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Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to pack a picnic lunch and be off for the day. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. Instead we head for the back roads and byways, where many surprises are found.

Our own slice of heaven lies in the small semi-rural village of Samford. Situated in Queensland’s beautiful Samford Valley, its surrounding lush green meadows, rolling hills, two state forests and the majestic North Pine River, are offset by a counterpoint of four mountains, part of the D’Aguilar Range. High in the hills of remote Upper Wight’s Mountain Road rests an early treasure, Queensland’s last remaining Aboriginal bora ring. Thankfully this has been gazetted as a reserve, and the Queensland University’s Anthropology Section has accepted nomination as its trustee. The ring is maintained by the local Rotary Club.

Prior to European settlement, the Samford Valley and Pine Rivers area was home to a number of Aboriginal clans. These all belonged to the Turrbul, Kabi and Wakka language groups. The basic unit of Aboriginal society was a self governing clan of about 70 persons.  All were responsible for their own homeland. Their ties to the land were unique as they believed that each one belonged to their land—not the land to them. A tribe included several clans, all sharing a distinctive ceremonial and a common dialect.

The Samford Bora Grounds comprise a large man made ring 26m in diameter, enclosed by a raised earthen mound. From this central ring a sunken path, 700m long and known as the Sacred Way, is linked to a second smaller ring. The rings were dug out by hand with sharp sticks and stone tomahawks and the earth was carried on sheets of bark to the outer mound. Women took part in the ceremonies at the large ring but were forbidden to walk beyond it. If this law was disobeyed, the woman’s penalty was death.

In the ceremonial bora rings, neighbouring tribes gathered regularly to celebrate and perform important tribal rituals. At the Samford Bora Ground the boys, age 12 to 15 were transformed into young men—Kippas. Their noses were pierced with a small sharp spear and then plugged. The boys received tribal body paint markings and were given new names. This ceremony lasted for several weeks and marked their official graduation into manhood.

The Samford Bora Grounds were last used by the Aboriginal clans in the 1870s when the Wight family, living on the next ridge, heard their corroborees. Occasionally we still visit the large central ring as this is the only section now being cared for. Here a deep quiet always lingers, and I experience an eerie feeling when I stop to reflect here. Thankfully this archaeological site still exists to remind and surprise us of our rich, Aboriginal cultural heritage.

 

 

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Bark and leaves

This tree may have been planted as early as 1917 when the first settlers arrived in Samford Village. A beautiful, very old eucalyptus tree, Eucalyptus mellidora, stood in the bottom corner of our land, bordering the street near our mailbox. It had a large trunk and many branches, always covered with shards of hanging, paper-like bark. Its dark green leaves were long and slender—typical of all eucalyptus foliage.

Eucalyptus mellidora

When our tree blossomed, short bristles of white stamens erupted from its green seed bulbs. It was an amazing sight when white garlands festooned the entire tree. In its prime the magnificent canopy must have been very large,  but when the overhead power lines were installed along the street its crown was deemed to be, ‘too high.’ Off went its entire canopy, leaving this mighty tree wearing what appeared to be a crew cut. With the passing of time more and more branches were trimmed away until the original form of the tree had been completely altered. By the time we purchased the property, our tree resembled a  wounded and shapeless warrior – one still clinging tenaciously to life.

Marked for death

During this past year a neighbour informed us that he had reported our tree to the local council. “Could be dangerous, as when I back my car out onto the street someone might hit me because they couldn’t see me. It won’t be long now until the thing is gone.” Several days later my heart sank at the discovery of a large, blood red circle painted on its trunk. Our proud, wounded warrior had been officially marked for execution.

It didn’t take long for the council trucks to arrive, to hear the the chain saws gnaw into its main trunk, and to watch the branches being sheared away as all was fed into the hungry maw of a wood-chipping machine. Whenever we collect the mail or leave home, passing the space where a once-proud eucalyptus tree had grown, all that remains is its stump. It still leaves a pang of loneliness.

Tree stump for the blog

I miss my tree.

From now on I will be publishing one blog post every two weeks. The next post will appear on August 19th.

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The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles – oh, what a view!
From a vantage point high on the coastal cliffs, Australia’s Great Southern Ocean stretches away. As the ocean heaves, it smashes mighty white capped waves against the limestone cliffs. A fierce wind, straight from the Antarctic continent, carved these cliffs into razor sharp formations. Centuries of strong gales have sculpted weathered inlets, small islands, and archways that frame amazing views of the turbulent sea. To my left, a rolling bank of dark clouds announces the arrival of a coastal scud. This sudden, localized storm sheds grey curtains of rain that blend the sea and sky into a pewter coloured horizon. The water-washed sky above the cliffs offers no relief either, as it may be days before the warmth of the sun can lift the heart again.

