I caught up with my friend Laura, set designer and illustrator (see her beautiful hand painted stationary here) during my stay in Perth. Laura’s illustrations recently feature botanical motifs so I invited her to come along with me to view some of the earliest illustrations of native flora in Kings Park held at the State Library.
I was searching for the earliest illustrations in the collection and came across three albums by Albert John Hall, an amateur botanical artist who first came to Western Australia from England in 1895. The illustrations were made over the period from 1918 to 1930 and are presented in Victorian postcard albums with accompanying notes detailing the specimen’s name, location and date.
The Kangaroo Paw, a native species to the south-west, is featured in the West Australian coat of arms, flanking the royal crown.
Looking through the volumes of illustrations, the style and level of detail fluctuated, it left me wondering if other artists had contributed to the albums.
Kings Park, is located on Mt Eliza which overlooks the Swan River and the city centre which is less than a mile away. Not many cities have their botanical park in such close proximity to the CBD; it is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, home to high numbers of unique species of native flora over a 400 hectare site. That is 1.5 square miles for those who are imperially minded.
A week after photographing the illustrations and maps at the library with Laura, my family and I went to Kings Park for our final get together before returning to the U.K. These are the views from the edge of the park towards the city and Swan River leading out towards Fremantle…
For thousands of years Kings Park was known to the Indigenous people as Mooro Katta or Kaarta Gar-up and was, and is, an important ceremonial and cultural site. In 1831 it was set aside for ‘public purposes’, initially it had been called ‘Perth Park’ but in 1901 it became ‘Kings Park’ to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne.
In my childhood, we would picnic as a family in the park on birthdays or other celebrations (our crammed limousine took us there on prom night). On the day I visited, despite being winter, the park was heaving with tourists, or perhaps avid Pokémon-Go fans. Perth’s characteristic sunshine and blue skies lit up the more ethereal elements of the landscape like these native paper daisies.
You can just make out the charred looking silhouette of a black Kangaroo’s Paw (Macropidia fuliginosa) angling out of the drift of paper daisies in the image above.
Sadly I didn’t have enough time to fully explore the park, concentrating mainly on the periphery before heading back to my sister’s to pack and fly out that evening. Even within this small area there is a massive contrast between the representative landscapes of different West Australian regions that are planted out sympathetically at the park.
The Giant Boab tree below was gifted to the park in 2008 by the Gija people, the traditional land owners in the Kimberley region where the trees grow. It made an epic journey of almost 2000 miles to arrive at its new home.
These vignettes of the plants of the Mulga region show the Australian landscape can be ethereal, romantic and delicate and at the same time equipped to withstand the harsh environment and poor conditions.
If you are lucky enough to visit the botanical park, allow yourself at least a couple of days to do it justice. The park shows the beauty of our native flora; slowly I think people are starting to use these plants in their gardens now they can experience them in all their splendour here at Kings Park.