Wompoo Fruit Dove, Australian, bird, watercolour, Ryn Shell,
Thank you to Wildlife Photographer Philip Woodhouse for the photo reference of the Wompoo Fruit Dove, and to author Margaret Lake for photo reference for the flowers. Artistic interpretation by Ryn Shell, A Brush with Nature Studio.
Today I completed my watercolour and watercolour painting, and art tutorial demonstration video of one of the most colourful and birds in Australia, the wompoo fruit-dove.
These beautiful birds are also named the wompoo pigeon and most likely got their name from the song they make. Often when I have been in rainforest country along the eastern coast of Australia I've heard that "Wompoo" call.
While these are large birds, up to 50 cm long, and brilliantly coloured, with a purple chest, green back and wings, yellow markings under their wings and a pale grey head, they are usually well camouflaged within the fruiting trees where they forage for food. Apparently, they gobble the fruit of their favourite native fig trees whole.
Both male and female birds are involved in parental ties of building the nest, sitting on the one egg until it hatches and then feeding the single chick.
The wompoo fruit dove is common in coastal rainforests from central New South Wales to far north Queensland and outside of Australia in New Guinea.
You can get your art made into home decor at sites such as Fine Art America where I get my print on demand gifts created.
Meet Jane Mutta.
In 1858, Jane completed years of academic and artistic study at Edinburgh University and prepared to achieve the goal she'd dreamed of, a small dental practice in a country town where she could use both her dentistry and artistic skills.
The Fife Press interviewed her. They described her as a spinster who was still quite comely, and from a family with good financial means. That brought men interested in her money to the dental clinic.
Tired of looking into leery grinning mouths of perfect teeth, and then being chased around the dental chair in her parents’ parlour, Jane decided to move out of the home and into the business district of Fife, where she believed her work would gain respect.
Her father saw no need to advance her any of her allowances, and the banks refused to lend her money without a male guarantor. Constable Green laughed when she attempted to bring charges against an over-amorous dental client, telling Jane that it was a compliment and not a crime. He tried to get her in the dental chair with him too.
Jane had had enough. She decided if she were to fight for respect for business women, then she should go to the top. So, she wrote to Queen Victoria.
Later, she thought that was the worst move she'd ever made. Only worst was still to come. Queen Victoria was more troublesome than Constable Green and was not accustomed to taking ‘no’ for an answer.
Jane was bundled off to a far distant port. Even this did not give her the freedom she desired. Her mother insisted on accompanying her as the chaperone, lest her daughter be mistaken for a fallen woman. That meant that her papa had to come too. Sleazy Constable Green was commissioned by the Queen to guard the young lady dentist as she went about her work.
Jane's trembling right gloved hand clutched the rail of the SS Admella as it steamed with smoke billowing from her funnel, and in full sail, on her maiden voyage from Scotland to Australia. A golden sovereign nestled in a pouch between Jane's breasts. She touched it and recalled the parting words from Queen Victoria:
"For your courage in bringing dentistry skills to my new colony, Australia."
Jane was author Ryn Shell's great-great grandmother. Jane has been whispering her stories into the author's head since Ryn was thirteen.
Ryn Shell has written the Fife family saga from the time of 1872, starting with To Kill For a Ghost, through until the 1980s, with the novel StarStruck.
The character Emily, in seven of the Ryn Shell novels, is loosely based on the author. It is time for the family matriarch, Jane, to begin The Stolen Years series. Here comes Miss Jane Mutta.
1859 was a distinctive year in Australia’s colonial history. Migrants arrived in South Australia to travel to the Victorian Goldfields, dreaming of finding nuggets as big as your head. Bushrangers ruled the Victorian hills. Squatters and their twenty-million sheep settled on the plains. Australia was no longer a penal colony, and many former convicts had received their provisional free-settler status.
The population of the Australian colonies would reach one million in the following year.
The Victorian Married Women's Property Act was still in place. Any land, houses, or livestock that a woman owned when she married, or remarried, automatically became the property of her husband.
There were four hundred thousand horses, and the greatest horse race of its time was planned to take place along flats beside the Yarra River, near Melbourne, Victoria.
