Art of the Scott Sisters is on display at Newcastle Museum

Newcastle Museum manager Julie Baird calls them little-known treasures of the region’s history.

Harriet and Helena Scott broke down gender barriers when they became two of Australia’s most accomplished natural history illustrators.

Before the girls did their renowned drawings, men had dominated the world of natural history and science generally.

They came to the Hunter when their family moved from Sydney to Ash Island, which is now part of Kooragang Island, on the Hunter River in 1846.

“Most people only know Ash Island by the bridge across it, near McDonald’s at Hexham,” Julie told Topics.

“Back then it was a proper island. It was quite isolated.”

This isolation played a part in the development of the girls’ artistic talents. With loads of time and natural beauty all around them, their painting and drawing flourished.

Their father, Alexander Walker Scott, also played a big role.

He was a councillor, parliamentarian, farmer and businessman.

“Their dad was quite a mover and shaker,” she said, adding Scott Street in Newcastle is named after him. 

“But he was also really into science and natural history.”

Julie said painting watercolours was “kind of a nice pastime for middle-class girls”.

“But they did really detailed scientific illustrations. Their dad published them under their names. That was really unusual. It wasn’t a common thing.

“They got published, rewarded and named for their efforts, which women didn’t get at that time.

“Now they’re considered Australia’s best 19th-century natural history illustrators.”

The sisters caught butterflies and caterpillars and kept them alive.

They would observe the creatures as they entered cocoons and hatched as butterflies.

“All their illustrations actually look like living creatures,” she said.

The girls also made sure the plants in their illustrations were realistic.

“So it actually feels like you’re looking at a piece of nature rather than most of the paintings from that time, which looked like paintings of dead things,” she said.

“Helena and Harriet’s illustrations are beautiful works of art.”

The museum is showing 50 of the sisters’ artworks.

Also on display is a Toronto family’s private collection of butterflies.

“They passed all their butterflies over to us. We have about 40 boxes full of butterflies that have been collected in the area,” she said.

This includes butterflies that are illustrated in the artworks.

“You can actually look at the illustration and the butterfly itself. It’s a really pretty show.”

The exhibition, titled Transformations: Art of the Scott Sisters runs until April 29.

Don’t fake it

While we’re on the subject of women and success, Lake Macquarie author Bree Stedman is at the ready with a bit of self-help.

Bree Stedman says women should stop faking it and be their real selves.

Bree Stedman says women should stop faking it and be their real selves.

Bree wrote the book Own Your BS, which is touted as a “no-nonsense guide to your female head-talk”.

“Women in business are constantly told to ‘fake it till you make it’,” said Bree, a mother-of-two.

Bree says there’s no need for women to be fake. Instead, they should “get real and embrace their real and authentic selves, rather than buy into the usual marketing, self-empowerment mantra”.

“If you’re trying to portray the perfect image – and that doesn’t match your head talk – then there’s a disconnect that will cause you to put the brakes on your success,” the 35-year-old said.

Ranked among the top 15 performers in a large multinational company, Bree said there was “freedom in being real with myself”.

“As messy as it is, it’s more beneficial to me and everyone around me.”

Ms Stedman said female entrepreneurs, mothers and the like need to “get their heads out of the sand and stop trying to be someone they’re not”.

“Rather than just ignoring and bottling up issues, women need to recognise what’s really going on and start to take personal responsibility,” she said.

  • topics@theherald.com.au