Above this coastal drama, the Great Ocean Road—a two lane highway—threads its way along the Victorian cliffs. Stretching from Port Fairy in the west to Moonlight Heads in the east, a strip of beach known by all as the Shipwreck Coast, meanders below. The wreckage of some two hundred ships rest here beneath the waves. Dense fog, strong gales, high seas, human error, and even foul play, have caused the destruction of these vessels. Sadly only a few survivors lived to tell their stories.

To the east of the Loch Ard Gorge a group of famous limestone stacks appear—the Twelve Apostles. Carved into grotesque shapes, they stand offshore in the pounding waves. These magnificent structures were formed when the raging sea undermined the soft sand and wet limestone foundations. One by one they separated from the cliffs only to shrink and finally collapse. Once there were twelve of these grand vertical structures until erosion, the elements, and passing time, reduced their number to eight.

Here in the wild heart of the coast, tourists travelling down the Great Ocean Road toward Port Campbell can follow the Historic Shipwreck Trail. This has been marked by twenty-five signposts of the best known wrecks where deadly weather, strong seas and a rock-lined shore created a perilous journey. Even the early Australian explorer, Matthew Flinders, has declared, “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline than this.”

If you have not visited the Shipwreck Coast yet, put it on your bucket list. Once this magnificent scene is viewed it will never be forgotten.

 

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Dear friends, writers and fellow bloggers,

Regretfully this will be my final blog post to Nature as Art and Inspiration. I began writing this blog in 2012 and to date I have published weekly. As my 81st birthday has recently come and gone and the constraints of time are upon me, I have decided that  the day has arrived to hang up my blogger’s hat. Nature as Art and Inspiration will remain online but no new material will be added. While its creation has been a labour of love and brought me great joy, the time has come to pursue other activities.

I have enjoyed meeting so many of you through your inspiring blog posts. May your endeavours continue to attract new followers. I’d like to express my thanks to WordPress for providing an internet platform for us to meet and share our creative work. It has all been great fun!

Thank you for supporting this blog.
My best wishes to each and all for your continued success.

Mary Mageau
Writer

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William Kilburn

Browsing through the gift shop in the Queensland Art Gallery, I discovered a large booklet, “18th Century English Floral Patterns,” by William Kilburn. Its contents included twelve elegant pieces of gift wrapping paper. ‘Wouldn’t my friends and family members enjoy receiving a present wrapped in one of these beautiful papers?’  So into my carry bag it went, then off to the counter to be purchased.

William Kilburn (1745 – 1818) was born in Capel-Street, Dublin to the Irish architect Samuel Kilburn, and his wife, Sarah Johnston. As young William grew and developed, his emerging artistic talents led him into water colour painting and botanical drawing. While he was apprenticed to a fabric printer he also mastered sketching and engraving.

After his father’s death, William Kilburn decided to seek his fortune in England. He moved to Bermondsey, a district in south London, where he found living quarters near the Curtis nursery. Here he met William Curtis, an English botanist who was currently engaged in the publication of his Flora Londinensis. This six volume botanical work was devoted to illustrations and descriptions of plants growing wild in the environs of London. On discovering Kilburn’s amazing talents, Curtis immediately hired him to produce hand-coloured copperplate prints for the collection.

Botanical print

Before Kilburn entered into this engagement, he briefly returned to Ireland to bring his mother and sister back with him where they all settled into a comfortable home in Bermondsey. As its garden and green-house were situated near the Curtis nursery, he occupied himself as a botanical illustrator, by drawing and engraving plants for the Curtis Londinensis series.

Through the exacting discipline of botanical art, Kilburn refined his ability to reproduce plants in authentic detail. Yet the rigidity of the botanic art form also fuelled his desire to adopt a more creative, free-flowing expression – one that would ultimately carry him back to water colour painting and a career in design for printed fabrics. In this new endeavour he would fine fame and financial success, by owning and managing his own calico and muslin printing factory in Wallington, Surrey.

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Calico, the name given to any cotton cloth from the East, was first imported from Calicut, India. Kilburn’s factory in Surrey also produced muslin chintz—fine cotton and linen printed calicoes—of exceptionally fine quality. As many of his patterns played out against luxuriant dark-coloured grounds, the public found these new fabrics stunning and exciting.

Since many of Kilburn’s designs did not provide for small repeating patterns, these were reproduced with large woodblocks using a technique of calico printing that had originated in India. Kilburn’s hand-painted sketch would have been translated onto a woodblock by another craftsman. Outlines for each separate colour were made by eye on the blocks, resulting in the need for several blocks to complete the pattern  that was repeated across the surface of the cotton. Fortunately in the late eighteenth-century, dyes had also become available to the designer in a broad range of new colours.

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Flowers and arabesques had first been arranged by Kilburn on a white or pastel ground. Later he replaced ribbons with garlands tied into knots and bows. Finally his delicate seaweed and coral motifs, interwoven with leaves and flowers, suggested the identification of decoration with the creative life force itself. These later and richly patterned fabrics were expensive to purchase, costing a guinea per yard. One of his most beautiful floral/seaweed chintzes was presented to Queen Charlotte, wife of England’s King George III. Her gown was probably made when the textile was new and most fashionable, about 1790.