One of Australia’s worst ecological disasters began when Thomas Austin of the Melbourne Hunt Club and the Acclimatisation Society released twenty-four English rabbits into the Australian bush for the benefit of sporting shooters... They bred like rabbits.
And then there was author Ryn Shell’s great-grandmother, Jane. She’d trained in dentistry in Edinburgh, Scotland and accepted Queen Victoria’s encouragement and a golden sovereign to take her dentistry skill to the Australian colony.
Enter: Miss Jane Mutta…
The local Aboriginal people revered the waterhole as part of their Dreaming. They peered through the bush, fearful. Their worst fear was that the creator, the rainbow serpent who slept in the depths of the billabong water, might be woken by the greed of the trespassers were enhanced when the riders stopped to rest. The riders—a young woman with strange, honey coloured hair, and an elaborately dressed older man, an armed policeman leading a laden packhorse, and the two men with shotguns who trailed them—would shatter the peace in their country.
Squatting at the water’s edge, Jane Mutta clasped the sides of her hands together; palms cupped they entered the water. Ripples circled outward; the planes of water reflected Constable Green watching her. She brought her filled hands up to her mouth. As she sipped, her eyes flicked about her.
She loved the Australian bush, although it had shocked her when she’d first seen the dead branches and untidy form of the trees. So different to Scotland—she’d needed to adapt her concept of beauty. Perhaps it was the sense of impending uncertainty and danger that heightened her appreciation of what she now saw as an attractive asymmetry of nature. Delicate patterns of sunlight that filtered through leaves replaced her love of moors and grey misty hillsides of heather.
Her shoulders hunched when the overbearing face of Constable Green came close to hers. He smelt, as he looked, part swine—thickset, squat rotund face. A flabby hand encircled by a greasy, dirt-impregnated cuff, jutted out toward her from his tight, blue uniform sleeve. Shaking her head, Jane refused to accept it; she stood, and hastily put several yards between her and the gregarious man.
A grey-haired gentleman holding a hat trailing silk ribbons approached—Cornelius Hansen—Jane wouldn’t trust him or any other man. Her frozen stare meant to warn the men to keep their distance moved its focus from Constable Green to Cornelius Hansen. Maintaining her glare, Jane moved toward her horse. She’d decided that no male could be trusted even before arriving on the Victorian goldfields.
“Come, dear Jane,” Cornelius said. “Put on your new bonnet and let’s be off.”
“You expect me to wear this?” Jane looked at the flowery thing with disgust. “You may as well send up smoke signals to every bushranger and thief in the area—defenceless woman coming. You can see it for miles.”
“We both know there’s nothing defenceless about you, Miss Mutta.” Cornelius gave her the bonnet when she straddled the horse. “But I expect you to look and act like a lady when you’re in my presence.”
Jane flung the bonnet on the ground and jerked her brown felt hat over her head.
Constable Green snorted. Both Jane and Cornelius shot him disgusted looks.
“I've allowed you to wear a split skirt and ride like a man.” Cornelius straddled his horse and steered it closer to Jane. “Do not test my patience.”
“You’ll allow me nothing.” She shook out the reins and slapped her horse’s rump. The horse bucked, but Jane stayed on. She rode to the head of the line so as to avoid further outburst. The arrangement she had with Cornelius—to be his travelling companion, with a contract to fulfil once they reached Melbourne (to his benefit)—might not be too difficult to go along with—for as long as she could keep him an arm’s length. When she controlled her temper, she could make him see reason.
As they rode, Cornelius and Constable Green discussed the tracks they would take to get to the city of Melbourne without incident, and Jane stewed over how to make a graceful exit—renege on her promise to Cornelius—the second she was safely out of the goldfields.
What with roaming prospectors, or highwaymen they called bushrangers here in the colonies, she did not have much choice but to play along and pretend to have agreed to Cornelius’ proposal.
Through the hot, gold, hush of noon, through murderous afternoon heat, Jane Mutta followed the packhorse. She sweated in the saddle. Longing glances toward shady billabong banks were the only outward signs she gave that her thighs felt as if they’d rubbed raw—she would not slow the gold dealer and his guard down.
Anxiety to place the goldfields and bushranger country behind them was evident in the way both men scanned the surroundings.
