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THE NATURALIST

Influenced by her grandmother, Frederica Cooke's, love of plants Rica displayed an early interest in the local flora and fauna, and as a Girl Guide in Boulder gained her naturalist badge. Later, at Kendenup, her fascination with botany was sparked by the work of Emily Pelloe on Western Australian wildflowers when C.J. de Garis, who was the publisher of Pelloe's books, gave Rica's family a copy as a Christmas present. In West Australian Orchids Pelloe mentioned that Dr R.S. Rogers of Adelaide, the leading orchid specialist in Australia at that time, was searching for information on a particular orchid. Believing she had found the orchid, Rica sent him a specimen to which he responded with an excited telegram.

While at Claremont Teachers' College she was inspired by two very good teachers, Charles Hamilton the art instructor and Dr Millington who was in charge of the nature study series. It was while teaching she started keeping nature diaries with the hope of using the research on orchids to gain a further certificate in teaching.

Rica joined the Western Australian Naturalists' Club in 1932 and followed her passion for anything to do with nature: birds, flowers and insects. Though isolated as a country schoolteacher she was able to spend her free time studying the wonders of the bush. As her enthusiasm grew so did her contacts both in Western Australia and interstate. Through her long-term correspondence with experts she was able to provide them with specimens and develop her skills as a naturalist.

 

Dr Rogers taught Rica how to make sectional drawings of the flowers as required by scientists and the botanical classification of flora. She started to write and collect specimens for other orchid experts including Edith Coleman of Melbourne and Rev. H.M.R. Rupp in NSW. Louis Glauert, the curator of the Western Australian Museum, and Frederick Rowe, a renowned local naturalist and botanist, were added to the list. With the help of Dom Serventy, Western Australia's leading ornithologist, she obtained a secondhand microscope for plant dissections.



As a young mother in Bolgart, Rica's interests included the study of the life history of the rufous whistler, a bird that stays in the same territory year round. She became fascinated by native bees and wasps, and studied them in conjunction with the hymenoptera expert Tarlton Rayment who honoured Rica by naming bees after her, her daughter Dorothy and her husband Syd.

At the same time I was reciprocating you see for Tarlton Rayment; I was catching every bee that I could find in the bush. I had my own method - he told me how to make a net but I could never use a net. I used to go out with a piece of cardboard and a glass, an ordinary tumbler, and I'd watch the insect land and you just clap one on the other and then you'd put the glass over the top of your killing bottle which Tarlton told me how to make. I hated killing them but I had to send him specimens because he was so good to me. I'd put the glass over the mouth of the bottle and draw the cardboard away and they flutter down into the killing bottle and that's it. He taught me how to fold them up and to send them over to him and all the rest. I had a little daughter of six at the time - perhaps she'd be younger - that's Dorothy and it was before she was six - and she caught bees for him too, following the same method. He named one after her once. He named one after me. (Battye Library, OH 2528, p. 5)

 

 

 
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