Tuesday, 19 December 2017

On the Right Tram at Christmas

Some of us like to give ourselves a Christmas present ... so I was thrilled when one of my fellow family history writers, Bill Barlow, chose my book Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory as  his own gift to himself last Christmas. We both belong to the GSV Writers Circle in Melbourne (Genealogical Society of Victoria) and around this time last year Bill shared with our members an amusing story.

Busy and distracted by other events in 2017, I forgot to finalise it as a post for my blog (editing, pictures, etc). A tad belatedly, here it is now, before Christmas 2017 also becomes a distant memory. It comes with my best wishes to everyone for a safe and happy festive season and the very best of everything in the year to come.

The tale starts with Bill's comment to our GSV Writers' Facebook group a year ago ...
Spent the last part of today chasing down a copy of Louise's latest book - literally!
Having picked up a copy in Readings at State Library of Victoria, I made my way home on the train and tram with it in a nice brown paper carry bag - too big to fit in my normal bag. Walked home from the tram terminus in East Malvern and realised I had left it on the tram!
Ran back only to find the tram had already turned around and headed back to the city. So ran back home, jumped in the car and chased down the tram a few stops after Caulfield. Got on - but wrong tram, no book the driver said.
Off the tram, walked back to the car and then continued to chase the tram in front - all the way along Balaclava Rd and up St Kilda Rd till I spotted a no. 3 and managed to park and board that tram- crowded with city commuters. Driver said that he did notice his changeover driver carrying a brown paper bag off the tram, so probably it is back at Depot Lost Property by now.
Good news! After a long peak hour drive to the Glenhuntly depot, there it was sitting on a shelf. Now it is safely home and I will next see it on Christmas Day. I am sure it will be worth it!
No 3 Tram, St Kilda Rd, December 2017
Me: OMG, Bill. You'll never forget this book, will you? Unbelievable. I had to laugh though. It would have made a great skit for someone with a camera. Now I'm hoping and praying that, post Christmas Day, you'll think all this effort was worth it.


Me: I heard nothing for months. Was it so bad that Bill hoped I’d forgotten his story? Just after Easter I heard from him again on this matter, and we had this exchange of comments and responses via email. It was very valuable for me to obtain feedback from someone else struggling with the difficulties of writing family history. It often gets a bad rap as a genre!
Bill: Congratulations on the Flockton book! I held it over till Easter to read when I knew I would have a few days in a row to read it as a whole - rather than my half page in bed intermittently over a long period.
Me: I know exactly what you mean by the problems of reading a page here & there before your heavy eyes won’t stay open any longer. So thank you for saving your reading until you had time to properly evaluate the book.
Bill: I think it is a very complete and thorough biography that manages to deal with a lot of potentially boring technical quotes and source material but in a way that is interesting and readable.
Me: I had to laugh when I read the words you chose to describe the book: ‘interesting and readable’. That’s what everyone says about all of my books! It’s why I decided to describe myself as a ‘nerdy’ writer!
Bill: I wouldn’t describe you that way – your writing is too mainstream, readable and not wacky enough. Maybe ‘nerdy' if that means any writer investigating history and the truth.
Me: What did you think of the book overall? 
Bill: I enjoyed the book. It is very good and I am amazed at how you pulled it all together so successfully.
Me: I’m glad you think it did come together. I tried hard to generate a readable ‘text book’, to help art historians, art auctioneers, botanists etc have accurate information to work from. At the same time I wanted to create a ‘story’, showing readers who Margaret was as a person, although that was difficult given the scarcity of her private correspondence.
Bill: After our discussions about the value in having a strong opening I was mildly surprised by your ‘cool’, non-gripping, opening sentence and paragraph.
Me: I did run this introduction past the Writers Group back in 2011 and they liked it, but that was then! We've all progressed as writers since!
A Meeting of the GSV Writers Circle, Melbourne, 2014
And I seriously considered Prof Tim Entwisle’s suggestion several years ago that I start the book with Margaret’s life in the 1890s and her successes in Sydney (the ‘works of genius’ stuff) and then backtrack but, since I personally don’t like that kind of story ‘flow’, I didn’t rearrange the book. Call me stubborn! Also, I didn’t think you could understand Mog’s life and the choices she made without knowing where she came from.
Bill: I had the same response, and thought of suggesting this, but you have already published. I certainly agree with you that it is hard to understand Mog's life without knowing where she came from. (Which is why we all do family history.)
Me: So I should have tried to make her seem like a 'star' at the start of the book?
Bill: I did take a while to get into the story, as the early England years are not particularly special if the reader doesn’t already know about Flockton in her prime and thus want to know about her formative years.
Me: Don’t think you’re alone in thinking that the first part of the book was ‘slow’. That has been the reaction of almost every male reader to date, whereas women have generally loved all the family stuff. Interesting!
Bill: The core of the book was very interesting and carried me along (and I found myself getting out my Stan Kelly and gumnut books on the eucalypts to check things).
Me: By ‘core of the book’, did you mean the entire story concept, or just the central, middle part of the book, the career section of her life? I’m keen to know where the story flagged.
Bill: I did mean the ‘career section of her life’, not the ‘entire story concept’.

