“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





24 November 2016


The Mablab's been back in town: this is Ben Searcy's photograph of Professor David Mabberly when he came to Marble Hill a few years back to launch Tony Kanellos' beautiful, provocative book, Imitation of Life - A Visual Catalogue (Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, 2013) .

The book explains the Adelaide Museum of Economic Botany's priceless collection of nineteenth-century lifesize papier-mâché type-models of  fruits, most of which no longer exist as living plants.

Here's a selection of some of the fungi in the collection; the rest are mainly pome fruits:

That's Tony Kanellos, below, explaining the remarkable collection in his care.

Every couple of years, Professor Mabberly comes to the Botanic Gardens' Noel Lothian lecture hall to present a series of six confronting lectures: 'Economic Botany Today - Exploring the relationship between plants and people.' He returned a few weeks back.

Over two jam-packed, brain-dazzling days, Mabberly takes a full house of plant freaks and boffins through 1. Plant-animal interactions and a balanced diet for humans, 2.Oils and fats, 3. Fibres and latex, 4. Drinks, sweets and tobacco, 5. Drugs, spices and herbs, and 6. Ornamentals and perfumes.

Each visit, he has carefully updated these lectures to describe recent changes in the climate, the markets, the politics, the prices, fashions and fads, and the current influence of the multi-nationals which continually compete to control these things.

Like compare those apples - there are 225 different types on display, and 161 pears - to the four of five you'll find in your supermarket: two red, two green, all sweet.

I found it particularly telling that when he covered the current state of the tobacco business, he was permitted to show us a type sample of the plant and its products, but when it came to cannabis and hemp, some luny interferist bastard way up in the smoke-free rooms somewhere had disallowed the display of a cannabis specimen.  A laminated photograph had to do. Do they really imagine this mob would want to knock off an old pot leaf?

Cannabis aside, Mabberly continually refers to beautiful type specimens from the Gardens' archive, some of them even bearing the signature of Dr Richard Schomburgk (1811-1891) the Gardens' second director. Schomburgk ordered the import of the model fruits.

Upon greeting Mabberly this year, I was confronted to see a horrid wound smack in the middle of his forehead. He looked like he'd been bashed - his forensic presentations are so confronting and scary I thought somebody must have belted the messenger. But no, it was an embarrassing bite from a deadly spider he'd encountered, poking his head in a bush in a jungle somewhere. Always immaculately presented in an avuncular, professorial manner, the good fellow always has a whiff of recent jungle somewhere about him. He's spent his incredibly productive investigative life in field excursions all over the world.

Mabberly also refers constantly to exhibits in the Museum of Economic Botany, an institution he regards as a rare historical jewel in the world of botanical science.

Make an effort to visit the Museum next time you're in the Gardens, and buy your best green thumb mates a copy of Kanellos' beautiful, dumbfounding book for Exmess.

Also on my hot list of such yuletide giving is Mabberly's Plant Book, a field guide to over 24,000 plants, with botanical descriptors and explanations of their uses.

I can't live without it.

Both these special books are available in the Digger's shop behind the Museum building, right in the centre of the Garden.

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