The Bernard Fennessy "What's in a Name" Award  2007

First Prizewinners :  Sue and Byron Serjeantson                          Joint Runners-up :   June Foster      Edwin Rice

First Prize Winner

Sue and Byron Serjeantson

Boronia molloyae (Tall Boronia)


                                                                                                Photo by Murray Fagg

Tall Boronia, or Boronia molloyae, is one of the few Australian plants named after a woman. B. molloyae, found in Section 150 of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, flowers from October to January in quite spectacular sprays of dense, bell-shaped, deep pink flowers. It is valued for the retention of colour as the flowers age and for the length of time the flowers are held. To find Section 150, follow the signs to Black Mountain Tower to cross over the wooden bridges in the Correa Genus Section. Then cross the bitumen road to Section 150, Rutaceae.

The genus Boroniae, in the family of Rutaceae, is almost exclusively Australian in its natural distribution and is highly ornamental. There are approximately 95 species of boronia. Many boronia are cultivated for the perfume industry and indeed, often make their presence felt initially, in the Australian bush or in the Gardens, through their pleasing and unmistakable perfume. Brown Boronia, B. megastigma, is intensely fragrant and valued in the Australian cut-flower industry, as is B. heterophylla, which has good fragrance and vibrant pink flowers.

Boronia is named after Francesco Barone (1769-94), the Italian assistant of the English botanist, John Sibthorp. Barone died at the age of 25 when he fell, apparently accidentally, from a window in Athens. Barone had no known connections with Australia. It was J.E. Smith who named the genus Boronia in 1798.

B. molloyae honours Mrs Georgiana Molloy (1805-43), an early settler in south-west Western Australia and plant collector at Augusta and in the Vasse River area. Georgiana made an enormous contribution to world scientific knowledge in her research into the wildflowers of Western Australia and their curative properties as gleaned from Aboriginal Australians.

Georgiana was exceptionally well-educated, being born into the affluent, upper middle class Kennedy family in England's Lake District. At the age of 24, Georgiana Kennedy married John Molloy, the illegitimate son of the Duke of York, brother of King George III. John was twice her age, but, with limited means of support, was determined to settle in Australia. The Molloys arrived in the Warrior at Rottnest Island in Western Australia on 30 March, 1830.

Governor Stirling urged the new settlers to go south to Augusta, together with their shipmates the Bussels (later of Busselton) and the Turners. At Augusta, the conditions were primitive. Georgiana's first baby was born without professional assistance and died some days later. She sought solace in the bush.

In late 1836, Georgiana received a letter from Captain John Mangles, a cousin of Lady Stirling and a retired sea-captain. Captain Mangles asked for specimens of Australian native seeds that he might grow in his garden in England.

The next seven years saw Georgiana Molloy collecting for the Captain, helped by Aboriginal Australians who understood medicinal plants. Her correspondence with Captain Mangles became important to her, especially given the intellectual isolation and hardship of the Australian bush.

The Molloys had six children, only one a boy. Baby John, at 19 months wandered off. Georgiana had tied a bell to his belt to keep track of him, because, like his mother, he was drawn to the bush. But suddenly, one morning, the bell stopped. John was gone. He had fallen down the family well. Once again, the solace of the bush saved Georgiana. It is poignant that the species named after her has bell-shaped flowers.

Georgiana Molloy was never acknowledged in the publications by Captain Mangles describing the flora of south-west Western Australia. She died at the age of 37 years, following childbirth. She had earlier written to Captain Mangles, in her last letter to him, 'I believe I have sent you everything worth sending.'

In 1844, one year after Georgiana's death, Bartling published a description of a tall boronia that he named B. elatior. But precedence prevails in the naming of plants. Later, it was discovered that there was an earlier request to Kew Gardens for the plant to be named after Mrs Molloy. James Drummond, the Government Naturalist in Western Australia, had written to Sir William Jackson Hooker at Kew, describing a boronia as tall "as the shoulder of a man riding on a horse." It was established that this description related to the plant previously known as B. elatior. And so Boronia molloyae recognises Georgiana Molloy's contribution to the early knowledge of wildflowers in south-western Australia and is a tribute to the respite of the bush in easing the terrible hardships of the early settlers.

Further reading :

Sharp F.A. (1996) Western Australian plant names and their meanings: a glossary.
University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, W.A.

Vries-Evans de S (1987) Pioneer women, pioneer land : yesterday's tall poppies.
Angus and Robertson Press, Sydney, N.S.W.

