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'Wildflowering culture' of the past offers hope for the future

Published:26 March 2019

Associate Professor Susan Davis is pictured preparing for her Fryer lecture and presentation. BELOW: A handcut vinyl artwork by CQUni doctoral candidate Ulrike Sturm which is part of an exhibition curated by Associate Profesor Davis in the Fryer Library reading room.

Queensland artist and writer Kathleen McArthur, poet Judith Wright and other female sketchers, collectors, watercolourists, illustrators and botanical writers were at the forefront of battles to preserve heathlands and establish national parks in the middle of last century.

What they had in common, according to CQUniversity Associate Professor Susan Davis, was the creation of a ‘wildflowering culture’ or a ‘nature culture’ to document, express and communicate their experiences of the natural world.

"These forms of knowing were informed by the scientific and botanical but also the creative, artistic and empathic," Dr Davis says.

"Moving beyond the factual and scientific, it is these forms of knowing and expression arising from this ‘nature culture’, the drawings, paintings and poetry that provide significant ways of knowing that can prompt people to care and also act.

"Learning about the lives, work and actions of women such as Kathleen and Judith, others who influenced them such as Sylvia Fox and Estelle Thomson through to artists and activists today provides us with a living legacy.

"Their life and works still stand as models of action, social change, artmaking and inspiration."

Dr Davis this week presented her Fryer Fellowship Lecture - Kathleen McArthur: Wild/flower Woman - at the University of Queensland St Lucia Campus. The lecture was followed by a dramatic presentation.

The CQUniversity academic has also curated a Wild/flower Woman exhibition that is on throughout the year in the Fryer Library reading room at St Lucia, as well as an online exhibition. As well as prints and ephemera of Kathleen McArthur's work, several hand-cut vinyl works by artist and CQUni doctoral candidate Ulrike Sturm are featured.

"Rediscovering and sharing the stories of this work is important because, as Rebecca Solnit identifies In her book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories and Wild Possibilities, it is easy to become disheartened at present by what is happening in the world politically, socially and ecologically, and for those who want to protect, protest or contribute, the odds against you can feel overwhelming.

"Solnit highlights however, that over the past half-century and more we have also witnessed extraordinary achievements and transformations brought about through activism, through imagination and hope.

"Learning about their lives, work and actions provides us with a living legacy as through their work, we can glean advice and strategies which are still relevant today. Their life and works still stand as models of action, social change, artmaking and inspiration."