Cultural legacy of a wildflower love affair

Margaret Forrest, wife of Western Australia’s first Premier was one of Australia’s early botanical artists.  It’s thought that her love of bushland and wildflowers may have had some influence on Sir John Forrest’s decision to proclaim Western Australia’s first national park.

Lady Forrest, born Margaret Elvire Hamersley, showed an early interest in watercolour painting.  In 1925 she recalled her happy childhood in an interview:

‘I had a most happy childhood and girlhood. When released from my schoolroom, I passed my time pleasantly in singing and painting and riding and visiting . . in fact, every moment was fully filled, as I was also fond of gardening. I adore nature and our lovely wild flowers which I have painted from childhood.’

(West Australian, 18 September 1925)

As an adult, she travelled on sketching trips with other noted botanical artists of the Victoria era, Marianne North and Rowan Ellis. Her style matured over the years to produce bolder compositions incorporating gouache and glazes.

Lady Forrest was a founding member of the Western Australian Society of Arts and Australia’s first women’s club, the Karrakatta Club. Her contribution to conservation of native flora is recognised in the Margaret Forrest Centre within the John Forrest National Park.

Some of her paintings are on display there but most of her collection was bequeathed to the Art Gallery of Western Australia after her death in 1929.