I can easily find a lifetime’s worth of inspiration in Australian nature. It can be found in leaves, rocks, shells, water and all the various animals and insects. These paintings represent just a handful of times when I have stopped to admire something I have encountered while walking around neighbourhoods, hiking trails and national parks.

Banksia clump

Oil on canvas. 30cm x 40cm.

The banksia doesn’t make any sense. There is no top or bottom, no front or back. The seed pods are fused together in no style or pattern, as if they exploded from a central kernel like a popcorn. It’s a solid clump of mouths.

It’s given some sense of order by the fact it’s hanging from a branch. It may be chaotic, but it has some stability and predictability in how it grows. It makes me think of the choices I have on my branch of time. I could do a whole range of things and go off in any random direction, but I’m going to keep walking along this path until I reach my destination, which today is a secluded beach. Should I grow in a predictable and safe pattern or be more like this banksia and explode in any direction and in any random form?

Little silver eye

Oil on canvas. 30cm x 25cm.

One thing I enjoyed about being up high on a cliff and looking out over the ocean was seeing the vastness of the water and being reminded that whatever I thought was important and worrying, was actually meaningless in the wide scheme of things.

As I looked to my left down towards the beach, I noticed a tiny bird perched on a twig. I’d been trying to spot these birds as I walked, but even though they were loud, they were good at hiding within the wiry shrubs that had set root in the sandy soil. They would chirp then move so my ears could keep up with them but my eyes couldn’t.

Compared to the massive ocean, I was about the same size and equally as relevant as the bird.

Blood red in the kangaroo paw

Oil on canvas. 30cm x 40cm.

My sister had planted kangaroo paws in her front garden a few months before and now they were blooming. It wasn’t a flower my sister and I encountered very often when we were growing up in NSW. She’d chosen them, along with the other plants in her garden, because they were native and robust.

I compared the furry flower with its solid structure to an actual marsupial limb. I held the flower and looked back into my memory to see if I had ever actually touched the paw of a real kangaroo. I was sure I’d lightly patted a kangaroo on the back, but why would I ever have touched a kangaroo’s paw? It wasn’t something I would naturally want to do. Or a kangaroo would want me to do.

Yellow and Ochre Wattle

Yellow and ochre wattle

Oil on canvas. 30cm x 25cm.

I stopped walking because I noticed at the point where I stood I could, with a little imagination, trick myself into feeling like I was a long way from the city. All I could see was a dirt walking trail, native grasses and trees, and blue sky. The only thing not playing its part in the illusion was the whooshing and grunting of cars using the multi-lane highway about 800m away (at its widest point I had counted fourteen lanes). I found it strange but relieving there was a native reserve, a small pocket of nature, in the middle of the city on land I was sure had real estate developers salivating.

A wattle bush caught my attention because of the colours of many of its flowers. Wattle is usually known for its bright yellows, but this one had a lot of flowers that basked in the sun and become shades of dark ochre. The young and the older flowers paired together looked particularly beautiful.

Koala pondering next moves

Koala ponders next moves

Oil on canvas. 45xm x 45cm.

I pulled the car over immediately because there were two families on the side of the road looking up into a tree. I was near the Great Ocean Road and there was only one thing around there that would be in a tree and motivate people to get out of their cars in the middle of nowhere.

I’d been trying to spot koalas all day without success and whoever first spotted this one while traveling at 80km/h did very well because it was ten meters above the ground and behind layers of leaves. Amongst all the moving shadows, bark markings and distractions, only the bulbous shape made it stand out from its surroundings. It was no doubt aware of all of us fussing about below. It would have been able to sense our artificial perfumes cutting through the sweet eucalypt and salty air. It knew it was in a safe place, moving slowly with purpose but no urgency, choosing leaves and gazing out over the trees.

Another car pulled up and I decided I should move on, vacate the car space and let the rotation of onlookers continue.

Bees in the gumnuts

Oil on canvas. 50cm x 40cm.

On a crisp winter morning I was walking to the beach because I knew the cold would keep people away and I would be alone with the ocean. There was nobody else on the bike path and no distractions which is maybe why I noticed the branch of a gum tree with snow-white bark reaching out over a fence, as if it was waiting for me to walk by so it could scruff my hair with its long twig fingers.

I walked under it and looked up. The gumnut pods, about one meter above me, were already empty having lost their blossoms. The inside of the gumnuts appeared luminescent yellow as the sun shone through. Despite a lack of flowers, there were still bees crawling inside the pods, devouring nutrients I couldn’t see. I wondered how the tree was still able to attract bees without flowers, but then I realised I was standing there just as captivated as the bees.

Wise corella

Oil on canvas. 60cm x 50cm.

I leaned on the boot of the car and looked across the road. It had been a pleasure driving around this area with long, straight roads lined with tall eucalypts running between farms and the national park. Even beside this two-lane road and its steady trickle of cars and trucks, there was the fresh, leafy scent of nature.

