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A time line that sings

by di2 

Posted: 18 January 2008
Word Count: 479
Summary: An extract from my Australian Colonial History Blog telling the story of my quest to understand why a 19th century plant explorer Allan Cunningham dedicated his life to science.
Related Works: In the footsteps of Allan Cunningham • Polypodium dictyopteris (lance fern) • The King`s Botanical Collector Preface • The Tomb of Phillip Parker King • 

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Allan Cunningham's story would make a really good book using a creative non-fiction writing technique. It's a method I would love to use and a story I would love to write, however since starting out on my journey to tell his story I have discovered that writing is a learned craft, a skilled craft. No, naively, I didn't know, but isn't that what life is about . . . learning. To some, writing creatively comes naturally and to others, such as myself, it requires a long, gradual learning curve without end. Plus, when the story is a true one, the writer needs a strong sense of responsibility to be accurate and to cite sources. This is all very overwhelming for a person who has written one essay and a few short pieces of creative prose. However, it's silly to regret the skills you don't have and the time you have lost. I'll celebrate what I do have and that is skill to record detailed data. The result of this ability is the evolving Allan Cunningham Time Line, a chronological list of his achievements and geographical arrivals and departures, which is part of the Allan Cunningham Project.

The Time Line has been developing over the last few months and as each piece is written, I want to expand the story line and wax lyrical. My haphazard research over the last few years has given me a knowledge of this man's story, the detail of which surprises me sometimes. As I write I realise I want to tell the reader what the weather was like, what Allan saw, who was with him at the time, why was he there, what was he achieving, who cared and why he cared. There are no boundaries once the creative juices start flowing. However, this is history and must be accurate. Combining accuracy with creativity is challenging.

In Mark Tredinnick's wonderful book "The Little Red Writing BooK" he explains how to meet this challenge. His book provides much needed creative energy and inspiration.

He advises: "You'd want your reader to hear the bird cries - sweet crescent honeyeater, harsh yellow wattlebird, distant yellowtail. You'd want them to smell the eucalypts and the leatherwoods; to catch a vivid crimson glimpse of the waratah; to feel this waft of cold air; to sense, without seeing or hearing it, the cold, deep glacial water of the lake, hidden beyond the tea-trees; to guess at the whole long natural history that makes and goes on making the place they walk through."

Such wonderful writing makes one anxious of not measuring-up, but no, I won't go there. I'll celebrate what I can do and keep on keeping on.

Mark states "when you write you talk on paper. When it's good, you sing".

Allan Cunningham's Time Line is going to "sing". I promise, but . . . no quite yet.


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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 13:33 on 20 March 2008  Report this post
Hi Di2!

On another thread I said I was willing to go to photograph Cunningham's house at Strand-on-the Green and the offer still holds - in fact, it occurred to me it would make a pleasant Easter jaunt. Jaunt, you'll be thinking, what does she mean? I should explain, in case you are unfamiliar with London geography, (in any case, why should you know where I live in relation to Cunningham's old haunts?) that I live in SE London, a relatively inexpensive area whereas Strand-on-the Green my husband the London tells me is near Kew which is quite posh - well, very posh. He also says it's about 15 miles away in SW London.

I know the area over there reasonably well because I worked in Twickenham, not far from Kew, for about ten years - commuting from here. I'm glad that's over, I must say. I've been to Kew a few times, too.

I should mention as well a the pleasure of setting out on a kind of quest, the trip won't cost me anything, either. One of the privileges of being retired in this otherwise very expensive city is free transport. So we'll take the train to Waterloo and then out again.

Mark's book does indeed sound very inspirational, and you are obviously sensitive to the natural world. I will find some more of your posts and do a little research on the great man. I've been very busy getting submissions together. I just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten my offer.


di2 at 09:10 on 28 March 2008  Report this post
Hi Sheila, How sweet are you! Fantastic news, thank you for joining in on the Allan Cunningham quest. I've only just noticed your post because I'm on holidays and haven't checked my mail.

Today, my hubby, John and I went out to photograph a memorial plaque related to Allan Cunningham at a Presbyterian church in Rose Bay (Sydney) The Pastor/Reverend (I'm not sure what to call him) was very helpful and told be all about the history of the church and it turns out the lovely stained glass windows came from a church (now dismantled) that AC would have attended. So I got to admire the very same windows that AC would have admired. I get so excited about these little snippets. John and I have so much fun with it.

I look forward to hearing the result of your quest. I hope it was a good day.


Cornelia at 09:57 on 28 March 2008  Report this post
Di2, I'm sorry, but would you believe- it was actually snowing here on Easter Monday! I'd told my husband and son that as a special treat we were going over to Kew (calling in at Strand on the Green for picture-taking) but they were understandably reluctant. It came at the end of a bank holiday weekend when I'd already persuaded my husband to venture to Alexandra Palace, the highest point in North London, on Good Friday, and we were dodgng hailstones up there. It was a good thing we had to go via the new Eurostar station at St Pancras, where there were nice pastry shops, otherwise he would have been truly fed-up. The next day we went to the cinema and then to the National Gallery because it's all indoors.

It's still fairly cold and horrible here, and I've got the grandchildren coming for the weekend.I'm planning a trip to the Naural History Museum because that's indoors, too and not to much exposure to the elements. We go by train and tube with only a short walk at the other end.

However, I hope to get over to Kew soon and when I do I'll let you know. In any case I'm thinking of buying a new camera. I earned a little indirect writing money this month, so thought I'd treat myself from the Tesco catalogue.

Are you going to continue with this Alan Cunningham diary? I think it's such a good idea.



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