“Smoko,” Cornelius called out as the setting sun dipped below the line of river gums.
“Meal break,” the constable said.
Jane rode her horse a short distance from the men so they’d not observe how awkwardly she dismounted. With an effort, she maintained a blank expression on her face. One step at a time. She talked herself through the action of moving her saddle-sore legs forward.
“Don’t stray,” Cornelius yelled.
Jane made it to her intended destination, behind a screen of wattle trees, without the men noticing her distress.
“Don’t go near the billabong,” Constable Green called out.
Ignoring them, Jane removed her clothes and immersed herself in the water. What looked like a branch caught her attention. She turned, preparing to grab and fling it aside as it floated within reach. It wiggled; she saw the snake’s eyes, gave a short cry and heard the men’s laughter.
Turning, she dived for the bank and then scrambled up, grasping her clothes to her body. Her face burned with embarrassment. She didn’t know if they’d only heard her cry or if they were watching.
“Seen a king brown?” Constable Green called out from behind a bush close to where she’d swum. “Those snakes are aggressive buggers.”
Tears that nearly broke free were not from her pain but the frustration. She raged inside that she’d almost cried for a trivial thing, when she’d not even shed tears over her parents’ deaths. She hurriedly dressed and raced back to where Cornelius was cooking.
“Chow is ready.” Cornelius nodded to Jane. “I’ve no intention of training my lovely young charge for housekeeping duties.”
“Serve yourself.” Cornelius called out as Green emerged from the bushes grinning.
Jane broke off a twig for her dinner fork, then bent over the hot coals, and prodded a chunk of meat in the frypan, spiking it on the twig.
Cornelius settled with his meal, lounging propped up with one elbow on the ground.
“Rest while you can, Jane.” Cornelius pointed his beef-hung twig at the ground beside him.
Jane stood with her back towards the men. “Salted meat, is that all you brought to eat?”
“Don’t complain,” Constable Green said. “Eat fast.”
“We’ll dine on Tasmanian trout and Duck à l'Orange when we reach Melbourne,” Cornelius said.
“We’re sitting ducks to anyone up there.” Constable Green pointed to the hills to his left. “We need to get out of this valley.” He kicked dirt over the last of the hot coals and snatched up the frying pan. “We’ll make camp when it’s dark. Mount up.”
The hot evening filled with the jarring sounds of cicadas. The noise ceased as the horses’ hoofs approached, their shrill call resuming after they passed.
“Jane’s presence makes the three of us appear as a family group,” Constable Green said. “Our gold is safer than if we were just two men traveling with a packhorse loaded with heavy saddlebags.”
“My gold, not our gold,” Cornelius said. “Ride ahead Jane. But, stay within sight.”
“What’s this about,” Constable Green asked softly, once Jane was out of earshot.
“Don’t get any ideas.” Cornelius slowed his horse to a walk as the trail followed the edge of a billabong.
“Big man.” Constable Green snorted. “She’s the daughter of a slain couple, a gold miner and his wife. She doesn’t want you. She’s got no better options.
“I’m painfully aware of that,” Cornelius said calmly. “But, I’ve seen the way she looks at you, and it isn’t a young man she’s after. I’m a man of experience. Once we reach the city I’ll dazzle her, and she will accept my proposal.”
“And I’m warning you—Jane may have other ideas.”
“Huh!” Cornelius drew rein. “Do you think she’s a gold-digger?”
Not hearing any sound behind her Jane halted her horse and turned in the saddle. The constable looked directly at her, scowling. They’re talking about me. Jane attempted, but failed, to read the constable’s lips. Uneasiness caused her to ride back, in time to hear Cornelius’s reply.
“You’re the bigger risk. You’re eyeing off Jane—and my gold.”
After watering their mounts at the billabong, the three bedded down within the smell of their tied-up horses.
Birdsong before dawn and the aroma of salted meat cooking woke Jane to find Cornelius holding a strip of hot beef on a twig and a mug of black tea out toward her.
“Thank you.” Jane accepted the enamel mug. Withdrawing her hand when he touched it, she brought the mug to her lips. Through the steam from the billy tea, her eyes caught his scanning her bodice. She thrust the mug to the ground, splashing tea. She rose and flounced off toward the water’s edge.
