Artist Captures Beauty of Australia's Wildlife

Daryl Dickson talks about her art, animals, and wildfires.

"Little Red Flying Fox"
"Little Red Flying Fox".

Daryl Dickson 

It’s often easy for artist Daryl Dickson to find her subjects because orphaned and injured animals are usually recovering right in her backyard. Dickson is a wildlife artist and rehabber who lives in Queensland Australia.

A London native, Dickson grew up in arid South Australia, then spent many years traveling the world. She chose her home in tropical far north Australia to be surrounded by the rich flora and fauna of the area, saying it was the best decision she ever made.

Dickson spoke to Treehugger about her work with art and animals and her new book, "Celebrating Australia’s Magnificent Wildlife: The Art of Daryl Dickson." The book features 107 pieces of art from flying foxes to brushtail possums.

brushtail possum orphans
"Brushtail Possum Orphans". Daryl Dickson 

Treehugger: What was the inspiration for your work in this book?

Daryl Dickson: I have been fascinated by nature and art since I was a child. In the last 30 years I have lived in one of the most environmentally ancient, rich and diverse places on Earth. This place inspires me and my art: I have painted, sketched and created art here for nearly 30 years. For me it was impossible to live in this fabulous environment without being a voice for its protection. Over the years, my husband and I have worked with injured and orphaned native wildlife and endangered species.

My first contact with my publisher was through illustrating children’s books. Exisle published a book written by a very dear friend and author, Julia Cooper. She had written a book called Paddy O’Melon the Irish Kangaroo and I was her illustrator. Several years later I was so very fortunate to have been offered the opportunity by Exisle Publishing to tell my story and compile an artbook about this place, my life, my art and work with wildlife and conservation.

"magpie geese" by Daryl Dickson
"Magpie Geese". Daryl Dickson 

Why did you focus on the wildlife of Australia?

It’s where I live and work and it is the amazing and unique creatures of Australia that surround me. I only paint the animals that I encounter and it has always been important to me to be able to obtain, observe, and collect my own reference work for the wildlife that I paint. I want to know where and how they live and how they move through their habitat. The wildlife here is so rich, diverse and unique — tree kangaroo, cassowary, possums that glide — more than 130 species of birds share our particular patch of forest. In a lifetime I will not manage to paint all these wonderful creatures.

Were you influenced by the wildfires that ravaged Australia and devastated so much wildlife?

The fire raged through Australia as I was completing the text for my book. They were devastating and terrifying. I grew up with bushfires in South Australia but they were no ordinary fires. As I write it’s hard not to feel the horror and also be aware of what is happening on your side of the world as I write. Fire is devastating to all living creatures and when fire becomes as extreme as it has been in recent years I sometimes wonder how any of our precious wildlife will endure. I wrote of the Australian fires in the final page of my text. My belief is that we have limited time left to change our ways and to try to limit the effects of climate change.

pied imperial pigeons by Daryl Dickson
"Pied Imperial Pigeons". Daryl Dickson 

How did you choose your specific subjects?  

Many of my subjects have stayed here at Mungarru Lodge Sanctuary (our home) recovering from injury, some have been with other wonderful carers in the region where I could go and watch and have contact with them. Others are just part of the suite of birds and animals that we share our forest and region with. I think maybe they and events chose me rather than it really being the other way around. They are all so beautiful.

Australian Pied Oyster Catcher by Daryl Dickson
"Australian Pied Oyster Catcher". Daryl Dickson 

Do you work from photographs or do you have real animal models?

Both. I take endless photos of fur and feather, of noses and toes. The images are often not the sort of images that you would put in an album but the images of brief encounters often amount to enough reference to complete a painting. The blurry images show me movement and stance. I also sketch from the bodies of dead animals that are awaiting transfer to museums and I collect feathers and I also have the luxury and privilege of sitting watching our beautiful recovering wildlife in our enclosures. Young orphaned marsupials need close contact when young and the handling (cuddling) of these stunning little chaps adds a dimension to painting and sketching that is hard to describe but the tactile contact informs my work too.

“Moonlight Glider – Blossom mungarru”
“Moonlight Glider – Blossom mungarru”.  Daryl Dickson

Which did you enjoy creating the most and why?

That’s hard. So many of my paintings make me smile, many are not just paintings to me, they are a segment of my life and about interaction with a particular animal. The painting of “Moonlight Glider – Blossom mungarru” (above) is probably the most poignant for me as she was one of the two first endangered mahogany gliders that we raised and she was the introduction to what has become a very important part of my life — working for the survival of this beautiful nocturnal gliding possum the endangered mahogany glider.

What media do you use?

I work mostly in watercolor, occasionally in acrylic, and I love sketching and drawing in graphite.

echidna by Daryl Dickson
"Echidna". Daryl Dickson 

Can you tell us a little bit about your work with wildlife?

My husband and I live on a property we call Mungarru Lodge Sanctuary (Mungarru is the Girrimay word for gliding possums. The Girrimay people are the first nations people of this area and the traditional owners of the land upon which we live.) We are a very long way from a city or large regional center so whatever wildlife is injured or orphaned regularly arrives here for assistance. We work with flying foxes, often endangered spectacled flying foxes, endangered mahogany gliders, feathertail gliders, sugar gliders. We have owls, echidnas, storks, wallabies, and all sorts of birds. Whatever ails them has to be treated before they are transferred or kept here to recover. 

In addition to the hands-on work we do in care of wildlife, I am also involved with government and community NGOs, trying to conserve the limited habitat of many of the species that live here and I speak about how we can all assist in their survival. I am president of our local branch of Wildlife Queensland and have been a member of the National Recovery Team for the endangered mahogany glider since the mid-1990s.

We work on what we can do and try not to spend too much time talking about what we can’t do and we also spend a lot of time trying to give people and especially young people hope that whatever little they do it is all of value.