JUNE, 2001


Gardens 2001 Congress

What's in a Name

Seats in the Gardens

Chinese Calligraphy, Brush Painting and Nature

An Elusive Resident of our Gardens


Gardens 2001 Congress

2001 congress

Guests at Gardens 2001 Congress

(Photo: Barry Brown)

Many Friends and Guides from the ANBG were involved with this very successful conference held in April. Robin Nielsen, Director of ANBG, and Virginia Berger, Secretary of the Council of the Heads of Botanic Gardens, thank all those who volunteered with assistance during the Congress. Virginia was impressed by the overwhelming initial response from Friends which showed what a high degree of commitment the Friends have to the Gardens.


Seats in the Gardens
June Foster, Volunteer Guide

On a hot morning in January this year I could see a flowering tree at some distance from the Main Path in the Gardens, so I went to have a closer look. Down a side path I found a garden bench tucked away among small hakea trees. An inscription on a small metal plaque read :

On a hot morning in January this year I could see a flowering tree at some distance from the Main Path in the Gardens, so I went to have a closer look. Down a side path I found a garden bench tucked away among small hakea trees. An inscription on a small metal plaque read :

The Phyllis Nicholson Seat. Sometimes I sit and think
and sometimes I just sit.

Now I began to notice other memorial seats as I walked through the Gardens, and thought it a practical way to commemorate people or events. I have written these light-hearted verses in grateful remembrance of all who have provided us with our Garden seats.

Seats in the Gardens

(A villanelle in their praise)

Walk in the Gardens, relax here at ease.
Wooden seats welcome, in shade or sun-lit.
Remember old friends, be thankful for trees.

The main path is wide; walkers, in twos and threes,
Small children in tow can comfortably fit.
Walk in the Gardens, relax here with ease.

Sturdy seat benches were once living trees;
Hand-crafted, fine timber grain shows merit.
Remember good friends, give thanks for our trees.

Marvel at bird life ... (keep to the path, please)
Rosellas flash crimson, fairy wrens flit.
Nearby in the Gardens, see them with ease.

Drink in the beauty, rest walk-weary knees.
Breathe in the fresh air with renewed spirit.
Remember our friends, be thankful for trees.

Here we enjoy surroundings that please.
Sit awhile and think, or maybe just sit.
Walk in the Gardens, relax here at ease.
Remember all friends and give thanks for trees.



Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit
(Photo : Anne Phillips)



What's in a Name?

Another Black Wattle!!

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

The Friends' Newsletter No. 37 of March 2001 referred to Callicoma serratifolia, family Cunoniaceae. It is called Black Wattle because it was used by the early settlers in Sydney in the 'wattle and daub' process of building their dwellings. Later, as Callicoma became less available, the term 'wattle' was used for the Acacia species used for this process.

One of the wattles is another Black Wattle, Acacia mearnsii (previously known as A. mollissima). The type of this species was collected by E. Mearns from a cultivated specimen in East Africa and named after him in 1925. It was not realised at the time that it was an Australian species. Edgar Alexander Mearns (1856-1916) was a doctor in the U.S. Army. In 1909 he was in charge of naturalists with the Smithsonian African Expedition.

A. mearnsii is a small spreading tree of up to 15 metres high, with smooth greenish to blackish bark. The leaves are bipinnate and dark green and with a raised gland at the junction of each pinnae pair. The yellow flowers in globular heads can be seen in Spring/Summer.

This species occurs scattered across most of southern Victoria and into New South Wales on the coast and tablelands to the north of Sydney. It also occurs in South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.

A. mearnsii is a widely cultivated and fast-growing species. In South Africa it is a major pest along river banks, having escaped from cultivation for tanbark.

The first shipment of tanning material (extract of bark) was made from Sydney to England in 1823. The extract was made by converting small branches, thinnings and tops too small for stripping for the bark, into a strong fluid extract called tannage. The cut-up material was steamed and the fluid flowed on to evaporating sheets where a thick treacly extract was formed. To prevent the tannage contacting iron, wooden vats were used.

Bark was stripped from Acacia trees and harvested, particularly in Tasmania and Victoria. The first full cargo of bark was shipped from Westernport (adjacent to Port Phillip, Victoria) in 1835. The wattle bark industry developed very rapidly and there was concern that the indiscriminate stripping of trees caused by the increasing demand for bark in Continental an English markets was likely to lead to the early extermination of the species and a reduction in the supply necessary for the home trade. Hence in 1878 a Board of Enquiry was formed in Victoria to investigate and report on the situation (an early example of an environmental impact statement!) At that time there were 96 tanneries in Victoria, and these needed about 15,000 tonnes of bark annually.

The Board was extremely critical of the way in which the once plentiful wattle resource had been exploited in the absence of adequate regulations and law enforcement. It recommended that wattles be planted, that strippers be licensed, that the stripping season be fixed, and that there be a limit to the size of the trees to be stripped.

Much later the pressure on wild Acacias was reduced when leather tanning techniques were developed which did not require the use of wattle bark. Later, the need for tanning decreased because of the reduced demand for leather following the increased use of plastics for footwear, furniture and vehicle upholstery.

In the landscaped area outside, and to the left (south), of the main gates of the Australian National Botanic Gardens is a planting of 20 A. mearnsii close to the road leading uphill to the Telstra Tower. In the wattle's flowering season this will provide a colourful backdrop to this Section.



Chinese Calligraphy,Brush Painting and Nature

Janet Twigg-Patterson, Volunteer Guide


Kookaburra by Janet Twigg-Patterson



The arrival and establishment of the Chinese Ch'an Buddhist monks from India to China at the beginning of the 6th century AD marked the introduction of Ch'an Buddhism. Part of the Ch'an Buddhist philosophy involved the practice of the art of calligraphy and painting. In the 8th century AD the monks travelled through China, Korea and Japan spreading their teachings, now known in Japan as Zen Buddhism.

