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Video clip synopsis – Victorian flower painter Ellis Rowan rocked the Australian art establishment when she won the Centennial Art Prize in 1888.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - Australian History, Betty Churcher, artists, biography, botanical, gender, identity, women, see all tags

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The Flower Hunter

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About the Video Clip

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From the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia
The National Library of Australia is the country’s largest reference library with over nine million items in its collection, including a surprising number of art works. In a new series of Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library. From her unique vantage point, Churcher makes intriguing historical connections between paintings and engravings, photography, manuscripts and artefacts, illustrated journals and diaries. These are fascinating tales about the creative process and the works themselves that offer a tantalising insight into Australia’s culture and heritage.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Curriculum Focus

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Reading standard: Students read, view, analyse, critique, reflect on and discuss contemporary and classical imaginative texts that explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance in their own lives. They will also read, view, analyse and discuss a wide range of informative and persuasive texts and identify the multiple purposes for which texts are created.

Writing standard: Students write sustained and cohesive narratives that experiment with different techniques and show attention to chronology, characterization, consistent point of view and development of resolution.

They write persuasive texts dealing with complex ideas and issues and control the linguistic structures and features that support the presentation of different perspectives on complex themes and issues.

Speaking and listening standard: Students, when engaged in discussion compare ideas, build on others’ ideas, provide and justify other points of view, and reach conclusions that take into account aspects of an issue.

They draw on a range of strategies to listen to and present spoken texts, including note-taking, combining spoken and visual texts, and presenting complex issues or information imaginatively to interest an audience.

The activities in this learning module are relevant to the Interdisciplinary Learning strand of Level 6 Communications (Listening, viewing and responding standard; Presenting standard) and Thinking Processes (Reasoning, processing and inquiry standard; Creativity standard).

The activities are also relevant to the Physical, Personal and Social Learning strand of Level 6 Interpersonal Development (Building social relationships standard; Working in teams standard) and Personal Learning (The individual learner standard; Managing personal learning standard).

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information

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Victorian flower painter Ellis Rowan rocked the Australian art establishment when she won the Centennial Art Prize in 1888, defeating established male artists including Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin and prompting a complaint from the Victorian Art Society. A feisty and tenacious adventurer, Rowan travelled Australia searching for rare and exotic species to paint before venturing into the jungles of New Guinea to find inspiration for her exquisite flower paintings. Using watercolours and gouache on coloured paper, she painted many unique varieties, on one occasion claiming to have dangled by a rope over a precipice, hundreds of metres above the rainforest below, to paint a tree orchid. The bitterness of her male rivals lasted until well after her death in 1922. Some 900 of her watercolours are now in the National Library collection.

Classroom Activities

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  1. “My love for the flora of Australia, at once so unique and so fascinating, together with my desire to complete my collection of floral paintings, has carried me into other colonies, Queensland and some of the remotest parts of the great continent of Australia. The excitement of seeking and the delight of finding rare or even unknown specimens abundantly compensated me for all difficulties, fatigue and hardships.”
    Quoted from Rowan’s Biography
    Do you know or know of anyone who has a real obsession? What difficulties might exist in a society for a person who does have an obsession? Why might people follow their obsessions?
  2. Ellis was a contemporary of Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin—both of whom are considered to be important in the development of Australian nationalism in the late 19th century because their art focussed on typical Australian scenes. How might you argue that Ellis Rowan should also be considered part of this nationalistic development?
  3. Ellis Rowan was not typical of women of her day. Suggest or speculate on what obstacles might have existed for women to be independent travellers and artists during Ellis’ lifetime. Then research more about her life to test these ideas and to see how she overcame these restrictions and limitations.
  4. The main women given acknowledgement in Australian history are those who achieved political rights for women or writers. Research and prepare a list of notable women. Include, but try to expand your list beyond, political activists and writers.

Further Resources

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Go to Screen Australia Digital Learning’s Arts Portal
To see more go to The National Library of Australia