I did think the concepts listed in the Introduction were a bit romantic. Lots of those subjects perhaps get a mention in the book, as you say, they 'underlie the story', but I didn’t see this as enough to make it a book about those things, e.g. ‘becoming an Australian’.
Me: Point taken –the word 'underlie' would probably have been better than 'about' in the Introduction! But the various themes flagged in the Introduction are definitely drawn together at the end of the book.
Bill: I think your summary of her life is excellent.
Me: Thank you.
Bill: I also had some queries about whether anything in her life qualified her as a feminist, that is, one who advocates for women’s rights. I guess that is why she is a ‘quiet feminist’ - one who, if asked, would agree with women’s rights.
Me: You don’t have to be an 'advocate' to be a feminist. You just have to live a life where you decline to be subservient to men and, I think, remain financially independent of them. Don’t forget she was involved in the struggle to grant her equal pay with her male public-servant peers.
Bill: Her life was, as you say a ‘quiet’, non-squeaky-wheel one.
Me: Today’s readers seem to like dramatic, over-the-top stuff, with everything spelled out in a quick read. The subtleties of quiet personalities like Margaret’s leave them cold. Some readers of this book, clearly not attuned to nuance, have said ‘But who was she? As a person?’ I never quite know how to answer such a question from people who’ve read this book yet clearly didn’t ‘get’ Margaret. Others have understood the limitations of depicting an introvert when available source material is limited.
Bill: I think you have done a great job integrating all the letters, etc in the saga of her painting and scientific illustrator careers. 
It is great having so many pictures and they are well-placed, within a page of the relevant text. It is amazing how the WW1 gave us so many fine portrait shots of the men but of course there are only a couple of Margaret in later life. Maybe Picture 176 (pulled out of the office staff shot) is the only clear one of her face at the height of her career years. You used this on the dust jacket I now see, but I would have liked it perhaps enlarged in the book up-front, alongside the Introduction instead of the maps.
Margaret Flockton, 1912 (Pic 176 in the book)
Me: The publisher Wakefield Press prides itself on the quality of images in its books and the few pictures I had of Margaret were all less than satisfactory - often blurry and of low res. So they wouldn’t use her picture on the front cover or blown up from the original and they compromised by placing a small version of the office shot on the inside of the dust jacket. I was happy with that, as I think it depicts her character pretty well, right from the time you pick up the book.
Bill: I’m not sure why there is some feeling (at the end of the Introduction) of her being hard done by, in not becoming a professional botanist. I felt she probably could have been if she had wanted to or if she was in the right time and place. After all Sarah Hynes was not a male and also wasn’t born after 1861.
Me: There was no intention on my part to convey a ‘hard done by’ impression. Blame my choice of words. I’m sure it never occurred to Margaret to become a botanist, before she reached her mid-40s anyway, when she was working full-time at the Royal Botanic Garden. There are lots of reasons (not spelled out in the book) as to why her age-peer Sarah Hynes was able to become a botanist. Sarah did not need to work to help support her parents, for one, and by the time Sarah decided to go to University, in the late 1880s, she was living in Australia, where the class structure impeded much less on educational opportunities for women.
Bill: I was left wondering about the housekeepers and companions (p. 222). They must have shared her life quite a bit, especially if they were companions, but I can’t recall hearing anything much about them.
Me: I thought about them a lot too but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find any information about them and I didn’t think it was fair to speculate. Many young women became spinsters because of WW1 and Mog may just have been doing ‘good works’ by employing a housekeeper and providing a roof over her head. The Flockton family had a tradition of employing servants.
Bill: I didn’t know what an INTJ personality type is (note 4, last chapter) - even though I was Myers-Briggsed years ago.
Me: Here’s a link summarising the INTJ personality profile. They are generally driven by a rational, big-picture view of the world outside themselves.
Bill: As you know, I'm in the process of writing a family history book myself. I wondered why the chapters did not get numbers?
 Me: Possibly that was a ‘style thing’ with the publisher. It didn’t strike me as a problem. The chapters have meaningful titles
Bill: The categories of the bibliography, especially your groupings of the genealogical sources, make a lot of sense.
Me: When you look at the bibliography, it’s amazing just how many sources I did have to consult in order to piece her life story together over so many years!
Bill: A chronological list of her known fine art paintings and whereabouts would have been good.
Me: Not possible, I’m afraid, but that’s why I included all the works entered to the Art Society exhibitions each year, despite the unhelpful nature of their titles. That’s the nearest I could get to a catalogue of her fine art. The Art Society hasn’t kept any sales records so I don’t know who bought most of the paintings, or where they are today. Maybe this book will flush out some art lovers. Most of the owners who I have located wish to remain anonymous.
Bill: It’s interesting how one’s view about life colours how we see the lives we write about.
Me: Pure objectivity is impossible!! And, if it could be achieved, I think it would detract from the appeal of family history books.
Bill: Thanks for sharing this opportunity for an exchange of views, via the communication channel your book has offered between the writer and a reader.
Me: Thank you, Bill, for taking the time to provide this valuable feedback ... an easy kind of Christmas gift to give an author. I think all authors crave the evidence that their book has provoked reader reaction. We need reassurance that, after all the effort involved in the writing of a book, it didn’t just drop into the void, that someone thought about what it meant! 

