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This is the foundation project and main content contributor for The Menindee Lakes Regional Development & Education Initiative. The projects primary focus is the flora of Menindee - 150th commemorative collection.
Project Initiator and Manager
Dr. Hermann Beckler, medical officer and botanical collector for the Burke and Wills Victorian Exploration Expedition (VEE) in 1860 was passionate about Australian plants and collecting was his preferred profession. He collected 120 plant specimens from around Menindee. Beckler’s collection is of huge scientific importance in the history of Australian plant research. 150 years on, botanical artists from Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and Bendigo Botanic Gardens aim to revive interest in his collection and contribute comparative material valuable for research in the plant sciences. Thirty artists will render accurate botanical illustrations over 3 years culminating in a collaborative exhibition in 2012.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beckler’s 1860 botanical collection by replicating his legacy and opening avenues for future scientific research.
The National Herbarium of Victoria founded by Ferdinand von Mueller in 1853, is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, housing over 1.2 million dried herbarium plant specimens in its collection.
In 1860 the ill fated Victorian Exploration Expedition, known as the Burke & Wills expedition, set off to be the first to cross the Australian continent from south to north. One of the initial intentions of this expedition incorporated documentation of scientific disciplines. At the recommendation of Ferdinand von Mueller, Dr. Hermann Beckler was appointed medical officer and botanical collector for the VEE. Whilst waiting for his replacement, after resigning from the VEE, Beckler collected 120 taxa from around Menindee in central western NSW at the edge of the known districts. This was the last white settlement the VEE party would encounter before braving the unknown inland desert country.
Beckler’s collection preceded the pastoral push, therefore there is significant scientific benefits to be gained by comparing the environment in 1860 with the post-pastoralism after 150 years of intensive farming and grazing.
Beckler’s plant contributions were used by both Mueller and Bentham to establish new taxa, and in preparation for some of our earliest publications on Australia’s flora.
Overall Beckler collected nearly 1,000 plant specimens for Victoria’s National Herbarium. About 10% of these were used to establish more than 45 new taxa.
In celebration of this significant 150th anniversary of the VEE, there is great interest in understanding more of Dr. Beckler and the plants he collected. This collection is of huge importance in the history of Australian plant research.
In particular, the recent exceptional wet season may reveal interesting discoveries. Other significant areas for subsequent study are the taxa-rich hotspots of Beckler’s collection in the Scropes Ranges and the Goningberri Ranges. Further to this initial case study in Menindee, research could extend into documenting studies on invasive weed and ROTAP species.
A pilot study trip was undertaken in October 2010, with ten artists, two of whom were botanists and one photographer.
150 years on, botanical artists from FRBG and BendigoBG aim to revive interest in Beckler’s collection. The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty group intends to collect and contribute comparative contemporary plant material along with scientifically accurate illustrations.
Artists aim to render 120 accurate botanical illustrations over 3 years resulting in a collaborative exhibition in 2012.
Feasibility for this project was evidenced by the collection of 16 herbarium-quality specimens with 15 paintings nearing completion.
Community engagement was established and media interest was aroused. Further local and national media engagement has been invited for future expeditions.
Media exposure included a two page spread in Mildura Times, three ABC rural radio programs including Bush Telegraph. Australian Geographic and The Age newspaper articles are being negotiated. There is interest for articles in Botanic News, Floreo, and Botanical Art Society Australia in Sydney and in Queensland.
· Travel to the site of Beckler’s last collection at Menindee in central western NSW.
· Assemble a comparative collection of contemporary herbarium specimens.
· Document and photograph the plant species.
· Illustrate the same species from the same geo coordinates, during the same time of year as Beckler collected during his visit in 1860.
Mali Moir – Overall Project Manager
There are 3 stages to the project
1/ Preparation and Research for project Beckler’s Botanical Bounty (BBB)
Time Required: Approximately 3 days
Secure NSW collection permit
Collect information on Beckler’s original 1860 plant list from Menindee area
Source and compile current data of all listed plant species in handout form
Collect and create maps of area including Google Earth overlay, correlating collection with geo coordinates
Design and print BBB Project labels to accompany all specimens collected
2/Onsite Field Work
Time Required: 7 days and 6 nights in Menindee NSW during October, November or December 2011 and 2012
Travel to location each year
Establish accommodation and work room for artists, project manager, botanist, student botanist and photographer
Conduct field studies in the form of identification, collection and documentation of chosen species
Assist artists and botanists with specimens
Assist artists in initial work to sketch, paint and illustrate chosen plant species
Compile and manage list of artworks and artists with plant species and herbarium specimens
3/Post Field Work
Time Required: Approximately 4 days
· Manage and maintain list of artworks and artists with plant species and herbarium specimens
· Coordinate data and image capture for Google Earth overlay maps
· Capture plant collection data onto spreadsheet compatible with MELSR
· Manage and care for plant collection
· Coordinate and liaise with The National Herbarium Victoria regarding hand over of collection and data
· Oversee illustration of botanical specimens
The re-compilation of an historical plant collection provides an important longitudinal study making it an invaluable resource for scientists, land managers and historians.
These outcomes will help raise awareness of Beckler’s role in the Burke and Wills expedition and engage the public in its botanical importance during this 150th anniversary.
· Render 120 accurate botanical illustrations over 3 years by approximately 30 botanical artists
· Provide images of paintings for the State Botanical Collection, free of copyright
· Make available photographic documentation of plant species and habitats to the National Herbarium of Victoria and New South Wales for use in research and/or publications
· Engage botanists and environmentalists, including students, during the collection phase
· Gift contemporary plant collection to the National Herbarium of Victoria and the National Herbarium of New South Wales. Recent valuation has indicated that the worth of a pressed herbarium specimen is approximately $50, meaning that this collection of 120+ specimens will add $6,000+ in value to the current herbarium collection
· Establish a permanent verifiable comparative collection which will act as an invaluable resource of lasting significance for scientists, land managers and historians
· Develop a rich data resource for further scientific study. Location maps for each species collected will be in a format compatible for entry into The National Herbarium Victoria’s MELISR plant collection database
· Coordinate a collaborative exhibition in 2012 of paintings and sketches produced by the artists, together with supporting plant material both past and present. The Ian Potter Gallery is the preferred venue, still to be engaged.
· Inspire interest and educate new groups into the culture and value of herbaria and the plant sciences
A substantial contribution to our great scientific institution will further enrich our public resources and act as an important tool for research in the sciences of botany and ecology. This exciting initiative has the potential to raise the profile of the National Herbarium of Victoria and the National Herbarium of New South Wales,, the botanical riches of Australia and the community who illustrate our fascinating flora.
This is a Life Project Collaborative (LPC) venture. The project is focused on the cataloging of taxonomic data in parallel with databasing the imagery created by the ‘Beckler’s Botanical Bounty’ project, and re-representing this within the LPC visualization systems for navigating the Tree of Life. The Life Project Collaborative will collate taxonomic data provided by Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. This data will be used to create the pathways within the LPC Tree of Life navigational tool kit.
John Howland: Concept & Content Developer/Educational Tools Designer /Content Manager /IT Technician
Ben Beeton: Concept & Content Developer /Educational Tools Designer
Peter Macqueen: Content Developer/Content Librarian
Mali Moir: Content Developer
Extract Published with kind permission granted by the Author - Ben Beeton