with the State Herbarium, with plant systematics and with conservation
Presented by Bill Barker
on the occasion of a celebration marking Darrell’s retirement
Mr Pickwick’s Restaurant, Stoneyfell Winery
30 July 1999
Darrell Kraehenbuehl is tied in with my memories of my first experiences in the mid 1960s of the rich plant diversity of the bush and the conservation issues of the time, and of my own passion for plant systematics and botanical history, much of which developed through my undergraduate and postgraduate associations with the State Herbarium.
At that time there was great concern about the clearance of land in cities, the hills face, and further afield such as on Eyre Peninsula, and Hansjoerg Eichler the first Keeper of the State Herbarium had brought this institution to a lead role in developing the vital knowledge base for conservation through promoting collection surveys and revisional research on the State’s flora.
But Darrell had been around before I was on the scene and was involved, as a plant collector for the State Herbarium of South Australia, around the time it was established in the mid 1950s. I am going to concentrate on this aspect, and particularly the period of the 50s and early 60s (time ran out to do more with herbarium moves, etc., and this is the period many of you won’t have heard of).
He was an avid member of the Field Naturalists’ Society and contributor to its regular field excursions and monthly lecture programme, and to its journal The South Australian Naturalist.
A quick browse of the issues in the 1950s shows that:
Like Darrell, Richard (or Dick) Schodde in his High School days in the 1950s was an avid participant in the FNS. (He is a noted ornithologist, heading up the National Bird Collection in CSIRO Wildlife, but his scientific grounding was in plants: His Ph.D. by the way was not in birds, but in the systematics of a rainforest plant family supervised by Hansjoerg Eichler of the State Herbarium). He writes of those early days:
"Darrell was a leading light in the field nats, with a vast knowledge of plants in the field. In that area, there was no one to touch him in SA, although he was weak on eucalypts, the only area where I was even competitive, and then barely so. I was with him when he first started his original flora of metropolitan Adelaide project. It began at Folland Park in North Adelaide. Darrell, as you probably know, worked for his [step-father] then as a scrap-metal dealer, and journeyed around the suburbs in a small battered green truck – this predated the new and more familiar red truck that he graduated to when courting his wife Cynthia. Anyway, that old green truck made many extra-curricular stops around the suburbs as Darrell found pocket after pocket of residual native veg, to the annoyance of his [step-father]. Quarrels with father were frequent, and upset Darrell who is a very gentle soul, and hated fights of any sort – but nothing could stop his passion for flora."
There’s that word "passion": Darrell’s "passion" shaped the course of his life.
Wayne Harris, who later studied the Maslin’s Bay fossil pollen flora and then headed up the Biostratigraphy Unit of the Dept of Mines and Energy, was a great mate of Darrell’s. Both were at High School and they first met and teamed up via the FNS Botany Club. They spent much time in the big ute visiting scrap metal merchants, but diverting to investigate tracts of bush on the Adelaide Plains and neighbouring regions, particularly the upper Torrens area, Belair National Park, and the more coastal areas near the airport. They would "go anywhere where Darrell could get his ute". He remembers they started putting pen to paper on the Adelaide Plains vegetation, with maps of distribution, Wayne, an orchid enthusiast, contributing in the area of his interest in geology and soils. He remembers them documenting a tract of bush on one golf course close to the airport, significant for its orchids. Darrell’s efforts were instrumental in its being saved. [Darrell, was that the one on the Grange Golf Course, where Birgitte and Manfred have been undertaking a Management programme on Pterostylis arenicola?]
This of course culminated in his Pre-European Vegetation of the Adelaide Plains book.
Darrell’s concerns for rarities, the documentation of distribution, and his despair at the continuing demise of the devastation of the Adelaide Plains are contained in his "Note on Calostemma" (SA Nat. Dec 1955, p. 24), from which I quote:
"Surely everyone has seen the grand display that the Native Bells make at Eden [Hills] in February and March! But who has seen these plants on the Plains? During my working hours, whilst driving around in my utility, I have noticed Calostemma growing in three localities in the City and Suburbs …
"One of the last strongholds of the Native Bells on the Adelaide plains is the Parklands. There are also many colonies beside the Glenelg tramline, between Park Terrace [now Greenhill Road] and South Terrace. My second locality was noted at Hendon in the strangest of places – a backyard of an electroplater. There they were – four or five flowering stalks of beauty in an environment of industrial ugliness.
"Finally, a large clump is situated on the side of the Glenelg tramline between Black Forest and Plympton Prk. It would seem quite safe to assume that these are relics of (alas) the once dense Black Forest."
Darrell didn’t only find rarities in the plant world. David Symon remembers Darrell finding a Roman helmet in his foraging exercises. Perhaps we might hear more on that from Darrell.
In 1956 Ted Booth and Hansjoerg Eichler contributed an article on the need to collect plants on surveys, and, sure enough, a 1957 Schodde & Kraehenbuehl article in the SA Naturalist presents a checklist of plants for Hindmarsh Valley. They note that these were vouchered by herbarium specimens deposited in the State Herbarium.
Dick Schodde remembers a Field Nats trip to Ayers Rock and the Olgas around 1956 "when it was dirt all the way".
"We had a hilarious time with the old ladies, flying bloomers from our tent masts whenever possible. On one occasion they even accused us of ‘peeping’ at them, to which Darrell's response was: ‘what would we want to look at you for’."