POSTSCRIPT: For your information, Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory sold out during 2017 but Wakefield Press has been collecting orders and looks likely to reprint it soon as a paperback. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Bumping into Joseph Banks

Everywhere I went in England during November 2017 I kept bumping into Joseph Banks.
Header Picture on Sir Joseph Banks Society Webpage, www.joseph-banks.org.uk
Banks and botany were not on my agenda when I left Melbourne on 1 November. I was on the trail of my Boulton forebears, significant mail coach contractors in London in the 1780s and 1790s. Tracing their origins, I spent three long days at the Lincolnshire Archives. Yet there was still time to pursue tourist activities in the very historic town of Lincoln and the massive Cathedral at the top of the quaintly and appropriately named road 'Steep Hill' called to me first.
Lincoln Cathedral
The light streaming in through the stained glass windows created a spectacular rainbow effect on the columns supporting the roof of this magnificent building. (A professional photographer would have captured the colours much better than I did.)
Inside Lincoln Cathedral
I turned around from taking this photo and there was Sir Joseph, with an unexpected tribute to him in pride of place, right inside the main door.
Tribute to Sir Joseph Banks, Lincoln Cathedral
A few days later I hired a car. Still pursuing my Boultons, I stopped in the market town of Horncastle – and walked right past the Sir Joseph Banks Centre, just off the main square in the heart of town.
Sir Joseph Banks Centre, Horncastle, Lincolnshire
Of course I crossed the road and discovered that Banks is a local as well as a county and national hero, for his work in draining the Lincolnshire fens, the extensive marshland of his home district, thereby turning it into productive farmland. The centre has created a small garden in his honour.
Sir Joseph Banks Tribute Garden, Horncastle
As I drove south through Lincolnshire towards Norfolk the evidence of his drainage idea was everywhere. The road took me right past his old house at Revesby, although the property’s in private hands and not a tourist destination.

