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Capturing the rare beauty of Hunter flora

The Hunter is one of the most florally rich areas in the state with close to 100 plants that are unique to this area.

In an attempt to capture all of the Hunter’s endemic species in print, the University of Newcastle (UON) is working with two of its alumni, botanist Dr Stephen Bell and natural history illustrator, Christine Rockley, as well as 14 other artists, to produce a book entitled Flora of the Hunter Region – Endemic Species.

With a total of 85 specimens to collect, classify and illustrate, the team have had a huge project to navigate.

Ex-graphic designer and chief illustrator Christine explains, “Everything is done by hand in order to create a photo-like representative of the original that is suitable for the book. From deciding which species to include, to sourcing the specimens, looking at them under a microscope and completing the drawings, it all takes time.

“We are lucky to have a talented team of nine UON Bachelor of Natural History Illustration students and alumni to help us meet our target to complete the book by the end of this year.”

“We have been planning and garnering support for this project now for close to five years and we are pleased to announce that all funds needed to finish the book have been collected and allocated to our talented team of artists and writer/botanist Dr Bell.”

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The release of this UON publication could not come fast enough as many of these unique species are disappearing as land is cleared for new developments.

“Aside from just being an attractive book that documents our local endemic species, this book can be used to track where our most unusual and distinct plants are located, which will help local government officials to make informed land use decisions in the future,” says Christine.

“It is also important that local residents know more about their precious local plants so that when they go out walking, they are able to identify what they see in the world around them.”

For Christine, the mix of science and art in botanical drawings is the perfect way for her to combine her love of the natural environment and illustration.

“I like capturing our beautiful natural environment through drawing but I also enjoy teaching others. I take students out into the bush to show them examples of the uniqueness of the native plants and flowers that are all around us. We bring our finds back to the studio to look at under microscopes, and it is like opening up another fascinating world when you view the plants so closely.

“I love that through both my drawing and teaching work I can focus attention on the beauty of nature, and help people to understand why it is so important to preserve our native species as best we can for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The following alumna and current students are contributing to the project: Fiona Pfennigwerth, Tanya Hoolihan, Nadia Waters, Beverly Hawkins, Esther Bolz, Mike Backman, Linda Lunnon, Leigh Graham, Tallulah Cunningham, Deirdre Bean, Jocelyn Kelly, Gillian Hewitt, Riona Twomey and April Collison.

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The University of Newcastle is the only institution in Australia to offer the highly specialised degree in natural history illustration, which combines a student’s love of the natural world with that of extremely detailed drawing and painting. Find out more about the Natural History Illustration degree.

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