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Sun Setting on the Carnaby’s

Western Australia’s beautiful Carnaby Black Cockatoo actually has feathers with varying shades of brown, grey and black as shown in this photograph by fellow artist Brenton See.

They are a distinctive bird and as familiar to Western Australians as the red earth of our deserts and turquoise blue of our crashing waved coastlines.

It turns out that one of Western Australia’s favourite Cockatoo’s is severely endangered – so much so that they may become extinct as early as 2029 – only 10 years away!

Carnaby Cockatoos

“Calyptorhynchus Latirostris are found mostly within the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, where the limits of its range include Cape Arid to the east, Lake Cronin, Hatters Hill and Lake Moore inland, and Kalbarri to the north. 

However breeding takes place in areas of higher rainfall. They are most commonly found in Wandoo or Salmon Gum woodlands.

For breeding they need tall well-spaced trees, where they nest in hollows generally about 5.7 metres (19+ft) above the ground. 

Recently the total population was estimated to consist of 40,000 individuals, but it had declined by 50% on the Perth–Peel Coastal Plain in just 6 years due to a decrease in this breeding habitat. 

They primarily feed on the seeds of Banksias, Hakeas and Grevilleas.”

Don Miller
Work in progress
Hedland Art Awards 2016

“This painting was a finalist in the Hedland Art Awards of 2016.

​While joyful in colour, it is actually about a sad topic. 

While I had started the painting as some pretty colourful Banksia flowers and pods – an old school friend messaged to say that I should consider putting some Caranaby Black Cockatoo’s in the piece. 

Her daughter Ruth had been studying the birds in primary school and had written a 4 minute speech about Carnaby’s.

I decided that as part of my entry, I would get a recording of Ruth giving her talk which viewers could then listen to on headphones in the Gallery.”

Helen Ansell

Sun Setting on the Carnaby’s is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection.

Sun Setting on the Carnabys
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Paper Daisies

A pressed flower is a moment trapped between the weight of pages…..saved for another time. But as time passes the flower’s petals loose their colour and shape, becoming something else altogether. A new kind of beauty. 

Not the Paper Daisies of Western Australia though. They stand as tall as they did in their glory even as dried flowers holding their pinks and yellows as if time hasn’t passed at all. 

“These pink and white everlastings are the quintessential iconic Australian wildflowers. 

Rhodanthe yellow centres
Paper Daisies (Rhodanthe) yellow centres

When the droves of tourists come to Mullewa and ask where the everlastings are these are, these are usually the type they have in mind (although this variety does not actually occur naturally in that area!)

Named “everlasting” as the petals are dry like tissue paper and if cut and hung to dry upside down they can last for years in perfect condition – even keeping their colour!

I have flowers that I pressed as a child over 30 years old that have only slightly faded.

I love how the inside of some of these flowers contain small black dotted circles like an Aboriginal dot painting – isn’t nature amazing? ”

Helen Ansell 

Pink Everlastings
Pink Everlastings

“Different plants of this one species grow either pink or white flowers. Common names are Rosy Sunray or Pink Paper Daisy. They are mainly found in Western Australia’s Gascoyne, Murchison, Wheatbelt, Goldfields and less frequently in the Pilbara and Interior, with some even in South Australia. 

Plants spring up when conditions are right, during warm sunny weeks, after germinating rain, with flowers appearing 10 to 12 weeks after germination and lasting for 2 to 10 weeks. Fruit appears approximately 4 weeks after flowering. 

Flowering generally occurs in the wild from August to November, mainly governed by location – earlier in the east and north and later in the south. In a good year they carpet the countryside. The plants prefer full sun through to dappled shade and grow well in open woodland.

Grown in full shade they tend to be long and spindly. They thrive in well-drained sandy soils but are smaller when growing in heavy, clay soils.”

Don Miller

Paper Daisies
Paper Daisies

These flowers are held in Australian’s hearts as reminders of happy seasons and fields of colour. 

Kings Park in Perth is a-blush with them in September when they hold their wildflower festival. Below is a photo of Helen sat in Kings Park amongst the flowers she is inspired by. 

It seems fitting that her prints featuring these and other wildflowers of regional Australia are available at Aspects of Kings Park. A Fine Art Print or any piece of art is another way to trap a memory so that it doesn’t fade with passing time. 

Helen Ansell seated at field of paper daisies
Helen Ansell

Paper Daisies is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection.

Paper Daisies
Paper Daisies
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Pink Mink Corella

The Pink Mink Corella looks plain far off at the top of tall gumtrees. 

In flocks they form a mass of off-white feathers, clinging to branches and squawking in the loud, unabashed way Australian birds can. 

In Western Australia these birds are considered a pest by most of the population due to their overbreeding, roving around in large numbers and causing general destruction in their path of everything from large gumtrees to historic buildings.  

