Absences and actions?

My search for a subject for this month’s printmaking inspiration for my ‘year in bloom’ began with my looking for any of the flowering plants from Kathleen McArthurs’s book (The Bush in Bloom), however this month I came up with a blank.  Her drawings for April  include the Cooktown Orchid (Dendrobium bigibbum), Lily of the Valley Orchid (Dendrobium monophyllum) and also a native iris (Paterson sericea).  While we have some orchids, none are in flower, and neither are (what I thought were) our native irises. It turns out that the ones growing on our property are not natives at all, but Dietes grandiflora which are from South Africa, and they are not in bloom anyway!  And this led me to thinking about absences – things not present, things changing, things disappearing from our landscapes and also from our oceans.

This week our various screens and newsfeeds have been full of devastating images from the Great Barrier Reef, and reports of a massive coral bleaching event. This type of event has occurred before, but the issue is that they are occurring more regularly and experts are concerned about the coral’s ability to recover before another event.  The scientists agree that an el nino event has exacerbated the heating of the oceans, but the underlying conditions are being influenced by climate change and the gradual rising of the water temperatures. The reef is under attack, but it is by no means the first time, and this leads me back to our wild/flower women – in particular to poet and activist Judith Wright.


Judith Wright, Kathleen McArthur and other pioneers of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland were at the forefront of protests to protect the reef back in the 1960s. The WPSQ became aware of an application to mine limestone on the Great Barrier Reef at Ellison Reef, with claims being made that the area was comprised of dead coral.  Judith Wright and Innisfail WPSQ president John Busst, worked with scientists to document and testify that the reef was indeed a living coral reef and they successfully petitioned for the mining application being rejected (WPSQ 2008). This and ongoing activism was fundamental to the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef marine park and the World heritage status of the region. In her book Coral Battleground (which was republished in 2014) Judith Wright says:

This story has no real beginning and no one knows what its end will be. It is a part of the history of the Great Barrier Reef, that great complex structure of coral reef and living organisms that stretches 1,200 miles along the coastline of Queensland…

… if the Great Barrier Reef could think, it would fear us more. We have its fate in our hands, and slowly but surely as the years go on, we are destroying those great ‘water-gardens’, lovely indeed as cherry-bough in flower under their myriads of varied animal lives. 

So it seems the fate of the reef again is at risk.  Reflecting on thoughts of absences, we need to ask ourselves and our politicians if we are willing to bid farewell to these unique ‘water-gardens’?  Do we want to be the generation that stood by and witnessed these marine playgrounds become deserts? Or do we need to try a little harder to question what we do, who we are, what we believe is possible and what is important. There are a number of active campaigns regarding the reef, including those to prevent the dredging of the reef for coal terminals.  Adding our voices to and supporting campaigns financially as well as doing what we can to keep climate change action on the agenda can all be everyday actions we are capable of. And perhaps we can also use the arts to keep these matters and the beauty and majesty of the reef right up front in the public and political face.

Judith Wright (1977/2014). The coral battleground. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson (North Melb: Spinifex Press)

WPSQ  (2008). Historical Papers, Monograph 2 – Heart and Mind: WPSQ finding direction in the 60s. Brisbane: Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.


March: Swamp Bloodwood

I have always loved this tree – the Swamp Bloodwood, otherwise known as Corymbia ptychocarpa –  even though it is by no means a local. Imported from WA and NT, this eucalyptus with the divinely coloured blooms has been embraced by gardeners across the region. I thought we had planted some on our property ten years ago when we were looking at trees that wouldn’t mind being planted in a wet area near our dam.  I still have no idea what it was we planted but they certainly aren’t Swamp Bloodwood’s.  However there are several planted on property’s very close by, and when I went for my morning walk the day before it was time for the March print-making workshop I was delighted to see that they are starting to bloom.

Kathleen was also captivated by them, noting that her illustration was based on a specimen from a Caloundra garden.

I was very excited to find a Pink Euodia (Melicope Elleryana, which was known as Eudia Elleryana in Kathleen’s book in 1982) and the windy weather had kindly deposited some flowers on the ground. A complex bouquet all by itself, the blossom perhaps a little too complex for my first print-making workshop! So searching around I found other trees with beautiful coffee-brown berries.

As far as I could tell this tree is a Deep Yellowwood (or Rhodosphaera rhondanthema). Much more readily transferred to a simple sketch and first ever lion-cut (for about 35 years)!  Although those curly bits were a bit trickier than I thought.