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Joint Runner-up

June Foster

Eucalyptus flindersii


E. flindersii in the Flinders Ranges                                                                         Photo by Brooker & Kleinig copyright ANBG


Whenever I walk along the Main Path at the Australian National Botanic Gardens I pause near marker 34 in the proteaceae Section 25 to pay homage to a small eucalypt tree which is growing with the shrubby grevilleas. It was planted in 1973 but the foliage is still within easy reach and I can see fruiting capsules on the upper branches. Below, in the leaf litter, small trees have sprung up. Hopefully they are seedlings of this grey mallee tree, Eucalyptus flindersii.

Mallee is an Ab original name given to multistemmed eucalypts which have a large woody rootstock (lignotuber) and an umbrella shaped canopy less than eight metres high. The name is also given to the dry areas of southern Australia where they are dominant, probably having evolved in a time of prolonged aridity.

Some mallee 'roots' may be seen in Section 211; they are enormous and only removed from the ground with great difficulty. The 'stump-jump' plough was invented for farmers wanting to plant food crops in Mallee regions and a 'root' would provide warmth for a week on the settler's hearth.

Eucalyptus flindersii was collected and named by Robert Brown (1772-1858), a naturalist who accompanied Matthew Flinders aboard the Investigator, on a voyage of exploration, authorised by Sir Joseph Banks, when they sailed along the Great Australian Bight of our continent and entered Spencer Gulf. At the top of the gulf they saw the peaks of the magnificent Flinders Ranges in the distance and plant specimens were collected on the nearby stony inland ridges.

Matthew Flinders, English navigator and explorer, was born in Lincolnshire on 16 March, 1774. As a child he read Robinson Crusoe and dreamed of becoming an explorer. In 1789 he entered the Royal Navy and served as midshipman under Captain William Bligh on a voyage to the South Seas. Later he sailed to Port Jackson with George Bass, the ship's surgeon on the ship which brought Governor Hunter to the colony Together Bass and Flinders sailed and mapped the coastline to the south of Sydney and circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land (later named Tasmania). Flinders returned to England and published his Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass Strait ... and ... the Coasts of New South Wales, dedicate4d to Sir Joseph Banks. He married Ann Chappell on 17 April 1801 and three months later, with Bank's influence, he sailed on the Investigator on the above mentioned plant-collecting voyage. Little did he know that he would not return to his beloved wife until nine years later.

He is remembered as the first person to circumnavigate our continent and at his suggestion the name Australia was adopted. He was a humane commander, well respected by his crew and he persevered against all odds. The 3 ships he commanded were old and often not seaworthy and he endured shipwreck. On his return voyage to England he called at the French colony of Mauritius for repairs. Unfortunately England and France were at war and Flinders was kept there as a prisoner for almost seven years. The book My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill is based on this poignant story. The Last Farewell, a song by Roger Whitaker, is about his return to his wife

For I have loved you more dearly than all the spoken words can tell.

Broken in health, Matthew Flinders died four years after his return at forty years of age, dying the day after his book was published. He did not live to see his famous grandson, born in 1853, Sir Flinders Petrie, the Egyptologist renowned for his energy and Spartan lifestyle, excavated in England, Egypt and Palestine until well into his eighties, writing Seventy Years of Archeology. He must have been inspired by the life of his famous grandparent.

I, too, am inspired to read of the achievements of Matthew Flinders in his short lifetime. And I admire his courage and humanity and his literary writings. He wrote a memoir called Trim. It is the story of the ship's cat which was his companion when he circumnavigated Australia.

Matthew Flinders, like the grey mallee which bears your name, we honour your tenacity and perseverance in adversity. Your birthdate, 16 March, in the same week as Canberra Day, could be celebrated, too, for the explorer who gave Australia its name.

A Mallee Tree Eucalyptus flindersii

With shoulders bent, the slender trunks
Wear cloaks of sombre greenery.
They rise up from a 'mallee root' -
Foundations for a century.

Withstanding drought and fire and flood
and scorching winds that dry the blood.
We could not stand so patiently,
Day in, day out, from year to year;
Without complaint or anguished cry,
Without collapse or show of fear.

A countryman's considered tough -
The malleee tree's of sterner stuff.
The Mallee soil is powdery red,
Enriched with iron, life-giving earth.

This will provide, survive, empower
To overcome, survive, from birth.
With grit and grim determination -
An 'Aussie Battler' for our nation.