They made several hundred collections, perhaps more, including Isoetes and a rare Stylidium from the pools on the Rock. Darrell gave talks to the Society illustrated with Kodachromes on his return.
Darrell has retained his passion for collecting rarities and documenting remnant vegetation throughout his life. Dr Eric Sims, the lifelong associate of the great Professor J.B. Cleland, remembers coming across an enthusiastic Darrell near the Strathalbyn–Goolwa road in the 1960s. Darrell had discovered a rare Eriostemon. As a result, the Professor, in typical fashion with government on conservation issues, convinced the authorities to safeguard the roadside with signs. I can remember a frail but alert Professor Cleland visiting the State Herbarium around that time with the plant fragments in envelopes salvaged from the mail. Eric reported that the Professor pressed them on collecting by sitting on them as they drove from site to site. Darrell’s collections are fortunately far superior to the "Cleland fragments", as they have been called.
The Professor was active in leading some of the Field Nats excursions and writing many and varied articles in the SA Naturalist, and Darrell will have important memories of sitting with him on the Herbarium Liaison Committee from 1963 to its last meeting in 1967. The committee was formed in an attempt to resolve a long-standing schism between the administrations of the State Herbarium and the Botanic Gardens.
It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia was established out of an acrimonious dispute between polarised groups concerned with the environment. The NCSSA formed around the academics of the University of Adelaide, with I remember Professor Andrewartha and others of the Zoology Department, Peter Martin, Bryan Womersley, Con Eardley and the inspirational Bob Lange of the Botany Department, Nigel Wace from the Geography Department, David Symon from the Waite Institute, and Hansjoerg Eichler from the State Herbarium. Darrell and Dick Schodde were founding members. [Sue Barker and I’m sure Colin Harris were involved there somewhere along the line. ] This society preached a balance between development and conservation, and the need for solid justification for stands in conservation issues. It proved a successful approach with the acquisition of a number of reserves particularly on Eyre Peninsula during a massive clearance programme, and the State Herbarium, through Hansjoerg Eichler, was heavily involved in providing baseline survey data on the plants. [This general pressure on Government on the environment may also have played a significant role in establishment towards the end of that period of a conservation department in its own right.]
But Darrell I think, the strong-willed and independent spirit that he is, chose to pursue other areas. One that comes to mind was the vegetation of the Tothill Ranges. I can remember being impressed by his extensive report on the floristics and biogeography of this area. Here he was focussing well before others on our Northern Lofty area, a region we recognise now as one of the more devastated and vital to conserve.
It was about this time that Darrell sought to redress what I suspect he saw as a major problem with his future life. His mates in the Field Nats, notably Schodde and Harris, had gone from High School straight to University and had taken up exciting positions full time in systematics (Schodde in plants and birds and Harris in pollen and geology). So Darrell finally broke the shackles of his [step-]father’s profession and went to University. And so came his position in the present Department dealing with native vegetation. As Murray Fagg and others have pointed out, Darrell had to achieve his desire to work where his passions lay the hard way. Mature age students were not as common then as they are now. It must have been decision that took some courage.
Murray Fagg, the principal information officer at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, says he was greatly influenced by Darrell’s environmental knowledge.
"Darrell had a willingness to share his deep and extensive knowledge with the ‘rank amateurs’ amongst the naturalists, while at the same time he was comfortable with his interactions with the academics, the scientists. He was a bridge between the two groups."
Darrell’s passion has not only covered the present day. He has a penchant for history in matters relating to Australian botany, but in particular of the vegetation and floristics of South Australia and of early German botanists. His publication list in this area is large. Such accounts are not merely academic. They are useful in systematics for tracing details such as provenance of inadequately documented collections, most importantly the types to which scientific names are permanently attached. An important summative work is his review of the "History of Botany in South Australia" which prefaces the 1986 edition of the Flora of South Australia. John Jessop expresses his regret that he was prevented from including the earlier version of this paper in the first, monocots volume of the incomplete third edition of the Flora, published about eight years earlier. Darrell’s friendship with Jim Willis that wonderful gentle man of Victorian systematic botany and history he will always treasure.
Darrell’s associations with the State Herbarium have continued to the present day, through his continued collections of key plants (not for him surveys of plant diversity of a site or on a field trip, but samples of rare plants or from remnant bush sites), his major contribution with Peter Lang on bringing to light plants under threat in a regional context, and in his treatment of the history of the Adelaide Plains vegetation. The basis for records he documents in his Adelaide Plains volume are to be found in the State Herbarium or more significantly other herbaria which contain South Australian collections that were established long before our own. The National Herbarium of Victoria, which was established by the botanical Baron, Ferdinand von Mueller and to which Darrell is a well-known visitor, is a prime source of our State’s collections, as are those at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and other overseas herbaria he has visited.
And so, to wind up, we see a number of the traits that make the Darrell we know:
Of course, unmentioned has been Darrell’s disgraceful sense of humour. We have already seen examples of this, and hopefully this item represents the last mention of it [Darrell’s collection from Womma railway track of an unusual "lichen-like" specimen extracted from the State Herbarium was displayed to the audience.]
Darrell, we all wish you and Cynthia well for the future. We at the Herbarium expect to see more of you. And we look forward to the results of your researches into the botany of Flinders and Baudin’s expeditions.
Source: Pers Comm., speech notes by Bill Barker on
the occasion of a celebration marking Darrell’s retirement