In Mullewa, where Helen raises her family, actions have been taken to move them on including sounding off gunshots and actually culling flocks.

I have always had a soft spot for the birds. I often have hundreds of them taking up residency in the large gumtrees in my backyard – and their very loud screeching noises can often by heard as early as 4am in the morning!

But still I get a sense of wonder to look up from hanging my washing on the line in the backyard to see a hundred eyes looking back at me. I love seeing large flocks flying overhead, and even don’t seem to mind their noise!”

Helen Ansell
Corellas in Trees
Pink Mink Corella
Pink Mink Corella

“The Latin name for this native bird is Cacatua Pastinator Butleri. The adult bird is 40–48 centimetres (16–19 in) in length and weighs up to 700 grams (25 oz). 

This sub-species consists of a population of 5000-10000 birds in the northern wheat-belt of Western Australia, where their numbers are increasing. Their habitat comprises undulating land with more than 90% of native vegetation cleared for farming of wheat and sheep, the remaining woodland and shrub vegetation communities are restricted to small isolated patches and road reserves; a setting in which these birds thrive.

Breeding occurs from May to October, and usually takes place earlier in the north of its range. The nest is typically in a tree hollow, cliff cavity or termite mound. When the nestlings are mature enough the family groups join up with the immature flocks and move to summer feeding locations, often in towns.

From January to March, when the young have been weaned, the parents move back to the breeding grounds, again becoming separate from the immature flocks. Corellas eat a variety of both wild and cultivated seeds. Most individuals display an attachment to their natal area.”

Don Miller

There is something cartoonish about this bird – large black dots for eyes, proud white crest atop its head. The Corella’s beak seems to smile a cheeky grin.

Whether or not they are wanted in their ever growing numbers, they seem unaffected by people’s opinions of them. Squawking proudly, hanging upside down from spindly branches blissfully unaware of the shaken fists of locals below them being showered by gum-nuts. 

Injured Corella

“One day we rescued an injured bird on the road which we surrendered to a birdlife sanctuary. I was surprised to discover the pretty pink around the bird’s eyes – he was so friendly and I have since discovered that they make great companions as pets and can even talk. 

I wanted to do a pretty painting of a Corella in an attempt to drum up a bit more love, appreciation and sympathy for them – their large numbers are actually our own fault after all as we have cleared their habitat and planted lots of lovely farming grain for them to eat.”

Helen Ansell

Pink Mink Corella is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection

Pink Mink Corella
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Wild Cockatiels

Every painting is a process. A hand reaching out to catch a moment of inspiration. Swirls of wild birds in the mind of the artist land on the canvas. Swirls of pattern form behind them as they shape the scene.

“I never quite have a finished painting in mind when I start and this was no exception. Starting out with a completely black background I decided half way through to repaint the piece in shades of bright outback colours.

While half finished, I had the pleasure of taking a UK filmmaker out to visit my old home town of Wiluna, an Aboriginal community on the Edge of the Gibson desert. I rolled the canvas up with me and brought it in the car.

While we were there I was interviewed while I was painting this piece. It was shot in the red dirt, with a background of spinifex, mulga trees and a vast sky as the sun was setting. The flies were truly terrible but I couldn’t have felt happier being in the place I love most in the world and painting in the dirt. 

Filming in the Australian desert

I joked with Anne that I had witnessed many paintings which were done in camps on the ground, surrounded by fires, animals, children and the like.

When the painting is hung in a fancy gallery in Melbourne you never know what you may discover when you turn the painting over – you may even discover a set of red paw prints!”

Helen Ansell

Pet cockatiels are commonplace in Australian homes. To see a wild flock with the outback colours beneath them reveals the true spectacle of this bird in its flock.

Helen’s piece Wild Cockatiels appears to move before your eyes. Red dirt, grasses and the cockatiels swirl and dance like a wild flock of birds.

Wild Cockatiel

“The wild Cockatiel’s scientific name is Nymphicus hollandicus. They are a member of the cockatoo family endemic to Australia where they are found largely in arid or semi-arid country, but always close to water.

Largely nomadic, the species will move to where food and water is available. They often eat cultivated crops.

They are typically seen in pairs or small flocks, although sometimes hundreds will flock around a single body of water.

They are typically seen in pairs or small flocks, although sometimes hundreds will flock around a single body of water.

In the wild cockatiel’s plumage is primarily grey. It has long tail feathers roughly making up half of its total length. At 30 to 33 cm (12 to 13 in), the cockatiel is the smallest of the cockatoos.

They are relatively vocal birds. As caged birds, cockatiels are second in popularity only to budgerigars.”

Don Miller

Wild Cockatiels is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection.

Wild Cockatiels Fine Art Print
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White Spider Orchid

Orchids of any variety have an air of mystery to them. They have historically been hunted for and sought out by those that long to see rare and unusual blooms growing in places we don’t normally associate with flowers.

