Monday, February 22, 2010

from seed to harvest - inspired learning for children

This year in 'Homage to the Seed' I will be posting on, and where possible, connecting more directly with programs that have a strong relationship to the importance of seed saving. Alice Waters launched the Edible Schoolyard, a program conducted by the Chez Panisse Foundation in the US in the mid 90's,  offering an extraordinarily valuable educational model of critical importance for the future.
When around 2000 the respected Australian cook, restaurateur, food writer and champion of the quality and diversity of Australian food Stephanie Alexander  was putting her incredible knowledge and enthusiasm behind a similar program and launching the Kitchen Garden Foundation I was heartened to think this opportunity might find its way to school children across this continent. Ever practical and wise Alexander and the Foundation grounded the program in a workable model before expanding. A brief early stint in secondary school teaching gave Alexander a keen awareness of how schools function and her business skills honed in successful endeavours over many years provided the knowhow for planning, bringing others on board, and getting the strategies in place that lead to individual schools working with State Education Departments partnering with govt and others to slowly launch this program in a growing number of school across Australia. The level of school and community commitment required to ensure the program thrives and the fact people are willing to go the distance on this speaks volumes as to the value and belief in this work that is being generated in communities.
To read a letter from a child and parent who have shared a remarkable story read here. This story is what inspired the post today!

A plan from the website for the garden at a local Brisbane school - Wellington Point State School.
A school kitchen garden as shown on website.
Please Note: The Brisbane Botanic Gardens holds many events throughout the year, some specifically for children. An extensive education program is highly utilised by schools over the year as well. Inquiries maybe made through the  the Garden's website for more information - Due to a temporary malfunction when attempting to load the weblink here if you google Brisbane Botanic Gardens and click on the link to Mt Coot-Tha you will have success.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

bon-yi season and other such reminiscences

Late last year I caught up with a friend, Darryl Finn, with whom I'd conversed about local aboriginal history on a number of occasions. His partner Bianca Beetson is involved, among other things, in proppaNOW - a ground-breaking group of urban Aboriginal artists. This collective of significant and politically active artists includes Vernon Ah Kee and Richard Bell to name just a couple. 
Darryl was able to refer me to the most interesting publication of reminiscences of Tom Petrie that were collated by daughter Constance Campbell Petrie and published in 1904 from earlier articles published in the Queenslander. The book provides a sketch of the early days of the Qld colony - 1837 onwards - as well as an authoritative guide to the life and times of the Aboriginal people of this region. Stories are told of Tom Petrie growing up alongside aboriginal children and being invited to join them constantly, even on long journeys away from Brisbane. Given the prominence of his colonial family it is a remarkable story of a boy who gained the trust and friendship of the local tribes people of this area and how he became relatively immersed in their culture on frequent occasions, enabling him to report with reasonable accuracy about the early times and lives of these people he came to know so well.

This fascinating book was kindly lent to me in December providing excellent information on the plants that were relied on as sources of food. Chapter 11 details the Bunya Pine - or as it was originally known to indigenous people Bon-yi (pronounced bon-ye)... describing the "bon-yi season" which was marked with a festival every 3rd year when the harvest of Bon-yi seeds would be most significant. This link here allows you to download or read this book "Tom Petrie's reminiscences of Early Queensland" by Constance Campbell Petrie.
This past weekend I reread the 2 chapters relevant my topic and made notes, quick drawings and then cross-referenced the species mentioned in the equally wonderful book  "Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest" by Wendy Cooper and William T Cooper.

Pages above and below: from work in journals on the weekend - quick drawings in ink and water colour.

