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50 Treasures: Ancient & Primitive Flowering Plants of Australia by Betty Hinton

Our thirty-third treasure is a series of  vibrant botanical illustrations, created most often from live specimens, by a north Queensland artist based in the Daintree Rainforest. From the JCU Art Collection comes the Ancient and Primitive Flowering Plants of Australia by Betty Hinton.

Julie McEnerny answers the question "why is this significant?"

The 1980s brought a wave of travellers to far north Queensland - wanderlust for some, for others a frontier challenge or more meaningful lifestyle. Some passed through, others stayed - but not all became as entrenched in the area as Betty Hinton. Betty and her husband Bill settled in the not yet heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, opening the long running Floravilla Ice Cream business and adding the Art Gallery for Betty's growing collection. Having a keen interest in flora of the ancient rainforest surrounding their home, Betty (a self-taught artist) had begun painting local specimens. Her botanical art progressed to an international level when, some years later, Idiospermum australienses was purchased by eminent botanical art collector Professor Shirley Sherwood and exhibited at London's Kew Gardens and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Betty Hinton, Musgravea heterophylla - Briar Silky Oak, Juvenile, 1996 - 1999, watercolour on paper, 100 x 88 cm. James Cook University Art Collection. © Betty Hinton. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
The eleven works of this Treasure are part of Betty Hinton's Ancient & Primitive Flowering Plants of Australia project, which she began in 1995. Prior to this, Australia's Wet Tropics — which includes the Daintree Rainforest—had been selected for World Heritage listing, satisfying all four of the criteria. Historically, this series of botanical works occupies an interesting position, straddling both botany and the social history of the era. While not strictly of the scientific illustration discipline, the works are commendable representations of important Wet Tropics flora, painted with true passion and focus by a Daintree resident whose arrival in the area predates the world's recognition of what is possibly the planet's oldest rainforest.

Betty Hinton, Musgravea heterophylla - Briar Silky Oak, Adult, 1996 - 1999, watercolour on paper, 96 x 70 cm. James Cook University Art Collection. © Betty Hinton. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
Among the works is a delicate rendering of Gymnostoma australianum, a small ancient tree of the Casuarina family. Endemic to only small pockets of the Daintree area, it has a conservation status of vulnerable and, like others in this series, is not widely represented in botanical art or illustration.

Betty Hinton, Gymnostoma australianum - Dawn She Oak, 1996 - 1999, watercolour on paper, 100 x 88 cm. James Cook University Art Collection. © Betty Hinton. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
A striking duo depicts both the adult, and importantly, the distinctly different juvenile foliage of Musgravea heterophylla. The image size, depth of colour and mass of foliage is further enlivened by the artist's commitment to working from live specimens. This trait is most obvious in Megahertzia amplexicaulis where petioles (leaf stems) may be short and swollen or completely absent; both states are well illustrated in the work. That fact alone is significant as, apart from the scientific illustration by A. Wilson, Betty Hinton's painting may be the only coloured rendition currently in existence of a plant endemic to small areas of Australia's Wet Tropics.
Betty Hinton, Megahertzia amplexicaulis, 1996 - 1999, watercolour on paper, 100 x 88 cm. James Cook University Art Collection. © Betty Hinton. Photograph by Michael Marzik.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University.

Author Biography
Julie McEnerny, herself an artist and illustrator, has worked mainly with botanical subjects since 2008. Her drawing skills were honed at Julian Ashton Art School, Sydney in 1980s, where skeletons and marble busts were de rigueur. A couple of decades of commercial illustration led to a commission of botanical drawings and the penny dropped. Five annual residencies with the Cairns Botanic Gardens and Tanks Arts Centre followed, culminating in a national touring exhibition of local flora. She happily continues in this field with a particular passion for epiphytes on Melaleuca sticks.


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