Branching our history with art

Capturing history: Wilma Brown's work is embracing the beauty of Australia on an iconic tree. Photo: Anne Keen
Capturing history: Wilma Brown's work is embracing the beauty of Australia on an iconic tree. Photo: Anne Keen

The oldest English Oak tree on record in Australia stood quietly on the Richmond Lowlands for 188 years, having been planted by one of the early settlers, British marine Edward Powell in the late 1700s.  

In 1982, it was classified by the National Trust of Australia and fell during a storm in November 1988. The history of the tree, its classification by the trust and its demise were documented in Windsor/Richmond Gazette, now the Hawkesbury Gazette.

Brothers, John and Snowy Biddle, whose family owned the land where the tree stood, asked a friend, Gordon Brown to help remove the trees remains. When they did, it was found badly damaged by termites and no good for timber work. Gordon Brown, however, had the foresight to keep about 80 slices of its limbs.  He gave these to me, his daughter Wilma, to paint on.

For 29 years I’ve stored and travelled these pieces until I recently retired in Gloucester and began painting. The result will be delayed in an exhibition at the Gloucester Gallery from October 12 until  November 5.

To enhance the exhibition, I have painted wooden handled antique hand saws and gourds along with other items. I have also prepared a five metre timeline covering interesting and major events from the 1700s to the present day.

When I began painting on the timber it was with a strong desire to show some off the beauty of this country.  Shortly after I began I met local, Lyn Stewart, who by coincidence, is a direct descendant of Edward Powell.

I soon learned about Mr Powell’s history when Lyn shared the book she had written about her ancestor being one of the first people in Australia to be charged murder of an aboriginal.

It was a beautifully written book, detailing the events of that time and very honestly and fairly telling the story of the hardship for both indigenous and early settlers as they struggled to survive. 

I have invited Lyn to be my guest at the exhibition and to have her book on display.

The 80th piece of oak has been painted with an image of the original tree which will be gifted along with details of its history, to the Hawkesbury District Historical Society at the end of the exhibition.