In London I visited the National Army Museum to drop off a copy of my 'Brothers in Arms' book at their library– and there was London’s oldest botanic garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden, almost next door. It's not directly related to Banks, being established well before his day, but it continued the unexpected botanical theme to my travels.
Entrance to Chelsea Physic Garden
The National Archives at Kew is an unavoidable destination for dedicated researchers like me. When you leave the District Line train at Kew Gardens, you choose between turning right to head for the Archives or left and through the railway underpass to reach the Royal Botanic Gardens.
District Line Station at Kew
Naturally I turned left on one of my trips, to visit the living legacy to Joseph Banks, the magnificent gardens at Kew. Inside the Marianne North Gallery there’s a striking picture of a Banksia but photographs are banned. I ventured into the adjacent building, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.
Shirley Sherwood Gallery in foreground, alongside Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens.
The beautiful painting of Corymbia ficifolia by Australian botanical artist Jenny Phillips grabbed my immediate attention.
Corymbia ficifolia by Jenny Phillips, at Shirley Sherwood Gallery
On a drab winter's day, the colours in her painting were just right when the Gardens were everywhere dressed for Christmas.
Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, late November 2017
The name Joseph Banks means a great deal to Australians like me, because it was his journey with Captain James Cook which led to the selection of Botany Bay as the place to send the first European settlers to Australia. Cape Banks at the entrance to Botany Bay and the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown and Revesby are named after him, as is a high school in Sydney and, of course, the Banksia genus of plants. Gnarled old Banksias are part of the environmental DNA of Sydneysiders.

When I became caught up in family history, I discovered that one of my ancestors sailed past Cape Banks in January 1788 and arrived in Sydney with the First Fleet. Another forebear Dr GeorgeYoung, born nearly 300 years ago, had even had dealings with Joseph Banks (not yet Sir Joseph). Dr Young established the first botanic garden in the western hemisphere, on the island of St Vincent in the 1760s, and in 1773 he was in England for meetings when Banks was setting up the Botanic Gardens at Kew. Dr Young was living in retirement on his St Vincent sugar plantation when the breadfruit tree was brought to the St Vincent Botanic Gardens in 1793 by William Bligh, who’d failed on his first attempt to do so because of the mutiny on the Bounty.  Introducing breadfruit as a source of food for West Indies slaves was an idea supported by Banks.

Banks stated in his will that he was 'deeply impressed with an opinion, which he still continues to hold and believes to be founded in truth, that the establishment of a Botanic-garden cannot be complete unless a resident draughtsman be constantly employed in making sketches and finished drawings of all new plants that perfect their flowers or fruits in it’. For this reason the artist Ferdinand Bauer had been employed at Banks’ own expense for 30 years and Banks donated Bauer’s drawings to the British nation. I discovered these facts when I wrote a book about Dr George Young's direct descendant Margaret Flockton, the first professional scientific botanical artist employed in Australia (in Sydney, from 1901-1927).

I'm thrilled that discussions are currently underway for 'Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory' to be offered for sale at Kew. The book in hardback format sold out earlier this year but the publisher Wakefield Press has plans to reprint it, most likely as a paperback. Orders are being taken, if you're interested in obtaining  a copy.

To cap it all off, when I arrived back in Melbourne in December I discovered that 'The Conjurer’s Bird', a novel by Martin Davies with Joseph Banks as the central character, has finally been scheduled for discussion by my book club group in 2018. I suggested it as a possible title back in 2010 - see my review.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Flockton Street, Everton Park, Brisbane and the Trouts

Margaret Flockton is an inspiration to many women because she pursued a non-traditional profession, and had a career at a time when few middle-class women worked outside the home. She was also an inspiration to Sir Leon and Lady Trout, because they named a major Brisbane street after her.

This is busy Flockton Street, intersecting with Trouts Road in the inner suburb of Everton Park. It's a boundary road of what was once a large estate owned by the Trouts, who collected art and were involved with the Queensland Art Gallery.

