Pereginations of a Citizen Botanist

Northern Suburbs Branch, 23 September 2022

Our visit to the Peregrinations of a Citizen Botanist at the Wanneroo Art Gallery on 23 September was made exceptionally enjoyable by the introduction and guided tour by the dynamic creator of the exhibition, Susie Vickery. Everyone present was bowled over by her talent, enthusiasm and energy – a winning combination if ever there was one.

Susie Vickery, centre, talking to attendees.

The exhibition was described as an immersive and finely crafted installation which takes the form of a cabinet of curiosities, charting the journey of the 18th Century French botanist Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, who came to Western Australia in 1792 on the ship Recherche, captained by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux.

150 plus years of Nats membership – Marilyn Zakrevsky, Alex George, Val Goff.

Susie’s career centres on embroidery and textiles. For this exhibition, she used material that she had embroidered herself or material that had been hand-dyed using native plants for colouring and patterning. Susie or her team of helpers also made the hats and shoes worn by the one-third-sized models of Labillardière.

The exhibition was presented in seven chapters, each of which showed stages of Labillardière’s transition from a member of the French elite dressed in a gold waistcoat embroidered with fleur-de-lys to a moleskin-clad botanist at Legrand Bay (Esperance) dressed in a waistcoat dyed with Bossiaea linophylla and a long coat overprinted with leaves from Eucalyptus cornuta (Yate).

His felt hat, made from an old blanket, was printed with a kangaroo paw design in an indigo dye from Indigofera australis.

Historical documents show Labillardière marvelled at the complexity and beauty of the lands he witnessed and attempted to classify what he saw through European systems for understanding the natural world. But Vickery presents an alternative history of Labillardière’s journey, with the botanist gradually shedding his European preconceptions as he encounters a rich and ancient land.

The Recherche was constructed from pieces of a pianola, and by pumping the pedals, the vessel could be made to ride the waves created from pianola rolls.

During the question session after the tour, Alex George told us that, incredibly, 230 years after Labillardière’s visit, an unknown part of his collection was found in a German museum recently.

Don Poynton

All images by Don Poynton