The Chinese attitude toward life lies in the belief in the secret of life, namely the Ch'i, the life force or the ever-evolving circle of life. The Taoist philosophy 'The Way', or the basic Chinese belief in an order and harmony in nature has also a very important influence in Chinese calligraphy and painting. The human being is seen as an integral part of nature, as important as the sky, mountains, water, trees, birds, animals and insects.

There are many different styles in Chinese painting including the outline method, and 'boneless' method (Mo Ku style, no outline). Landscape, figures, birds, and flowers and animals are all painted using both these methods. The Chinese artist's way is to observe, absorb and study nature and then to paint from the mind. Birds and flowers are painted in a very expressive form without background, as simple compositions taking into account the subject, the space around the subject, the calligraphy and the seal or signature. Landscapes usually depict man as a very small figure, a small part of the larger scene of nature. Landscape and the Mo Ku literary styles are the most revered. No mistakes are allowed in the Mo Ku style and that often means much thought and practice.

The four most revered subjects in Chinese brush painting are The Bamboo, depicting resiliency and strength, The Orchid depicting morality and integrity, The Chrysanthemum depicting moral virtue and The Plum Blossom depicting excellence. These four subjects were honourably named the 'Four Paragons' or the 'Four Gentlemen', and are thought to represent characteristics of the perfect and noble gentleman.

The materials traditionally used in Chinese brush and ink painting are water, water container, water dropper, china palette, handmade brushes, brush rest, handmade paper and woven silk, Chinese ink stick and stone to grind the ink, watercolour and cadmium red paste for the carved stone seal for the signature. The ink stick, considered to be very precious, is made from pine soot, fish oil and natural glue. It is set into a carved mould, which can be in various shapes and often decorated with gold, calligraphy and scenery. The blackness or density of the ink is very important and there are special areas of pine trees in China from which the ink sticks are manufactured.

Today Chinese calligraphy and painting continues with the centuries-old Taoist and Buddhist philosophies and techniques. Contemporary ideas and subjects from the East and the West are being introduced into Chinese, Japanese and Korean calligraphy and painting.

More and more Western artists are introducing the techniques into their painting and decoration on pottery and fabrics. Claude Monet was influenced by the bright colours and linear expression in the Japanese prints that flooded the market in Paris in the late 19th century. Brett Whitely went to Japan and studied the Zen Buddhism Sumi (ink painting) painting techniques, which late influenced his paintings and designs on pottery.

Learning 'the Way of the Brush' can give the Western artist an extra dimension, vitality and spontaneity to their works of art. In trying to understand the philosophy and practice of observing and absorbing the Ch'i in nature will create a calmer more thoughtful, meditative state in which to draw and paint. This 'Way' will also promote calm in life along with an enhanced appreciation and understanding of nature whether or not you are an artist. Try it while enjoying the Australian National Botanic Gardens!



!!An Elusive Resident of our Gardens !!

Rosalind Wallace, Volunteer Guide

During one of my recent (mid-May) wanderings, I met one of our Gardens' most elusive residents. It showed a fine disregard for both my presence and my lecture on the benefits of hibernation in such cold weather. I am talking, of course, about the echidna (Tacyglossus aculeatus).


Photo by Barry Marshall, National Cards

The reasons for this particular echidna's activity could have been many. Most echidnas, by now, will have found a secure hollow to spend the winter months. This one may have been juvenile and not had enough time to put on weight, or maybe it was on the lookout for a new territory, or perhaps it had been sick and was not in good enough condition to settle down for the winter. The truth is, not very much research has been done at all on these extraordinary animals, with the notable exception of Dr Peggy Rismiller on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

Stricly speaking, echidnas do not hibernate but enter what is known as torpor. This is a short-term affair where the animal can dropits body temperature from its normal 32-36 C down as low as 5 C depending on the ambient temperature. This low normal body temperature represents a low metabolic rate which uses a third less energy than a similar sized placental mammal. More savings are gained by dropping the body temperature even further. Researchers who radio-tracked an echidna in the Australian Alps found one buried under snow and assumed it was dead until it later slowly came back to life on its way back to the labroatory to be pickled. On the other end of the scale, as echidnas neither seweat nor pant, they keep cool in summer by searching out microclimates such as hollow logs, disused burrows or under houses.

The name echidna comes from the Greek goddess Ekhidna who was half snake and half woman. This describes the reptilian features of the echidna, e.g. egg laying, combined with the mammalian characteristics, e.g. suckling.

I grew up calling these animals 'spiny anteaters' which now seems to have fallen out of use. It probably is a good thing, as their diet has since been discovered to be much more varied than just ants. In their pursuit of food they have two seemingly large inconveniences to overcome: no teeth and a mouth opening smaller than a one cent piece. To overcome this they crush their food (favouring energy rich grubs, larvae and flightless ants and termites), slurp it up with their sticky tongue and then crush it further between bony plates on the roof of the mouth and the tongue. This process can be very efficient with a three kilogram echidna able to ingest up to 200 grams of food in ten minutes.

While echidnas have very poor 4yesight they have an acute sense of smell and can detect approaching danger by feeling vibrations through the ground. So next time on your wanderings when you hear that telltale heavy rustling in the undergrowth, stand stock still, wait silently and if you're very lucky you may be honoured with a visit by one of the most extraordinary mammals in Australia and, indeed, the whole world.

Further reading :

Augee, Michael and Gooden, Brett (1993), Echidnas of Australia and New Guinea.
New South Wales University Press, Kensington, Australia

Rismiller, Peggy (1999) The Echidna: Australia's Enigma. Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, South Australia.



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Compiled 20 November, 2001 by Shirley McKeown :