A year in bloom

The Bush in Bloom cover.jpg

Cover for McArthur’s “The Bush in Bloom”

One of Kathleen McArthur’s published books is called ‘The Bush in Bloom’. In it she documents month by month some of the native flowers that bloom, many endemic to the Sunshine Coast and south-east Queensland.  The purpose of the book reflects concerns she expresses elsewhere: We have a problem in the fact that much of our flora is unfamiliar for the reason that it lacks associations in our consciousness. … There is a rich Australian wildflower poetry — but like the flowers themselves it lacks familiarity. Australians are more familiar with the wildflowers of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Browning than of Stewart, Robinson and Wright…(McArthur 1982, p. 8).

Quoting her friend and colleague Judith Wright, she adds:

Before one’s country can become an accepted background against which the poet’s and the novelist’s imagination can move unhindered, it must first be observed, understood, described, and as it were absorbed. The writer must be at peace with his [or her] landscape before he [she] can turn confidently to its human figures. (Wright in McArthur, 1982)

So this book contributed to Kathleen’s mission to create in us a greater sense of familiarity, interest and ‘affection’ for our native plants.  Along with her drawings she includes information and stories about selected plants and it is an entertaining and enlightening read.

This year I plan to draw upon this book as inspiration for a little project of my own. What I hope to do each month is read the relevant chapter of her book and see if I can identify any of the plants she describes, initially on our property, or in our local area.  Where possible I will try to create my own photos, drawings or prints of some of the same plants, or for others that are flowering at the time. I’m planning to attend a monthly print-making workshop at our Arts After Hours sessions at CQU and work with the talented and very patient Ulrike Sturm and explore what might be possible.  I am an enthusiastic amateur in all respects, from plant identification through to printmaking so it will be an interesting adventure.


McArthur, Kathleen. (1982). The Bush in Bloom. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.

Kathleen McArthur books &  book about her by Margaret Somerville

Kathleen McArthur books & book about her by Margaret Somerville

In 1953 Kathleen McArthur, Judith Wright and family stood on the top of Mt Timbeerwah behind Noosa and wondered how they could take a closer look. They ended up at Boreen Point for a school holiday.  From there explored the upper Noosa River, Lake Cooloola & Cootharaba, the Teewah Track, Laguna Bay and the coloured sands – places that many of us know and love today.  Concerned that this special sand dune, lake and river system and the Australia wildflowers and fauna were being threatened by sandmining and development, Kathleen and Judith approached the National Parks Association (NB Not Noosa Parks Association – that had not yet been formed) to ask about what could be done to protect it.  At the time they were told it wasn’t a priority for protection as it wasn’t really threatened.

However Kathleen & Judith believed it was and this concern influenced their formation of the Wildlife Preservations Society of Queensland (WPSQ) as well as Noosa’s own Noosa Parks Association (both formed in 1962) and subsequent activist campaigns.  Their activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s eventually led to the creation of the Coolooa National Park and was underpinned by the strategic use of their creativity and artistry.  A conversation, a coincidence and subsequent research have inspired me and caused me to appreciate anew the importance of artistry for awareness and activism.  So what has inspired these current ruminations?

At a recent Noosa Museum heritage forum I once again met John and Frances Windolf, well known Coolum-based historians.  I had met them last year when they came to see our rehearsed reading of George Landen Dann’s ‘The Orange Grove‘, with John sharing his personal stories of having known George and the woman on whom that play’s lead character was based.  A couple of weeks later I spent a lovely Saturday morning with John and Frances and one of the things they shared with me was some information about George’s involvement in the campaigns to prevent sand mining on the coast in the 1960s and 70s.  John recalled George playing a particularly important role in the lead up to a major decision that was made at the mining warden’s office in Gympie in the early 1970s (as that is where the petitions and cases were heard following on from Gympie’s gold rush history).

Since that time I have been trying to find out what the specific decision was and have trawled through various hansards and other material online, so far with no luck. HOWEVER, what I did come across is the important role that a number of artists and creatives played in this whole campaign and in particular the role played by the founders of the Wildlife Preservations Society of Queensland (WPSQ).  These included the well-known poet Judith Wright, Caloundra based artist/writer/campaigner Kathleen McArthur, environmentalist David Fleay and Jacaranda press publisher David Clout.

