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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?
Zoologist 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
Paperback, 432 pages, published March 27th 2018
Picador Australia ISBN 1760554286
Category: Biography & True Stories
Biography: science, technology & medicine
Danielle Clode is a zoologist and award-winning author. She grew up in Port LIncoln in South Australia, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, worked as a zookeeper and scientific interpreter, in exhibition design and academia, and spent many years as a technical editor and writing teacher. She has written twelve books, including Voyages to the South Seas and In Search of the Woman who Sailed the World. Her books have won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for non-fiction, Whitley Award for popular zoology and the Federation of Australian Writer's Award for Best Nonfiction. They have also been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, National Biography award, the Nib Literary award and Adelaide Festival awards. She lives in the Adelaide Hills on a bush block with an abundance of native orchids (and their pollinating wasps). Her latest book is on koalas.
Australian nature writing has historically been less personal and emotional than nature writing from overseas. What impact does that have on how you read Edith's writing?
Do you think Clode’s achieved her goal of rediscovering and displaying Edith Coleman’s life and successes was achieved? How did your understanding of Coleman and natural history change after reading The Wasp and the Orchid?
What was the impact of Edith Coleman’s own writing in the book. Did that alter your perspective of her life and achievements?
Clode uses writing styles from several different genres, including historical reconstructions, memoir, science writing and biography. How did this affect your reading of the book and understanding of Edith's life?
Do you see parallels of Danielle Clode and Edith Coleman’s life? How was this comparison highlighted throughout the book? What did it achieve?
Fragmented biographies are a form often used to reconstruct lives with poor or incomplete archival information. How does this approach inform your awareness of biographical research?
The lives of women, disadvantaged and minority groups are documented and written much less often than other people. Discuss the impact this has on how we see our own history.
Why do you think Edith embarked on her public career so late in life? How important do you think the relationship with her parents, husband and family (or others) were in this?
How important is book design and layout in your enjoyment of a book? What role do the illustrations play in this book if any?
A short reading from an early section of the Wasp and the Orchid about how I first learnt about Edith Coleman and why I wanted to write this book.
This short video explains the phenomenon of pseudocopulation in Australian orchids - and the role of Edith and Dororthy Coleman in its discovery