Former local helps shed light on convict life

GOT IT COVERED: Former Lismore woman Louise Anemaat with her new book on the wildlife art of the Australian convicts.
GOT IT COVERED: Former Lismore woman Louise Anemaat with her new book on the wildlife art of the Australian convicts. Contributed

ANALYSIS of hundreds of previously unknown natural history drawings by former Northern Rivers resident Louise Anemaat has helped shed light on what life was like for the first fleet of convicts and settlers to Australia.

Her recently published book, Natural Curiosity: Unseen Art of the first fleet, uses the images to challenge conventional ideas about the first years of colony life.

"One of the things that I'm most interested in is the idea the drawings give us, that the convict colony at Sydney Cove during the early years was a far more active and expressive cultural community than most of us realise," she said.

Ms Anemaat, who is the head of pictures at the State Library of New South Wales and an 18th century art expert, said the state library purchased 745 natural history drawings in 2011.

Three of the six volumes were previously "unknown" while references to the other three had been made in historical literature.

"The drawings capture the sense of wonder and awe that people felt when they first arrived in Australia because the natural history was so different to anything they were used to," Ms Anemaat said.

"They were sending drawings back, partly to express the wonder of what they found but partly to say 'don't forget us, we're here'."

Ms Anemaat said she was interested in the narratives of the convicts and officers.

"One of the things that I kept sort of thinking when I was working on the book was that I was working in the state library just a couple of blocks up the hill from where this actually happened," she said.

"To me that's sort of mind-boggling.

"The message you keep getting when you read their accounts are of the incredible sense of isolation and abandonment they experienced and that total fear they would just be forgotten."



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