Soul of the Desert

Philippa Nikulinsky + Stephen D Hopper

Fremantle Arts Centre Press 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Soul of the Desert presents paintings by Philippa Nikulinsky of plants and animals from the Australian deserts. Most are botanical but birds and other animals feature, from bull ants to monitor lizards.

The paintings are arranged in sixty four double page "plates" divided into six sections: "Ranges and Rock Outcrops", "Plains", "Dunes", "Wetlands", "Widespread Plants and Animals" and "Diversity Explored". Each plate has a painting on the right-hand page and a caption on the left-hand page, with the extra space on the left usually used for an smaller additional drawing or a key to the main painting, but sometimes left blank. This is a little extravagant but contributes to a clean and attractive layout which nicely shows off the paintings. Soul of the Desert makes a great display item.

The captions offer some background on the plants or animals depicted, especially on their use by indigenous Australians.

Bush banana, cogola bush or parla (Marsdenia australis)
South Little Sandy Desert
The bush banana is a fire-tolerant vine ranging across Arid Australia. Sweet flowers, young fruits and young leaves are sought after by desert people, who eat them raw. The outer rind of mature fruits is also consumed after seeds are thrown away. Roots are also edible but dug up only during hard times.

Stephen Hopper contributes a general introduction and introductions to each section, which focus on the geology and broad ecology of the Australian deserts as the setting for the flora and fauna illustrated. This is informative and enjoyable, and one almost wishes he'd had room to write at greater length. As it is, however, Soul of the Desert is primarily for those who enjoy botanical illustration.

November 2008

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%T Soul of the Desert
%A Nikulinsky, Philippa
%A Hopper, Stephen D
%I Fremantle Arts Centre Press
%D 2005
%O hardcover, illustrations, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 1921064064
%P 184pp