The coincidence occurred when I was browsing the Queensland history second-hand books at our local Berkelouw’s bookstore in Eumundi with my friend Kate Foy and she discovered John Sinclair’s ‘Fraser Island and Coolooa’ book. Delving further into the same section I discovered three of Kathleen McArthur’s books, one of them signed by her.  What a find! I knew that Kathleen McArthur had been a well known environmentalist and wildflower artist and had lived at Caloundra for much of her life. I had not realised the extent of the role she and Judith Wright and the WPSQ had played in Noosa and Cooloola campaigns as well. Over these holidays I’ve been reading Kathleen’s ‘Living on the Coast’, as well as Margaret Somerville’s biography of Kathleen ‘Wildflowering‘ and also some of Judith Wright’s biographical work and poems. They confirm the importance of a visit Kathleen and Judith’s family paid to the Noosa region in 1953 and in particular that walk to the top of Mt Timbeerwah, one that is not too far away from where we live.  I hope to post other material and discoveries from my reading in the future but here is a little bit of artistry to conclude this post.  From Judith Wright’s poem ‘Cooloola’, extracts of which were used in the campaigning to save the natural environment of the area:

The blue crane fishing in Cooloola’s twilight
has fished there longer than our centuries.
He is the certain heir of lake and evening,
and he will wear their colour till he dies.


Those dark-skinned people who once named Cooloola
knew that no land is lost or won by wars,
for earth is spirit: the invader’s feet will tangle
in nets there and his blood be thinned by fears.

Judith Wright, 1969

Project Eliza

Project Eliza

Project Eliza – creative writing responses to the exhibition

POSTSCRIPT: The workshop process worked very well and there were some beautiful pieces of work written in response to Judith’s paintings. Most of these were shared at a promenade theatre performance by Gail Forrer, Catherine Gamble, Irene Waters, Noel & Lorraine Bird and myself. I’d like to see this work developed further at some stage but in the meantime this is the collection of pieces as presented. Collected Work – Project Eliza 26 Sept

Related Media: ABC Sunshine Coast Radio interview with Mary-Lou Stephens, 1 Sept 2014

Workshops: Saturday Sept 6 or Sept  20 from 10-2
Optional rehearsal for presentation: Friday 26 Sept from 12-4
Participants will be invited to respond to Judith Law’s art works to create their own creative writing pieces.  Working in the genre of creative nonfiction they will combine personal responses and factually based information into work that may be shared dramatically. They will be guided through a process of responding, creating and sharing.

Participants are also invited to bring along their smart phone or tablet and to publish directly to a Placestories site.   They also have the option of participating in a promenade presentation of writing generated throughout the time of the exhibition to accompany the rehearsed reading of ‘Figments of Eliza’ on September 26.

Figments of Eliza (Rehearsed reading) + promenade presentation of Project Eliza – Sept 26 – 5.30 – 7.0 pm
Figments of Eliza was written by Dr Sue Davis as part of the Sunshine Coast NeoGeography project in 2010 following several months of research and blogging in the role of Eliza Fraser.   It follows the trials and tribulations of Eliza Fraser from the shipwreck in May 1836 through to her rescue near Lake Cootharaba in August.  Figments of Eliza will feature Sunshine Coast performer Mary Eggleston, and soundscape by Dr Leah Barclay.

Biographical note:
Dr Sue Davis is a Senior Lecturer at CQUniversity, Noosa. She has been devising and writing scripts for more than 20 years, many in her prior professional life as a drama educator and Performing Arts Head of Department and more recently as facilitator and director for various regional performance projects. Sue has presented and published her work about drama and new media at state, national and international level.

Bookings for the workshops and performance are $10 each and can be made at Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre: Ph (07) 53296580

Judith Laws stunning series of Eliza Fraser paintings are going to be on show at the Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre from August 20 – October 11,2014. Since first we met through our shared interest in creative works exploring the female perspective on the Eliza Fraser story, Judith has added a new set of paintings to the series and with her husband Rex Backhaus-Smith published a book of the complete set.  The exhibition opens on August 22 and I am going to be doing some related creative writing workshops and presentations under the title ‘Project Eliza’.  More details in another post! RSVP for the launch and other events to the Butter Factory on (07) 53296580

Beauty & Tragedy on Fraser Shores - Judith Laws Eliza Fraser exhibition and related events

Beauty & Tragedy on Fraser Shores – Judith Laws Eliza Fraser exhibition and related events

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