Jane wandered downstream of the men. Clean clothes were important to her. She would not forget her training, even in the Australian bush. Remembering the men’s laughter the previous evening, this time she bathed in her clothes. If called on to work, she would not put her patient at risk due to lack of hygiene. She combed her long hair with her fingers before knotting it into a twist at the nape of her neck.
Cornelius saddled the horses and strapped the two saddlebags onto the packhorse.
As Constable Green cleared away all trace of their camp, he stole a glances at Jane whenever Cornelius wasn’t looking his way. The constable’s eyes were intently on her figure as he mounted his horse in preparation to scout ahead. His eyes flashed each side of the track, behind, and up into the hills, searching for movement. The sweep of his gaze slowed each time it passed Jane.
Jane seethed at the visual undressing she’d perceived in both men’s eyes.
Constable Green rode back towards them. “None has used this track for months,” he said.
Jane and Cornelius mounted their horses.
North Eastern Victoria was so far from her graduation ceremony at the University of Edinburgh. Long gone, the golden sovereign gift from Queen Victoria, presented to her for her courage in agreeing to take her professional skills to the Australian colony.
Jane’s dreams hadn't faded. The plan to establish a small professional business could wait, but she believed it would eventuate—somehow. No one could take her training from her, even though she lacked the income to utilise those skills.
As Jane rode through the morning, she drew contentment from watching a cool morning haze rise. She grew drowsy as the sunlight blazed high in the midday sky. Relaxed in the saddle, Jane allowed her horse to find its way.
The track dropped; an eroded wash-away appeared, and then a fallen river gum blocked the way. They backtracked and worked their way around the obstacles.
“Follow directly behind me, Jane,” Cornelius said.
Jane’s bay mare was a mountain horse; it handled the rough ground with ease. Jane trusted it to find its path.
“Jane, dear, do as you’re told,” Cornelius reprimanded. “We’ll stop once we get back on the track. You know you should—” His horse faltered.
Cornelius grunted, jerked the horse's reins wrong. “Whoa.”
The mare stumbled, whinnied; it scrambled for purchase on the uneven ground and righted itself.
Once Cornelius’ horse resumed walking, a wry grin curled on Jane’s lips. She thought he guided them in the wrong direction.
Dusk being the least reliable time of day to gauge your bearings from nature, Jane hesitated to speak until stars appeared and she was certain they were off course. “Have you checked the compass reading?” Jane gazed across the zenith of the sky. “I feel that we are heading east—towards Mansfield—Glenrowan. Isn’t that the bushranger territory you want to avoid?”
“Don’t trouble your pretty head, dear,” Cornelius said. “We are in charge here.”
“I’m an honours graduate, not an imbecile.” Jane wanted to add something most unladylike, but her father had spent years trying to restrain that impertinent side of her. Now, so soon after her father's death, Jane tried hard to control her temper as a tribute to him.
“I hear that they’re teaching domestic sciences as a degree course in Melbourne.” Constable Green pushed up his sleeves and rippled his arm muscles, amused when she flinched.
“What does that have to do with dentistry medicine?” Jane’s blue-grey eyes would have burned him if they could.
“If we get a toothache, we’ll call on you.” Cornelius chuckled. “It takes a man to cut a trail.”
The weight of Jane’s gaze brought a smile to the constable’s lips, and then both men dissolved in laughter.
“Look at the sky.” Jane pointed to the Dog Star shining bright above the horizon. “Shouldn’t that be—”
Startled, Cornelius jerked his horse to a halt. “You’re right. We’re too far east.” He looked uncertainly toward the constable. “What now?”
“We’ll pick up a track running south-west tomorrow.” Constable Green smiled at Jane. “At least this gets us back into the foothills and more cover for tonight.” He moved to the rear, riding in a swerving pattern, frequently glancing over his shoulder.
Cornelius appraised the track ahead for wombat holes and the scrub for any hint of movement. “Tomorrow, we will involve you when we plan our course.” He smiled at Jane. “Just don’t take so long to attend to your morning ritual.”