A brilliant resource with excellent illustrations and data on species. I was able to search through this in order to find species that are prevalent in this region. In the coming months I will be taking time to meet with staff who can provide a beneficial introduction to this realm. The Seed Lab is another port of call - Jason Halford supplying critical information to aid understanding on what is truly indigenous to this area. I was very keen, when perusing this book below, to come across species that I would have grown up seeing when living on the Clarence River in Northern NSW. As a child picking up seed pods and observing nature in a country region brings connections between land and nature closer to one's everyday experience. This brings that clearly back to mind and is no doubt a prompt for this interest all these years later!

colourful finds

The Black Palm - Normanbya Normanbyi - is a single stemmed, large-seeded palm endemic to the Cape Tribulation region of North Queensland. Pinkish fruit - around 280 ripe fruit per tree (according to one source) which ripen over 21 weeks and seeds are dispersed mainly by water flow, cassowaries and small mammals. During my walk last week I came across the amazing sight of these fruit fallen from high up the tree all over the ground surrounding the base of the tree. *Click on image to enlarge!

Unfortunately I will have to wait until I can ask as to the species of this tree. I was very captivated by the covering of berries in different sections of the same tree. The white fresh new bloom appeared to change colour to the green and crimson and then they shrivelled somewhat into the dark, dried out looking berries.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

nature's gestures

Its truly overwhelming to know where to start when wanting to familiarise oneself with this Botanic Garden stretching over 52 hectares. Soon I will have the pleasure of guided walks with various staff members which will diminish this problem of "where to start" somewhat! 
Last week after a meeting and spell in the wonderful Garden Library I wandered to sections of the Gardens I've not visited before, past some familiar places, taking photos and allowing things to simply catch my attention.

THis vegetation transported me elsewhere briefly - a little otherworldly - for a minute one could feel a long way from home. Below: this series of five images - all rather spiked, intimidating-looking plants that possess such a force to be reckoned with.
This succulent above with stringy off-shoots is worth clicking on to enlarge for a closer viewing. A perfect subject for a gestural drawing...the string-like scribbles adding drama to the otherwise classic form.
Different spaces are to be found constantly walking through the grounds... some intimate, almost hidden - others expansive, even grand.
Guided walks are available to the public, if not each day of the week... then certainly Monday to Friday. I must check that... or you can check the gardens website at the top of this site. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Artist-in-Residence at Mt Coot-Tha 2010

Top image from - other images Sophie Munns

THis year I have been selected to carry out my proposed work "Homage to the Seed" in a year long artist-in-residence program at the Botanic Gardens in the city where I live. Through my art practice an increasing concern for the future of seeds and their critical role in the bio-diversity of the planet prompted me to connect with the broader community in the hope of more effectively championing something I felt, along with many others, was being forgotten, and even profoundly overlooked in the scheme of things.
A fortunate series of meetings with a number of wonderful people led me to the Seed lab at the Mt Coo-tha gardens site mid last year to take part in a most interesting project being carried out there with Jason Halford in the Lab working as part of a team in conjunction with the global Millennium Seedbank Project based at Kew Gardens in the UK. During dusty* volunteering sessions in the lab I learned a great deal from Jason's excellent stores of experience - in the field as well as Lab. Volunteers I talked to, such as Bettina Palmer, have contributed for years with considerable knowledge of the project to share as a result.
This more intimate and fascinating connection with the garden fostered the enthusiasm to later apply for the 2010 residency. To view work that came out of the association with the Seed Lab and read about Botanique refer to posts from Studio Archives documented last October, and earlier here.
Margot Mac Manus - in her role as Visitor Services Coordinator at the Gardens - has been keen to promote a productive cross-pollination between all who spend time on these grounds - visitors and staff alike. During the year the opportunity to get to know staff and volunteers who contribute so much to this excellent embodiment of plant biodiversity will be sought out as will informal exchanges with visitors and participation in workshops and events planned for the year.
You are welcome to email or leave a message if you wish to know about any of the proposed activities this year during this residency... especially if you would like to be notified in advance by joining a contact list.
dusty* - the seed lab is where seeds are processed when brought in from the field after collection by Jason Halford and Co. Since they may be coming from remote parts of Qld undergoing drought the pods and capsules are often quite dried out or simply very that when prying seeds from these sometimes very tough pods one may find the work considerably harder than first imagined. This leads to contemplation of the landscapes where the seeds come from so often far away from city and lab...provoking interesting thoughts, connections and dialogue around this important conservation work. More on this project soon!
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