Title

Plants, people and place : cultural botany and the Southwest Australian flora.

Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communication and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Rod Giblett

Abstract

The Southwest corner of Western Australia has a distinctive culture of flora. In particular, the region is an internationally lauded destination for wildflower tourism. Aesthetic values inform the Southwest’s contemporary culture of flora and its products: photographs of flowers, botanical illustrations, taxonomic schemata and visually based landscape writings. In dynamic combination with sight, however, multi-sensoriality enhances cultures of flora through sensation. Hence, this thesis argues that it is vital to consider how bodily experiences deepen the appreciation of floristic appearances. Through readings of cultural, literary and historical sources, I propose floraesthesis as an embodied aesthetics of plants. The ancient concept of aesthesis, the root of the modern term aesthetics, comprises sensations—induced by the many senses—as gestures of curiosity. Whereas floraesthesis theorises corporeal appreciation, a visual aesthetic tends to distance plants from human appreciators. The latter may posit plants hierarchically as objects of visual art or constructs of quantitative science. This project puts into practice a critical humanities-based model that I call cultural botany. Following a progression of readings from colonial to contemporary times, I trace a continuum from floral aesthetics to floraesthesis through the cultural botany context. Using an integrative Thoreauvian-Heideggerean theoretical framework, I describe floral aesthetics as constituted by culture and language. As Thoreau and Heidegger suggest, embodied appreciation is predicated on language. I then theorise floraesthesis through readings of written and spoken materials: historic and contemporary literatures; colonialera botanical documents; transcriptions of ethnographic interviews; and my poetic enquiries as interludes throughout the text. A qualitative methodology, which I term botanic field aesthetics, comprises poetic practice, ethnographic interviewing and field walking set within an extensive historical context and organised around three places: Lesueur National Park, Fitzgerald River National Park and Anstey-Keane Damplands.

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