I noticed turkeys across the road in a paddock behind tall, hatched wire fencing. I don’t often see live turkeys, so they were a novelty to me, bobbing around as they pecked at the ground. Then above them I saw a flock of white birds preening themselves in the grey, dry branches of a dying gum tree.

One of them glided from the tree to the ground and the rest immediately followed. Now that they were closer and down on my level, I could see the birds had large beaks and splashes of red on their chests and faces – corellas. They were ripping at the grass, tearing dirt out with the roots, trying to get to grubs or seeds. Blue wrinkles surrounding their eyes made them seem thoughtful and ancient, as if they possessed the wisdom of their ancestors gained over millennia.

Kurrajong breaking open

Oil on canvas. 20cm x 25cm.

I was walking into a large park that was made of various open sports fields with patches of trees growing near the edges. My walk today was just for fitness and lately I’d been walking on the ovals to try and spell out words on a map with my phone’s GPS tracking (with no success).

As I passed a kurrajong tree I could see yellow seeds emerging from the darkness of a shell. They were peering out into the world with curiosity. Feeling the sunlight and wind on this spring day could have been a relief to them after growing in the pod, or maybe they could sense struggle outside and were hoping to be closed back within.

I couldn’t imagine, here in a carefully managed public park, that any of them were going to be able to take root and grow into a tree the size of the one they will soon leave. Their best hope for their next stage of life was that a bird would notice them peering out from their pod, eat them and dispose of them somewhere else.

Gumnuts cracking open

Gumnuts cracking open

Oil on canvas. 30cm x 40cm.

I’d been taking regular walks through the neighbourhood and at first I liked the variety of exploring different streets, but then I began sticking to an established path that took me through parts I found most interesting. I realised not just in my walks but other aspects of my life, that I have routines and well-worn paths not because I’m afraid of exploring or being uncomfortable, but because I know what I like and where I want to go.

In front of a construction site of a house that so far was not much more than a wooden skeleton, was a ‘silver princess’ gum tree. The tree stood out because everything else in the front yard had been removed or flattened down to bare dirt. The owners of the property had decided to preserve this one tree.

Its bark was stark white and its branches were adorned with the pink and yellow bulbs of new gumnuts. Many had already opened into fierce gum flowers, but I spotted a bunch that were paused in the action of breaking. I could see the stamens growing thick inside and shoving at the shell, urging it to set them free. This was a slow process, but it would end suddenly when it bursts open, the new flower reaching out as far and wide as it could with magenta and gold. 

Pink Gumnuts - Oil on canvas - 40cm x 50cm

Pink gumnuts

Oil on canvas. 40cm x 50cm.

As I stood beneath the eucalypt tree I could faintly smell its leaves and hear a shrill bird searching for nectar above. The red and pink fluffy stamen of gumnuts surrounded my feet in a carpet on the ground, the way my hair lines the floor after a haircut.

It was possible strong winds had given the branches a good shake, but not all of the gumnuts had lost their flowers. Many still had their fuzzy stamen in place. One branch was hanging low enough for me to reach and I couldn’t help ruffle a blossom between my fingers and sniff the sweet pollen.

Red leaf rejoining the forest

Leaf on the forest floor

Oil on canvas. 50cm x 40cm.

I was in the dark, moist shadows of the forest canopy, watching the ground very closely because I knew leeches were around. In this forest they were tiny and moved onto your body with thirst and stealth. I knew no matter how vigilant I was, when I got back to the car I would find some feeding on my ankles. The complex forest floor reminded me that in a perfect natural order, anything that is not alive is providing life. Everything, including the huge trees, tall and ancient, were given life by things that had fallen to the ground.

The leaves that had fallen were breaking down and returning their nutrients to the forest floor. Each one created unique patterns and colours as it slowly fell apart. I noticed one leaf that had fallen onto a piece of bark and had developed reds and oranges. It seemed bugs had been nibbling at it as it started to reveal its delicate framework beneath its surface.

Lorikeet playing by the river

Lorikeet playing in the tree

Oil on canvas. 60cm x 50cm.

Ahead I could see a narrow bridge crowded with walkers who shared the path, so I stopped my bike and took some water as I waited for them to disperse. I noticed a lorikeet hanging upside-down in the palm tree above.

It was springtime and the lorikeets had found homes where there were hollows in trunks near the top of these trees, sometimes competing with other birds like corellas and minahs. Lorikeets are always in pairs, so when I see one I look around for its partner. This one’s lover was hiding close to the tree’s trunk beneath the cover of the palm leaves with just its head popping out, maybe guarding a nest.

The first lorikeet seemed to be both searching for food and enjoying how it could bounce and swing on the long leaves. It arched its neck as if posing and seeking admiration from its partner for its tricks.