Margaret Flockton, Gladesville, Sydney c 1914
Pursuant to my research for the Margaret Flockton biography, I’ve known about Flockton Street since 2007. Enquiries I made then at Brisbane City Council as to the origins of Flockton Street’s name revealed only that the street did not appear in 1920 street directories, and was named after 1920 in honour of ‘someone unknown’.

Since Margaret was most well-known through the 1890s and early 1900s, I looked for someone else named Flockton who might have been ‘in the news’ after the 1920s. For a time I wondered whether Flockton Street was named after a distant relative of Margaret’s, the well-known NSW cricketer Ray Flockton, born in Sydney in 1930 and constantly in the news through the 1950s.

Portrait of Sir Leon Trout
by William Dobell, Christies
Lately, thanks to Zoe Boccabella in Brisbane, I’ve discovered the Trout connection. The Trouts began subdividing their substantial property ‘Everton House’ from the late 1950s, selling off portions for residential housing. The newly-created streets of Everton Park needed names, yet Sir Leon Trout’s profile in the Australian Dictionary of Biography outlines his obvious patronage of artists but makes no reference to him as a cricket fan. A quick check on Google maps for his former landholding uncovers streets with the names of Nerli, Bunny, Cayley, Friend, Heysen, McCubbin, Namatjira, Streeton … and Flockton.

The Trouts, Sunday Mail, Brisbane, 11 Jul 1954  
I have no record that the Trouts ever met Margaret Flockton. She arrived from London in Sydney in 1888 and, apart from a year spent in Charters Towers in 1892, she remained in Sydney until her death in 1953. Clearly, since Flockton was chosen by the Trouts as the name of their longest street, Margaret's work represented something special to them.

The history of Flockton Street’s name is now abundantly clear to me. Why didn’t Brisbane City Council know this interesting history of Everton Park when I enquired years ago?

Sir (Herbert) Leon Trout died in 1978 and his widow Lady Peggy Trout died in 1988. The Board of the Queensland Art Gallery then sued her lawyers over her will, claiming that she had wanted to bequeath to the Gallery her collection, valued at $10 million. In June 1989 the Trout collection was offered for auction by Christies, the catalogue listing important Australian paintings and decorative arts. At the auction the Queensland Art Gallery purchased at least one painting, by Nerli.

Brisbane thus missed out on a significant bequest of fine art, unlike several other Australian cities. At the turn of the 20th century Sydney enjoyed the patronage of society matron Mrs Tom Marshall and later received the Marshall Bequest to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria benefitted from Alfred Felton and the Felton Bequest. Melbourne has also made much of its artist community centred on Sunday & John Reed, preserving their home Heide as a museum in memory of that era. It seems that Sir Herbert and Lady Trout were Brisbane's uncelebrated equivalents to these icons of Australian art history. There is a great deal of coverage of their activities in the digitised newspapers on the Trove website. Why don’t more Queenslanders know this?

The large home of the Trouts still sits at the end of a long tree-lined driveway entered through tall gates, but the Trout home is now surrounded by modern brick houses. The spot where the property stands is high on a hill and would originally have had sweeping views of the city and out to Mt Coot-tha and the Taylor Ranges. Pictures taken in November 1954 and December 1960 show a single storey structure with a pool. At some stage a second storey was added to the house. Inside the house was an art gallery.

Everton House, Nov 1954, Picture Queensland, Image 211776
Everton House, Dec 1960, Picture Queensland, Image 175783

Developers are now seeking approval for the Trout's house to be demolished, creating space to build a number of units. This little bit of history is in danger of being lost. The 'Lost Brisbane' Facebook page is running a campaign to save the house and the daughter of a cousin of Sir Leon Trout has offered to provide more information to help the cause (Beverley Henderson).

As a final touch of irony, Canberra also has a street named after Margaret: Flockton Place, a modest little cul-de-sac in the outlying Canberra suburb of Chisholm. I’m surprised that while both cities quietly celebrate her as an artist, neither the Queensland Art Gallery nor the National Gallery in Canberra has work by Margaret Flockton listed in its catalogue!