Jane held the reins loose and allowed her mind to drift to the business she wanted. Her thoughts kept coming back to her surroundings. For the first time since miners had discovered her father’s body at the bottom of a mineshaft, she broke into a smile. This was her future—this country, the Australian bush. She did not need to buy into a dental practice in a city; all she needed was her horse, a packhorse and her tools of the trade. She was nearer than she’d dared to hope to fulfilling her dreams, and she could do it without these men. Twenty-nine, unmarried, and never having been cherished by a sweetheart, Jane couldn’t visualise any man in her future plans.
With excitement she realised that once she was equipped for dentistry work, her professional reputation would precede her through the bush. She did not need protection. She would be safer travelling alone than she ever would be traveling with these men.
Dentists were in high demand. No man would dare harm anyone whose skills were rare and necessary for the rural community.
She would be safe following the travelling hawker routes. Maybe she could buy a cart with her first profits. But where to get the money to begin? Would Cornelius invest in her business? She remembered how he’d appraised her as if he wanted her for breakfast. He would spend money on her, but a man such as that would never do anything to allow her to be independent from him.
There were skills she could use to gain employment, even practicing dentistry. But, the poor wages paid to women would not fund medical supplies; they would barely allow her to support herself. She would not become a cared-for woman nor be forced to marry and lose all material rights. There had to be a way...
Her horse plodded along at a steady pace behind the packhorse as she planned what things she could do. Aside from the money, she knew that to stay healthy you needed food other than salted beef. She could hunt and fish. What she didn’t know she would learn.
Jane gazed around at the diversity of plants. She would learn the local Aboriginal’s languages, enough for them to be friends, for them to trust and teach her what native plants could be eaten to improve her diet.
Gunfire pierced the hot afternoon hush. The horses shied. Cornelius and Constable Green doubled over. Horses screamed.
Jane’s mouth set firm, not a whimper came from her as she fought to control her mount. She pulled back on the reins. The bit cut hard, and her horse bucked. “Steady, steady.”
Her mount whinnied and spun around.
Constable Green slammed sideways onto the ground. Cornelius slithered from the saddle near the water’s edge. He released the reins just in time to roll out of the way of thrashing hooves.
Jane bore herself upright. Blasted highway robbers! “Fine day, lady, where are you headed”—indeed. How was I to know they were thieves when they asked me for directions back in Omeo? She struggled to stay mounted. Fear held her in the saddle—irrational fear. Death did not frighten her, nor these bushrangers. But to fall from grace, to be seen to be beaten—never!
Watching through the trees, Chamberlain lowered his shotgun. “We winged the two men.”
“The woman might give us trouble,” Armstrong said.
“She’s unarmed.” Chambers picked up the reins.
“Let’s finish this.” Armstrong flicked the reins of his horse and charged to where Cornelius lay.
Constable Green struggled to his feet, staggered off the track to where his horse cowered beneath the shade of a kurrajong tree. He grasped the reins and mounted.
The packhorse pricked his ears and turned; Jane stiffened in the saddle, instinctively preparing to follow the packhorse. She glimpsed the determination evident in the set of the constable’s jaw. The trooper’s face grotesquely distorted in pain, blood poured from his left shoulder. Employed as a guard, hired to get the gold safely to a bank in Melbourne, would his instincts tell him that wherever the gold went she would follow?
You think of gold while Cornelius lies injured, Jane? A stab of conscience caused her to hold the reins firm and not take flight. She glanced beyond Constable Green to where the gold dealer Cornelius Hansen lay where he’d fallen. The two men who had asked Jane directions, in the Victorian high country town of Omeo, rode toward him and dismounted. Bushrangers—would Cornelius blame her?
Jane froze for a moment, focused on the hatchet and the look in a bushranger’s eyes—he would leave no witnesses.
Lord help me. Jane choked back a sudden storm of tears of grief at this reminder of her parents’ recent violent deaths. She blocked that moment of fear and self-pity and turned her focus to the saddlebags. Resolved to survive, and then to acquire her goals, preferably without entanglement with any man, she nudged her mare’s flank with her heels. Jane gave pursuit of a fleeing packhorse carrying fifteen hundred ounces ofgold.
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