have signalled my free-handed pilfering by calling my character Edward, not Edmund, and changing most of the other names too. Even the dogs are renamed, to protect the innocent. I followed my sources by not calling his wife anything because neither did Banfield, or not in the published material.

    In giving her a voice, I am of course implying a critique of Ted Banfield, a critique such as a wife of nearly forty years might allow herself, especially one with a glint in her mind’s eye, and who filled her days by rummaging in her husband’s library.

    It has of course occurred to me that writers are by their nature a kind of beachcomber too. I should not want my own wife to read too much into that.

    Dunk Island postcard, Adrian Mitchell's The Beachcomber's Wife

    To read Adrian’s imagining of the life of the Banfields on Dunk Island, click here.

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  • The interesting case of Lesueur and the wombats

    The Art of Science is one of those books that has something for everyone. The beautiful images created by Baudin’s artists on the voyage to New Holland in 1800–1804 are fascinating for history buffs and art lovers, young and old. Here, art historian Sasha Grishin explains the evolution of depictions of wombats, from sketches during the voyage to final printed plates.

    Art of Science wombats no. 1

    Oseological study of wombats, Vombatus ursinus
    Charles-Alexandre Lesueur
    Grey wash, ink and pencil on paper – 23.6 x 37.2 cm
    Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre – n° 80 268

    Over the past three decades, the story of Baudin, his artists Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit, and their expedition to Australia in the opening decade of the nineteenth century, has moved from being an obscure curiosity to a well-known, well-researched and much-discussed episode in early Australian colonial history – and a significant event in first contact art. Lesueur and Petit could be described as ‘accidental artists”. They were nominally appointed as ‘assistant gunners’ for the voyage, but once the three official artists absconded to the Ile de France (Mauritius) in April 1801, six months into this epic journey, Lesueur and Petit became the official pictorial chroniclers for the expedition.

    Thanks to exacting archival work, primarily by Jacqueline Bonnemains, we know a great deal about the lives of the two artists. Born within six months of each other, they were aged in their early twenties when they joined the expedition. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was apparently self-trained and had a medical condition that saved him from military service, while Nicolas-Martin Petit appears to have received some training in the studio of the famous neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David. Both artists learned on the job, acquiring as the voyage progressed new skills that were commensurate with the activities of natural science artists. This was especially true of Lesueur, who developed a very close relationship with one of the expedition’s zoologists, François Péron. After the deaths of the other appointed zoologists, Stanislas Levillain and René Maugé, Lesueur also fulfilled the role of assistant senior zoologist.

    Despite the challenges encountered by the expedition, an enormous amount of material was collected, with many tens of thousands of specimens, including live animals, brought back to France. Thousands of drawings were also made. In 1807, three years after the Géographe returned to France, Péron and Lesueur steered to fruition the publication of the first volume of the Atlas of the Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes with 41 lavish plates. Petit did not live to see this publication, as he died in 1804, shortly after his return to France, of complications following a minor street accident.

    The drawings and paintings from the Baudin expedition present a particularly interesting case of ‘pictorial records in transition’. They not only mark the changing skill levels of the artists and their developing technical facility, they also reveal changes in their philosophical and aesthetic attitudes over the period of several years that separated the moment of first observation from the final pictorial realisation presented to the public. The purpose of the drawings also evolved: early illustrations were designed primarily for Baudin’s personal journal, whereas later illustrations were intended for a formal atlas published with Imperial patronage to commemorate the expedition. Although the design of many of these published illustrations can be attributed to a particular artist, Lesueur or Petit, the final work was a collaborative product that bore the impact of different artistic talents and competing ideologies.

    A case in point is plate XXVIII in the 1807 Atlas, reproduced as plate 58 of the second edition Atlas published in 1824. This is an impressive hand-coloured copper engraving titled ‘Nouvelle-Hollande: Ile King/Le Wombat (Phascolomis Wombat N.)’. The author of the drawing is indicated on the engraving as Lesueur, but the engraving itself was executed by Choubard, while the whole project was supervised by Jacques-Gérard Milbert – one of the original artists who had set out with Baudin, but who had quarrelled with the commander and remained on the Ile de France. (In his journal, Baudin described Milbert as having ‘uselessly occupied’ his position.) This collective attribution thus raises a number of questions. To what extent is this engraving actually the work of Lesueur? When should it be dated? And what should we make of the information it conveys?

