Tim EntwislePassport gums from slow train

Have a close look at your passport. I renewed mine in 2011, updating to the N series. This snazzy model has ghost images, retro-reflective floating images and an embedded RFID microchip. Oh, and it’s also chock full of gum trees.

Australian passport eucalypts

Not the real thing although the paper pulp may include some, but the bulk of the images are from watercolour paintings created by Stan Kelly. The originals reside in the Victorian State Botanical Collection, just a crooked corridor walk from my office here in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This is one of them, Eucalyptus pauciflora subspecies parvifructa, a Cabbage Gum collected from near his home in Ararat.

Painting of Eucalyptus pauciflora subspecies parvifructa by Stan Kelly

Painting of Eucalyptus pauciflora subspecies parvifructa by Stan Kelly

The State Botanical Collection is kept in the National Herbarium of Victoria, part of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. It includes the oldest and one of the largest herbaria in Australia with more than 1.2 million preserved plants, a third of them from overseas and most of these dating back to the nineteenth century. It also includes the largest and richest botanical library in Australia, along with paintings and archives from folk like Stan Kelly.

Stan was someone I think my stepfather, Ron Renn, knew. Ron died the year before I updated my passport (at the impressive age of 98, still painting for pleasure) so I can’t check on that. I’m sure at least dad’s friend and work colleague Jack Truscott knew him well. Jack was a founding member of the Ringwood Field Naturalist’s Club and a commercial artist with Selex Decal, like my father.

But enough of family friends. Stan’s life quest was to paint every species of Eucalyptus (at that time also including Corymbia, the ‘gum’ featured in my passport picture at the top). He managed more than 500, most of which are published in two lovely volumes called, simply enough, Eucalypts, one of which (volume 2 oddly) we had in our book case ever since the day my family merged with Ron’s in 1969.

stan kelly - artist at work_webmaxIn 1980 Stan Kelly was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for encouraging Australians to grow and appreciate their native flora, through his lectures and paintings. He was a train driver who loved the bush (just like my cousin Peta Entwisle as it happens!), with a particular passion for the Grampians and for its flora.

Apparently he would slow the train down as they went through particularly attractive bushland in spring, jumping out to collect eucalypts for painting. The fireman would take over driving the train and he’d just hop back on a little later, still getting to their destination on time.

One of those interviewed for an oral history of Kelly by the Ararat and District Historical Society said “If Pa wasn’t there [in the lounge], he’d be in his bedroom painting, and we just naturally assumed that’s what all grandpas do”. From the age of ten I assumed that’s what all fathers did.

For more information on Stan Kelly AOM see Australian National Botanic Garden and for the oral history, Culture Victoria. I’ve copied the black and white photograph of Stan Kelly from the latter site, which also has a number of images from the State Botanical Collection. (And thanks to my colleague David Cantrill for suggesting this topic.)

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

2 thoughts on “Passport gums from slow train

  1. Linda on said:

    After reading your post I had to go and check my passport and see the drawings for myself. Fantastic to know a bit of the history. Stan must have been very dedicated to do such fine and detailed work after toiling on the trains all day.

  2. Agree about Stan Kelly – and the bands of enthusiastic botanical artists all over the country who labour for hours/days/weeks to create these great works of art and science. Dedication! Tim

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