Helen and her family live at the centre of Western Australia’s Wildflower Region. Landscape and flowers on mass that might seem as commonplace to the Ansells, draw crowds every year of tourists from all over Australia and the rest of the world.

Pop up shop guests
Helen at the Mullewa Pop-up Shop 2018

“Probably the prize flower for many flower enthusiasts to find are orchids.

While the Spider Orchid, found growing in many areas of Western Australia including around Mullewa where I live, is not one of the rarest of the orchids – it is still a treat to discover. Often found hidden under trees and camouflaged amongst the foliage. 

Mullewa Wildflower Walk

Around Mullewa there are three Wildflower Walks that have been designed for the tourists to enjoy.

Last year we had one of the best wildflower seasons in 10 years (due to the right amount of rain and sun at the right time) and many delighted tourists in my Pop Up Art/Café Shop showed me photos they had taken of whole clumps of Spider Orchids along one of the tracks.”

Helen Ansell
White Spider Orchid
White Spider Orchid

With it’s bold shape and colouring, the Spider Orchid is begging to be painted!

It flowers from September to October and hopefully this year’s wildflower season will reveal hidden Spider Orchids for wildflower and art-lover’s to discover.

“The White Spider Orchid’s scientific name is Caladenia longicauda.

This is a perennial, deciduous, herb with an underground tuber and a single hairy leaf, 80–120 mm (3–5 in) long and 8–12 mm (0.3–0.5 in) wide. Each plant has up to 4 flowers.

It occurs in the Jarrah forests and coastal plain between Bunbury and Cliff Head near Dongara in Western Australia, where it grows in woodland and heath in sand over limestone.”

Don Miller

The White Spider Orchid is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection.

White Spider Orchid

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Blue-winged Kookaburra

Helen’s paintings often have native birds as their subject. There is something intrinsically wild about Australian birds. To hear or glimpse a Blue-winged Kookaburra silences you and makes you freeze, not daring to move a muscle in case the special moment passes too quickly and the bird flaps its plumage and disappears.Each of Helen’s paintings carries with it a story, a collection of memories or moments saved on canvas.

Helen’s paintings often have native birds as their subject. There is something intrinsically wild about native birds. To hear or glimpse a Blue Winged Kookaburra silences you and makes you freeze, not daring to move a muscle in case the special moment passes too quickly and the bird flaps its plumage and disappears.Each of Helen’s paintings carries with it a story, a collection of memories or moments saved on canvas.

“The first time I heard the Blue Winged Kookaburra’s call was when I was camping in Northern Western Australia with my family. 

The five of us (including my Dad, husband and two sons, aged 3 and 1 at the time) were travelling the 7000km round trip up to Arnhem Land from Geraldton in a Troopy to run some art workshops with the Djiplin Artists in Beswick.

One night while we were setting up our camp next to a crocodile infested river (the park manager assured me that although the river was only 100 metres away and the crocodiles were deadly, that none had ever actually crawled into the camp before – a somewhat mild relief!) we heard a strange bird call and wondered what it was.

I had only ever heard the more well-known Kookaburra’s famous laugh (these Eastern State birds are actually not native to Western Australia and are considered by some to be a nuisance as they prey on smaller native birds) however this call was very different.

It took us a while to realise it was a Blue-winged variety – native to Northern WA.  

A few years later this was the inspiration behind this piece.”

Helen Ansell
Djiplin Artist collecting Panadus leaves Arnhem land
Djiplin Artist collecting Panadus leaves Arnhem land

Measuring around 40 cm, the Blue-winged Kookaburra is slightly smaller than the more familiar laughing kookaburra.

Its call is more abrasive than that of the laughing, and it ends rather abruptly.

Found in family groups of up to 12 individuals, it lives in open savannah woodland and Melaleuca swamps, as well as farmlands.

The Blue-winged Kookaburra hunts and eats a great variety of animals that live on or close to the ground; mainly insects, lizards and frogs but also crayfish, scorpions, spiders, fish, earthworms, small birds and rodents.”

Don Miller
Blue-winged Kookaburra

Both Helen and her father, Don Miller, have lived in indigenous communities in the remote Western Australian desert. An appreciation for the wild flowers and plants that grow out of the red earth runs through their veins.

So too, the native birds and wildlife that visit Western Australia are familiar as old friends to Helen and her father.

“Kookaburra is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra. Their scientific name is Dacelo leachii and they are land based kingfishers.

The blue-winged specie’s distribution is from southern New Guinea through the moister parts of northern Australia, to the vicinity of Brisbane in southern Queensland across the Top End, and as far down the Western Australian coast as the Shark Bay area. However, it does not occur between Broome and Port Hedland.

Don Miller

The Blue-Winged Kookaburra is now available for purchase as part of the Helen Ansell Fine Art Print Collection.

Blue Winged Kookaburra