    The exact chronology of Lesueur’s dealings with wombats on the Baudin voyage is a little unclear, but can to some extent be determined. Wombats were encountered by the French party throughout their voyage and on several occasions wombats travelled on board their ships. Several wombat drawings and sketches by Lesueur’s hand survive, a number of which appear to have been done on a visit to Sea Elephant Bay on King Island in late December 1802. It was likely at this stage, or shortly afterwards, that Lesueur executed two osteological studies of wombats examining their bone structures whilst in motion as well as careful studies of their skulls and claws. It was also here, in all probability, that Lesueur developed the image of the full-face frontal resting position of the wombat that would serve as a model for the wombat on the left-hand side in the final engraving. This wombat first appears in the pencil and ink sketch (80 072) that also features studies of wombat paws and Lesueur’s annotation ‘left rear foot seen from underneath’. The second incarnation is a larger watercolour, ink and pencil drawing (80 071), where the sketch has been enlivened with colour. In both instances, the wombat appears with its eyes closed, suggesting that the model may well have been a dead wombat. In the top right-hand side of the watercolour drawing there is a pencil outline of a second wombat that is shown in profile. These are zoologically accurate depictions relating to now extinct subspecies of wombats that were once abundant on King Island, but that are thought to have been exterminated by early settlers. Possibly related sub-species of wombats survive to this day on Flinders Island. There is also a curious additional sheet (80 070) with pencil and ink drawings, where Lesueur is playing with different arrangements of his wombat drawings, one showing a female wombat with four joeys. One could speculate that these were done aboard ship on the return journey, when the artist was working up his illustrations.

    Art of Science wombats no. 3

    Sketches of wombats in various positions
    Charles-Alexandre Lesueur
    Pencil and ink on paper – 22.5 x 34.5 cm
    Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre – n° 80 070

    The next transformation in Lesueur’s design was quite radical and was executed after his return to France in 1804. This is a large watercolour and pencil drawing on vellum (80 069-1), obviously executed with the publication in mind. Although the basic shapes of the two wombats of the earlier study (80 071) have been retained, the wombats have now been radically reinterpreted and enlivened. The docile frontal wombat has come to life with open eyes, her front paw, as in sketch 80 070, resting on a stone to give a sense of elevation, and four young wombats shown scrambling out of her pouch in front of her. Zoologically, this makes little sense as wombats usually have only a single joey, or, on rare occasions, two, so this joyous family of New Holland is a departure from scientific observation in favour of the sentimental animal pictures that were a developing trend in European nineteenth-century art. The other wombat has now become a striding male that somewhat purposelessly heads towards his mate. Lesueur, to dress up his design, has invented a narrative, but one that may not possess strict zoological accuracy in the life cycle of this docile, nocturnal creature.

    Art of Science wombats no. 3

    Two adult wombats, Vombatus ursinus (Shaw, 1800), with four young coming out of the mother’s pouch
    Charles-Alexandre Lesueur
    Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre – n° 80 069-1

    It is at this stage in the process that the professional engraver Choubard, under Milbert’s supervision, has intervened (80 069-2). Although the artist’s design has been closely observed, the image has been reversed in the printing process, thus changing the momentum in the interrelationship of the figures. On a more subtle level, the wombats of Choubard and Milbert have become slightly feline-like. Lesueur’s wombat ears have been reinterpreted and the eyes have been opened even further to produce a somewhat mutant antipodean creature, somewhere between a cat, a small bear and a European badger. Despite Lesueur’s conscientious efforts, the engraving therefore introduced to the French public not only an animal that was largely unknown to Europe, but also one that was different from anything found in Australia. It was not until more than half a century later and John Gould’s majestic publication, The Mammals of Australia, that a zoologically accurate image of a wombat appeared in Europe.

