• Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges)

    Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges) 1866

    Eugène von GUÉRARD

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    Notes

    Mount Kosciuszko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges) 1866 is based on drawings made by Eugene von Guérard in 1862 during a scientific expedition to Mount Kosciuszko led by the German scientist Professor Georg Balthasar von Neumayer.

    While this view is serene, journals written during the expedition reveal that the party endured incredible hardships. The dark, eerie, primeval bush and the elevated, light-drenched Mount Kosciuszko form two contrasting regions within the composition of the painting. These two areas are visually linked by tall majestic gum trees and a flock of cockatoos. High above, in the distance, hawks glide on alpine currents. The skeletal remains of the towering tree trunks frame a section of the centre foreground where we see Von Neumayer riding his white horse towards his dog, Hector. Several other horses graze quietly in the bush while Von Neumayer’s travelling companions set up camp for the night. The figures are small details in a scene of sweeping natural grandeur.

    While von Guérard’s interest in scientific enquiry is evident in the accurately observed details in the landscape, the dramatic contrasts of scale and light reflect Romantic allusions to the divine and poetic in nature.

  • Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861

    Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861 1907

    John LONGSTAFF

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    Notes

    Burke and Wills led the expedition from Melbourne through Central Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The explorers arrived at Cooper’s Creek to discover from an inscription on a tree that the relief party had left seven hours before. Only King survived.

    Forty years later, in 1901, John Longstaff was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria to paint this famous historical scene. Payment was made from a bequest by former Gallery trustee Dr William Gilbee, which somewhat curiously required the work to be done in England. The vast canvas was finally completed in London in 1907.

  • Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur

    Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur (c. 1878)

    Nicholas CAIRE

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    Notes

    Nicholas Caire specialised in photographing picturesque aspects of the Victorian landscape. His most celebrated photograph is Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur 1878 that shows a man to the right of the image dwarfed by the giant tree ferns that surround him.

    Tree ferns exerted a powerful fascination for nineteenth-century viewers – the word 'pteridomania' was specifically coined at the time to describe a passion for these plants. Ferns were of interest as exotic reminders of the prehistory of the planet and for the decorative appeal of their graceful flowing form.

    While the contemplation of nature through art satisfied the romantic tastes of the nineteenth-century viewer, most people also believed that the land held essential resources that must be used to build a modern nation. ‘Preservationists’, including Nicholas Caire, advocated the informed, selective use of natural resources to preserve sites of significant natural beauty for general enjoyment.


Landscape and environment

Early travellers and explorers

Indigenous Australians have lived on this continent for more than 50,000 years and have strong relationships with their land and believe they belong to the land.

During the Dreaming, creator ancestors or spirit ancestors and supernatural beings emerged from the sky, the earth and water and through their journeys formed the land, geographical features and living things. Rivers, mountains, deserts, trees, plants, animals and humans were created during this time.

However, by 1788 the continent now called Australia was unknown territory for the newly arrived colonists. They often struggled with the unfamiliar landscape and maintained a culture closely aligned to their European origins. Many images of this early period record and celebrate the progress of European settlement and depict the landscape using familiar conventions. References to Australian plants and animals or the Indigenous people were often included.

  • A scientific expedition

    In 1862, artist Eugene von Guérard was invited to take part in a scientific expedition to Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mountain, to record his impressions of the landscape. Mount Kosciuszko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges) 1866 is based on drawings he made during this expedition.

    The painting’s sheer physical size and elevated panoramic viewpoint give it a heroic quality in keeping with the drama and daring of the expedition. In the foreground, dark, primeval bush contrasts dramatically with Mount Kosciuszko, which is bathed in afternoon light, perhaps reflecting Romantic allusions to the divine and poetic in nature. Von Guérard’s respect for scientific enquiry is clearly evident, however, in the accurately observed and carefully rendered details within the landscape.

  • Crossing the continent – Burke and Wills

    Two years earlier, Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills embarked on their infamous journey to cross Australia from south to north. Their 1860 expedition was the largest and most costly ever mounted in Australia; it was also a monumental tragedy with many men losing their lives.17

    In April 1861, when Burke, Wills and fellow explorer John King reached their campsite at Cooper’s Creek returning from their expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria, they found that their companions had already departed. Their back-up party had marked a large tree with the word ‘DIG’ to indicate the location of a hidden store. Only King survived.

    Forty years later, in 1901, John Longstaff was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria to paint this famous historical scene, which he completed in London in 1907.

  • In search of the picturesque

    Nicholas Caire specialised in photographing picturesque aspects of the Victorian landscape. His most celebrated photograph is Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur 1878, which shows a man dwarfed by the giant tree ferns that surround him.

    The contemplation of nature through art satisfied the romantic tastes of the nineteenth-century viewer but most people also believed that the land held essential resources that must be used to build a modern nation. The wild valleys and ferny bowers depicted by photographers were at risk by the mid 1880s from commercial timber merchants and settlers eager to clear the land.

    ‘Preservationists’, including Nicholas Caire, advocated the informed, selective use of natural resources to preserve sites of significant natural beauty for general enjoyment. This differs from our understanding of ‘conservation’ today that seeks to reserve tracts of wilderness in a pristine, untouched way.

Endnotes