Read more about Margaret Flockton in my book 'Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory', available through the publisher Wakefield Press and at good bookshops.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Maiden's granddaughter Lucy Brown Craig

At the age of 40, Margaret Flockton achieved a goal - a dream job with an ideal boss.

This was the botanist Joseph Maiden, with whom she worked for almost 25 years. She developed a close relationship with his family too, especially his daughter Mary. She taught Mary lithography and attended her 1911 society wedding to Dr Francis Brown Craig.

My new book Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory (available from Wakefield Press) mentions that the Maiden family suffered a distressing loss during the Second World War. Mary Maiden’s 19-year-old daughter Lucy Brown Craig disappeared on 12 April 1940 after she left her place of employment around 5pm to return home. 

Police at the time believed the report that "Miss Brown Craig left a tram at King's Cross on the night she disappeared, and that she walked down Darlinghurst Road with a young man of athletic build, who had a "toothbrush" moustache and wore a grey suit. This report was made by a man who knew the girl well. Police would like confirmation from others who may have seen the girl and the young man on the tram, or later." (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1940, p 15, col a, with picture of Lucy on p 16.)

Despite huge media coverage, a year later Lucy was still missing and her fate, if known, was never revealed publicly.

That was my conclusion from my review of old newspapers in Trove. Lacking contact details for the Brown Craigs, I couldn't discover whether the mystery had ever been solved.

It seems that this story has recently attracted the attention of others and her fate is still unknown. Read this article of interest from True Crime Reader.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Whiteley Woes

Once again I have proof that, in a non-fiction book, you have to research every single line ... thoroughly. Here's what can happen if you don't.

For five years in the 1980s I lived at McMahons Pt in Sydney, the promontory which frames Lavender Bay on its western side. At that time, local residents informed me that the famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley and his wife were my 'neighbours', viz: "They live in that white house with the tower, along Lavender St, with a fabulous view of Lavender Bay." 
View of Sydney Harbour from Lavender St

My house at the time was further around Lavender Bay - the pinkish house behind the car parked in King George St, partially hidden by the foliage in the top right hand quadrant of the picture below.
Housing at bottom of King George St, McMahons Pt

I've always had a love affair with this area of Sydney. Back in the  mid 1970s, although I lived then at Mosman, I was co-founder of the Cameragal Montessori School facing Lavender St.  It's gratifying to know that the school still operates, forty years later.
Cameragal Montessori School

When engaged in the research for my book about the artist Margaret Flockton, I was delighted to discover that she too appreciated the scenic beauty of this area. When she and her artist parents arrived in Sydney in 1888 they moved into a house overlooking Lavender Bay. Naturally I searched for a suitable illustration of the harbour and found the following image in a newspaper of 1884, showing Lavender Bay in the centre, and Milsons Point on the left, half a century before it anchored the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In the foreground in 1884 was a white house with a tower overlooking Lavender Bay. Immediately I thought 'Ah, that white house with the tower must be what the Whiteley house looked like back then.' 

View of Lavender Bay & Sydney Harbour, 1884, from Supplement to ‘Illustrated Sydney News’, 25 October 1884

Having been a resident of Melbourne for the past thirty years, I blithely incorporated that assumption into the Flockton book without cross-checking it.  And I've referred to 'the Whiteley house' in talks on three separate occasions, without anyone disagreeing with me. 

BUT - at my fourth talk on Margaret Flockton, at the Stanton Library on 8 September 2016, an audience member told a friend of mine who was present that the house I described as Brett Whiteley’s house was NOT his house. Dismayed, I hastily reverted to researcher-mode and discovered that 1) his house was not built until 1907 and 2) he added his tower in the 1970s. It’s a pity that this knowledge came far too late for me to change the wording on p 61 of the Flockton book, which says: 
A century after the Flocktons settled there, the famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley lived and worked in the white house with the tower, in the left foreground of the image. At the time of writing, his widow Wendy still resided there. 
As an aside, Wendy Whiteley has achieved her own brand of fame for having created a magical 'secret garden', fully-accessible to the public, in the formerly-derelict strip of government-owned land running alongside her property. 
Part of Wendy Whiteley's Garden
Back to my book. I would have been correct had I written instead: 
A century after the Flocktons settled there, so did the famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley. He lived in a different 'white house with tower' to that pictured in the left foreground of the image, but it provided similar panoramic views across Lavender Bay. At the time of writing, his widow Wendy still resided there.
So ... if you're a non-fiction writer, you can be sure your sins [of omission] will find you out. It's a rare slip up on my part. Usually I pride myself on devotion to painstaking research.

Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory, published by Wakefield Press, will be launched by Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO at the Maiden Theatre, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney on 17 November 2016 at 4pm. Please contact me if you have an interest in the book and would like to receive an invitation to the launch.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Margaret Flockton book launch on 17 November 2016

Good things come to those who wait. That's what many patient people must believe as they've wondered when my book Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory will ever make its appearance. Most books do not have a protracted gestation period of more than twelve years.

After many trips up and down the Hume Highway and several trips to England, this book was completed several years ago. But books heavily illustrated with high-res art pictures obtained from many sources are a daunting proposition for publishers in today's market. Luckily my agent John Timlin knows a thing or two about placing books.

I'm delighted to say that Wakefield Press of Adelaide is publishing the book. Their motto is 'We love good stories and publish beautiful books'. I've found that to be entirely true.  I hope you'll agree that they've done an excellent job.

And I have to thank botanical artist Catherine Wardrop, whose design of a farewell card for a colleague became the basis of a perfectly ideal cover for the book.

Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory will be launched by Professor the Hon Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney on 17 November at 4 pm. If you're dying to read Margaret's fascinating story, let me know so that you can be sent an invitation to the event.

My website will give the details of where to buy the book, once it becomes available. I'm nervously awaiting reader reaction - hopefully this is one book that you will be able to judge by its gorgeous cover.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Maggie Wheeler Remembers Aunt Mog

A lovely surprise has come my way, thanks to an email from Maggie Wheeler, who has just become aware of the forthcoming Margaret Flockton, A Fragrant Memory book.

It turns out that Maggie & I are third cousins and gr-gr-nieces of Margaret Flockton, who we both knew as Aunt Mog. I’m descended from Mog’s elder sister Dora (Dolly), and Maggie from Mog’s younger sister Phoebe. When Aunt Mog died in 1953 I was seven and my youngest sister was a baby, as was Maggie. My mother Julia was very busy with four small children, couldn’t drive, had no phone and my father was often away at the wool sales around Australia. It was all Mum could do to keep up with visits to her own mother. So, although Maggie’s mother Cynthia was bridesmaid at my mother Julia’s wedding, I don’t remember our families meeting when we were all children.

Maggie has added an extra dimension to the Margaret Flockton story. Unfortunately her contribution arrived too late for the book, which has gone to print, so it’s being made public here.

Maggie Wheeler begins: Aunt Mog died when I was six months old and her sister Phoebe, my great grandmother, died when I was seven.  I recall my mother Cynthia and her sister Veda talking about Aunt Mog. They believed that the name ‘Mog’ indicated that she wasn't very well treated by her family, although I never heard that she herself didn't like the name.

I am a botanist and when I was working in the Sydney Herbarium around 1979 and was replacing herbarium paper covers on specimens, I came across a letter from Aunt Mog. She was asking for equal pay - at that time I think she was receiving approx. 70% of the male rate. She got it. I put it back with the specimen, without taking a copy.

About ten years ago I spent several years working in Western Australia so I know many species from both sides of the continent. Some of the WA wheat belt still has Eucalyptus flocktonii growing there. It is a fairly widespread species in the southwest mallee country. Because the word 'floccus' has one meaning as ‘tufts of wool’, one of my co-workers took delight in teasing me by calling her a little sheep, knowing full well that she was anything but.

Recently I've noticed the Sydney Morning Herald's offering of a print of her partially-coloured drawing of the sandalwood plant (a.k.a. the Quandong, pictured below as a black & white lithograph Fusanus acuminatus). I've never seen it growing in Sydney but it's very common in the WA wheat belt, and I consider that it was done from fresh material. Did she travel there with Maiden? I doubt whether photos would have been good enough in those days, and I remember my Gran (Phyllis Flockton North née Clarke) frowning upon it. Gran was also a watercolour artist, and taught me.

