Upside Down World: Early European Impressions of Australia’s Curious Animals
National Library of Australia, $39.95 pb, 268 pp, 97880642277060
In this age of throwaway digital images it is easy to forget that before the late nineteenth century the only means of conveying a visual image of an object or place was by drawing its likeness. For this reason, well-funded exploratory expeditions often included an artist whose role was to illustrate new and interesting people, landscapes, geological features, animals and plants. Australian examples include George Raper and John Hunter, officers on the First Fleet. The Baudin Expedition had Charles-Alexandre Lesueur; Mathew Flinders took botanist and artist Robert Brown; and Major Thomas Mitchell was himself a competent sketcher. The Victorian Exploration Expedition (Burke and Wills) included Ludwig Becker, one of our best natural history artists, who died of scurvy in south-west Queensland while a member of the backup Supply Party. Other artists remained in their studios and earned a living by providing illustrations for scientific journals or the popular press based on specimens, living or dead, which had been sent home by the explorers. Among the best museum-based artists who worked on Australian material were Sarah Stone and Frederick Frohawk, neither of whom, as far as I know, ever set foot in this country.