                                                       June Foster

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Joint Runner-up

Edwin Rice

Acacia maidenii


                                                                                                                                                                       Photo by Ann Rawson  


The wattle tree, Maiden's Wattle, stands near the edge of the path, in Section 2 up by the Eucalypt Lawn. An old tree with a much-pruned grey-brown trunk, its more recently-dead limbs show it is in the twilight of its life. A search in the leaf mould under the canopy reveals the stumps of other, still earlier plantings - perhaps the forebears of what we see now. Standing back, we might imagine this old tree to be part of a family group. It has around it a dozen or more mature wattles, all the same species. They are smoothly barked, though lightly fissured, with diameters of around 30 centimetres. Some straight specimens rise to ten metres tall, others are leaning out and away, one even growing horizontally. Still further out, on the edge of the group, are the newest generation; suckers and salings, hundreds of them, with their supple grey-green stems, and very gently curved phyllodes, their new growth tipped with red.

In 1892 Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, then in his late sixties, was approaching the end of his incredibly productive life when he named a newly discovered Acacia after 33-year-old Mr Joseph Henry Maiden, Curator of the technological Museum, Sydney. They had known each other professionally for some years and in recent times had collaborated on descriptions of botanical specimens. But the naming of Acacia maidenii was, I believe, more than just a simple professional courtesy; it was a clear mark of respect and encouragement on von Mueller's part towards a promising beginner in the field of botany. Von Mueller himself had arrived in Australia from Germany in 1848, with qualifications in Pharmacy (which included botany), becoming Victorian Government Botanist in 1853. From the start of his career he had recognised and promoted the economic potential of Victorian plants, in particular the eucalypts and acacias for their medicinal properties, their timber, tannins and gums. He sent seeds worldwide to collectors and botanical gardens and in return imported species exotic to Australia - the blackberry he was particularly pleased to establish. In the process he established for himself (and Australian botany) a valuable international reputation. Now it appeared that the 'baron of economic botany' had again been picked up, and again by a newcomer to Australia.

J.H. Maiden had left his chemistry studies in England to come to Australia in 1881 for his health. He quickly found a position, at twenty two years old, as the Curator of the new Technological Museum in Sydney Having an interest in botany he profited well from his association with von Mueller, whom he first approached in 1883 for timer samples for the Museum. He also received encouragement from Charles Moore, the Director of the Botanic Gardens, and from the botanist, the rev. Dr William Woolls. Making himself an expert in economic botany, Maiden began publishing. One of his earliest efforts, in 1889, was The Useful Native Plants of Australia, a work that drew together a great deal of both published and unpublished knowledge on the subject, in which he gave full credit to von Mueller and his other mentors. This was followed in 1890 by Wattles and Wattle Barks, a publication designed to encourage, through detailed example, the cultivation of wattles for the tanning industry, and one which drew heavily on Maiden's ability as a chemist to analyse the tannin content of the barks he tested. Chronologically, it was soon after this that A. maidenii was named.

Four years later Maiden was appointed Government Botanist and Director of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney, posts he was to occupy for 28 years. It was also the year that Baron von Mueller died. Maiden's major botanical works in the years to come were the eight volume A Critical Revision of the genus Eucalyptus, and his similarly imposing Forest Flora of New South Wales. He also published in trade journals and newsletters, where his knowledge would be accessible to the broader public. His comments, designed to stimulate use o colonial forestry products, entitled 'Some ornamental New South Wales timbers', for example, were published in the Building and Engineering Journal, the Australasian Building and Contractors' News and in A Timber Merchant. Similarly, the Agricultural Gazette carried his articles on topics as diverse as colonial timbers for wine casks and walking sticks, flower farming for perfumes and medicines, and on accidental stock poisonings.

Maiden described and named over 300 new species of Australian plants, more than one third of them acacias. He repaid the compliment to von Mueller with A. muelleriana in 1893, and continued in a similar vein to name species after people he respected. A. clunies-rossiae, A. kettlewelliae and A. sowdenii were all named after people instrumental in helping him to establish Wattle Day on a national footing, while A. dorothea is named after his daughter. Eleven years earlier she had been christened Acacia Dorothy, and in naming a species after her he said that it was 'in fulfillment of a long standing promise'.

A. maidenii is referred to by different writers these days as being either a tall shrub or a small tree. Maiden himself, a man of short stature, chose to refer to it as a tree of medium size. It has phyllodes 10-20 cm long, narrow lanceolate to falcate. Loosely flowered spikes from 2.5 to 6 cm long bear pale yellow or cream blossom, from summer through to autumn. The trees in the Gardens were just finishing flowering when I visited in mid-May.

Maiden was survived by his four daughters, but his name was immortalised by the creation of 35 specific and two generic names in his honour, not to mention the shortest street in Yarralumla. His 2001 biography, The Little Giant, takes its name from a poem written on the occasion of his retirement - a year before his death. Its concluding lines are :

... Fettered by age is the giant, and marked for the axe is the tree

      But though the woodsman draws near, yet has the tree borne fruit.
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March 08 newsletter articles