Fusanus acuminatus, from the Forest Flora of NSW

Louise interjects: The literature confirms that this plant does not grow in the Sydney region but in the semi-arid areas of Australia, which is why you came across it in WA. I’m pretty sure Margaret did not go on any field trips with Maiden. Shipping records and news items attest to Maiden visiting WA with his wife, particularly a 3 month visit in the last quarter of 1909, but there’s no mention of Margaret in these shipping records. People did use the postal service widely to send fresh (specially-wrapped) specimens to the Botanic Garden and there must have been a system for drawing them straight away.

Maggie continues: I am attaching a photo of Aunt Mog's oil painting entitled ‘Sydney Carton’, bottom left hand corner.  The frame is as old as the painting I think, and every so often I repair the plasterwork again and touch it up. I had the painting cleaned and they put some sort of coating on it to prevent further dust damage. I've checked the painting front and back and it is unsigned. Not even initialled.  I have no reason to question its authenticity since I grew up with it, and my mother always said that it was Aunt Mog’s painting. The oil paints set (see below) were also full of the Rembrant type colours.

Sydney Carton, Margaret Flockton's copy of a photograph © Maggie Wheeler

Louise adds: The painting is obviously a copy of a striking theatrical photograph of the actor Martin Harvey, in character as Sydney Carton, the eventual hero of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The photo began to circulate in England in 1899. Somehow Aunt Mog obtained a copy (I don’t have any knowledge of her returning to England once she arrived in Australia) and she’s done a fantastic job as an artist, injecting her own dramatic form of expression into those eyes. I have another record of her as a copyist - Cayley’s birds, when she lived in Charters Towers in 1892. She made no secret of that exercise. She painted very few portraits but clearly she was very talented at it and should have done more of them.

Maggie continues: I also have a vase of hers with beautifully hand painted male and female butterflies with Christmas Bell flowers (Blandfordia grandiflora). It was a cultural thing for people to paint the butterflies with the plants that they were dependent on. On the bottom of the vase there is written Cethosia Cydippe (the eastern red lacewing butterfly) and what looks like 'M.F.'

Royal Worcester Butterflies Vase, © Maggie Wheeler
Royal Worcester Butterflies Vase Detail, © Maggie Wheeler
Royal Worcester Butterflies Vase Base, © Maggie Wheeler

Louise adds: The stamp on the bottom of the vase indicates that the art work was by Miss Flockton Clarke, Maggie’s grandmother Phyllis, who also did a series of cabinet plates for the Royal Worcester Porcelain Co – mostly mushrooms, but one butterfly plate. However, the wildflowers on the vase do look very similar to those painted by Aunt Mog and lithographed for the American Tobacco Co series.

Maggie continues: I've always felt somewhat close to Aunt Mog, having also done some painting and drawing. For two years I did some training at East Sydney Art School (now CAE), and had two exhibitions in early adulthood. I haven't painted seriously for many years but I do pick up a brush from time to time and I have a canvas nearly ready for when I feel like painting again. I've also had a long term interest in plants, particularly wildflowers, gardening for my granny when I was a child, then spending lots of time in the bush as a teenager, walking, running and on my horse, delighting in what was around me and eventually becoming a botanist.

As well as the family’s painting and gardening gene, I inherited Aunt Mog’s oil and watercolour paints, and have used them as my own, updated of course when required. In the picture you can't really see what colours of hers are still in the paint box, but I've found that many of the sepias are still usable. 

Margaret Flockton's Oil Paint Box© Maggie Wheeler 
Margaret Flockton's Oil Paints© Maggie Wheeler

I returned about 7 years ago to my property in the hills behind Mullumbimby in the Byron Shire, where I'm working on rainforest regeneration at present.

Note: Maggie Wheeler can be contacted via email.  Louise Wilson's book Margaret Flockton, A Fragrant Memory will be available in November 2016. Click here for more details.