    Art of Science wombats no. 4

    New Holland: King Island. The Wombat. (Phascolomis Wombat N.)
    Engraving by Choubard from a drawing by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur under the supervision of Jacques Milbert
    Engraving on paper – 25 x 36 cm
    Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre – n° 80 069-2
    Plate XXVIII of the 1807 Atlas

    Charles-Alexandre Lesueur’s illustrations of the exotic fauna of New Holland are, in the words of a recent commentator, ‘renowned for their extraordinary precision and painstaking skill in conveying the feel and touch of the live animal or bird – the kangaroo’s fur, the echidna’s quills’. However, the wombat engraving and others like it are also indicative of a certain level of invention by a collective group of artists involved to some extent in the construction an exotic fantasy. When François Péron died of tuberculosis in 1810, Lesueur hoped to continue their project with subsequent volumes, but the task of completing the publication of the voyage account was entrusted to Louis Freycinet instead. Lesueur thus became disillusioned and, fearing the loss of his modest pension, took up the lucrative invitation to go to America as a draughtsman naturalist in August 1815. He stayed away for 22 years, only returning to his native Le Havre in 1837. In 1845, he became curator of the newly established Muséum d’histoire naturelle. Lesueur died at Le Havre on 12 December 1846.

    The Art of Science is available for purchase here. The exhibition of these images is touring Australia. More details here.

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  • Womadelaide weekend + links

    Guys, it’s Womadelaide weekend!

    To keep you busy while you’re counting down the hours, here are a few fun bits and pieces we’ve been collecting from around the internet.

    First, we have absolute proof that books are worth a lot of effort. Though, in my experience, there’s not normally £2 million to reward said effort. Still, if you’re a Mission Impossible fan you should probably read this.

    Second, there’s going to be a book about a sniffer dog from Afghanistan that developed a fear of loud noises. This made me tear up. It’s okay: the dog ends up living happily ever after. Really, this has only a tenuous connection to books, but – y’know – we heart doggies. Read more here.

    Third, this campaign has us wanting to go all audio all the time for our reading. And also rewatch some classic 80s Neighbours. And worship Jordan Raskopoulos. Listen to your heart indeed.

    Fourth, this story about a case of mistaken identity leading to jail in the US is terrifying. Then again, most things about the US are terrifying at the moment. Also a little bit ridiculous.

    Finally, to celebrate Womad weekend we’re listening to some of our favourites from years past. Geoffrey Oryema will always be high on that list for me.

    Have a lovely weekend!

     

     

     

     

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  • How to start growing your own food

    There are many things that Lolo Houbein makes look easy. She’s an amazing woman, and her book, One Magic Square: Growing your own food on one square metre, has been a bestseller at Wakefield Press for several years now. She has inspired many of the most unlikely veggie gardeners. But the trick is in showing everyone how easy it is – as you’ll see when you read this, the introduction to her book. It turns out, the best way to grow your own food is just to start!

    One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein

    To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out in the garden and select a spot in the sun. Dig over one square metre with a garden fork and remove all the weeds by hand. If digging up lawn, cut out the sods with a spade, roots and all, and stack them upside down under a tree as mulch.

    Come inside again and thoroughly wash your hands and clean your nails, as you must always do after working with soil. Pick up this book and in Part One select what you want to grow in your first Salad Plot. Make a list and go out to buy seedlings or seeds for your chosen vegetables and one small bag of blood and bone (B&B), since you don’t yet have compost and composted manure. If you dug a square hole in the lawn, you may need to fill it with a bag of potting soil and plan to put in deep edgings to keep the grass roots out. There must be something you can recycle!

    Return home to read descriptions of the vegetables you have bought in the List of Common Vegetables in Part Four. Put a bookmark at every vegetable you would like to grow. It’s easy to grow your own spuds. No more lugging home 10 kg bags – lug manure instead. Love corn on the cob? They’re easy too. So are artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb.

    One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein

    One of Lolo’s hand-drawn vegie patch designs

    Go outside again and rake a few handfuls of B&B through the square, loosening the soil to a depth of 15 cm. Water it in. Now plant your seeds and seedlings according to your chosen Salad Plot plan. Water again. Go indoors to scrub your hands and nails as a surgeon would.

    You are now a food gardener!

    Want access to Lolo’s complete One Magic Square how-to guide? You can read more about the book and purchase a copy here, and scroll down on the same page for ebook options. Get started straight away!

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