In 1786, Kilburn discovered that Ralph Yates, a London warehouse man, was regularly stealing and selling his designs to Peel & Co of Lancashire. This fabric printing company was copying Kilburn’s original designs and reproducing them on a cheaper fabric, as were factories in Manchester, Aberdeen and Carlisle. A trusted friend, Edmond Burke, presented a bill into Parliament, “To secure the calico printers, the copyright in original design.” This design copyright protection bill was passed in May, 1787, securing the legal right of ownership to Kilburn for his creative work.

V and A Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London holds a collection of 223 original water colour designs on paper in the Kilburn Album. Many are representations of native British plants, and demonstrate his skill both as a botanical illustrator and a creative designer. This collection is available for public viewing on request. A digital archive of Kilburn’s patterns is also accessible from the online V & A archives.

Even today  Kilburn is not forgotten, as the stunning beauty of his work is available for purchase from Maxwell & Williams designer home wares. The William Kilburn Collection of fine bone china tea pots, mugs, cups, saucers and plates are inexpensive and dishwasher safe. I own a little tea set featuring my favourite Kilburn pattern—Midnight Blossom—that is always a delight to use for special occasions. Thankfully, this is another means whereby Kilburn’s nature inspired work will live on, for many to enjoy.

Tea set

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Heavenly Hydrangeas, Leslie Fry
Photo courtesy of Leslie Fry

During our languid Australian summer, hydrangeas are impossible to resist as they flaunt their old-fashioned charms. With immense billowy blossoms, fat as a Christmas pudding, they beguile us with a dazzling array of colours—frosty whites, heart breaking blues, vibrant pinks, rich lavender and rose—sometimes all blooming together on the same plant.

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Stalwarts of Edwardian planting schemes, hydrangeas carry us back in memory to the gardens our grandmothers loved to cultivate. Despite their label today of being, ‘so Victorian,’ they still appear to delight us, particularly in country style, and cottage themed gardens.

Hydrangea, Carrington Hotel

Hydrangea macrophylla  produce their amazing spread of colours, in relation to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil in which they are planted. In an acid soil with a pH of 5 or less, hydrangea blossoms are always blue.

Blue hydrangeas

As the soil climbs toward the alkaline end with a pH of 7 or more, the flowers turn to mauve, pink, or even a dark red. White flowering hydrangeas will always remain white, regardless of the soil pH. Though most gardeners cultivate hydrangea blooms or mop heads for their colour, the foliage can be quite impressive too when rich dark green leaves display their serrated edges.

Originally native to Japan, hydrangeas create decorative floral bouquets. Cut them early in the morning with secatures, and plunge the stems immediately into cold water. This will wash away the sticky white sap that could prevent clean water from being drawn up into the stems. You don’t want your flowers to droop unhappily, do you? Fill a Christmas vase with these beauties, change their water often, and enjoy them as they last to welcome in the new year.

It’s good to be blogging  again after my Christmas/summer absence. This gave me the space where I could recharge my creative batteries, take many lovely photos, and find new topics and stories to share with you in the coming weeks. Thankfully I also found the idea for my next book that I’ll be writing  during 2015.  Nature always continues to inspire.

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Another smaller carpet flower photo

Every year in August, the Grand-Place in Brussels is covered by a glorious carpet of living flowers. Since 1971, the floral carpet has become part of Belgium’s tradition and in this year, thousands of begonias were used  to recreate the patterns found in a Turkish kilim (Persian carpet). The theme was chosen to pay tribute to 220,000 Turks who began arriving in Belgium under an immigration policy set up fifty years ago.

Begonias

    The beauty and diversity of each carpet is due to its major component, the bedding begonia – (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum). As these flowers of choice are robust, resistant to bad weather and strong sunshine, they guarantee the freshness and long life of the carpet. Begonias have strong foliage leaves presenting from dark green to a bronze-like red. Their rich floral colours range from white, through deep pink, to orange, yellow and red. The petals are of a solid colour or are striped, and double begonias produce blooms similar to full blown roses. This ornamental plant has been used throughout history in pageants, or for floral corsages and bouquets. Everywhere in Belgium begonias still brighten window sills, balconies and flower beds.

Working on the flower carpet

    The actual making of the carpet begins a year in advance to a plan worked out by the architect, E Stautmas. Once his design is complete, the number of flowers and colour combinations are drawn on the pavement. The next day, the spaces between the floral patterns are filled with rolled turf. Only then can the flowers be tightly packed together at 300 blooms per square meter, as 120 skilled gardeners assemble this giant floral jigsaw in just four hours.

brussels-grand-place-flower-carpet-2014

        Once completed, the celebrations begin as everyone arrives to enjoy its magnificence over the next  four days. Stautmas has stated that, “Nowhere is the carpet more beautiful and distinguished than in the unique and ancient surroundings of Brussel’s Grand-Place.” Isn’t this project inspiring?

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