The Wasp and the Orchid

Have you met Mrs Edith Coleman? If not you must – I am sure you will like her – she’s just A1 and a splendid naturalist.’

In 1922, a 48-year-old housewife from Blackburn delivered her first paper, on native Australian orchids, to the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria. Over the next thirty years, Edith Coleman would write over 300 articles on Australian nature for newspapers, magazines and scientific journals. She would solve the mystery of orchid pollination that had bewildered even Darwin, earn the acclaim of international scientists and, in 1949, become the first woman to be awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion. She was ‘Australia’s greatest orchid expert’, ‘foremost of our women naturalists’, a woman who ‘needed no introduction’.

And yet, today, Edith Coleman is all but forgotten. How did this remarkable woman, with no training or connections, achieve so much so late in life? And why, over the intervening years, have her achievements and her writing been forgotten?

Biologist and award-winning writer Danielle Clode sets out to uncover Edith’s story, from her childhood in England to her unlikely success, sharing along the way Edith’s lyrical and incisive writing and her uncompromising passion for Australian nature and landscape.

‘an engaging, often vividly created, window into the life of an impressive woman and her times’ Steven Carroll

‘a fascinating and entertaining read’ The Planthunter

‘an eloquently written testament to one of our foremost women scientists by a writer who is a formidable contributor to the field in her own right’ Anne Jenner

‘an approachable blend of biography, science, nature writing and social history’ Deborah Bogle, The Advertiser

‘Coleman’s housewifely amateur stat­us, whereby the blending of DIY anecdote and scientific rigour in her own garden ­became a hallmark of her style, could qualify her as something of a retro hero for our times’ Gregory Day

‘Clode’s book shines a light on how a “housewife from Blackburn” without training, institutional support or the internet achieved “more than some professional academics in their entire careers”‘ Megan Backhouse

‘a very informative and entertaining book, a must-read to appreciate Edith Coleman’s contribution to our knowledge and to nature writing and to appreciate and enjoy Danielle’s refreshing writing style’ Australian Orchid Foundation

‘anyone with an interest in Australian women writers from the past will enjoy this book, as will nature enthusiasts…a be-ribboned hardback beauty’ Theresa Smith

‘a delightful book about a truly remarkable woman’ Anne Rinaudo

Podcasts
Discussing Edith’s work on pseudocopulation on Radio National Science Show.
The Wasp and the Orchid with Sarah Kanowski on Conversations 
Background to writing the book with Allison Tait on So you want to be a writer?
John Faine and Hilary Harper’s Conversation Hour with Brian Ritchie and Shain Shapiro – discussing pseudocopulation and music cities (strangely).
Orchids everywhere, spiders in the bedroom and an echidna in a suitcase, Open House with Steven Doherty

Available now at all good bookstores

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