Suiseki in Australia

In the 1960s and 1970s, suiseki in Australia had very humble beginnings with only a handful of experienced and well-travelled bonsai enthusiasts who, on their travels across the globe, collected, purchased, and exchanged stones in a gesture of friendship with other bonsai enthusiasts.

Slowly over the years the rest of the bonsai community became more aware of this fascinating art form and with the limited knowledge available, we started to collect stones that we were sure were ”treasures.” Over time, we have become more educated with the help of the Internet, travel, and the many books that filtered into the country from overseas.

Suiseki Australia is the one and only registered club in Australia and is based in Sydney, New South Wales. Since its inception in July 1996, we now boast nearly 100 members. We are very small compared to clubs overseas. However, we are growing due to our dedication to learn about stone appreciation. We keep in contact with our members in the other states in Australia via a monthly newsletter.

It is common knowledge among geologists that Australia has the oldest rocks in the world. Our country is vast with most of the population located around its luscious and fertile coastline, and there is much for us to explore. The center of Australia is mainly arid desert, and is quite inhospitable. Due to hectic, modern lifestyles, it is a refreshing change of pace to set out and just go stone hunting.

Quite a few stones that we find are dense, heavy, and have a great desert varnish on them—especially those found in the arid outback. We find many greatly colored stones that are remnants of ancient volcanoes—commonly known as chert—at a collecting site located at the head of the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales. These stones are also very dense, with a great patina and wonderful colours.

Within our club and its members in Sydney, we try to get away a couple of times a year in search of that special stone that could be easily exhibited at any show anywhere. In the past few years this has certainly happened, and within the club we honestly boast that our stones can easily be compared to the best we have seen from overseas. Our base-making efforts have also been paralleled.  Most of us, including the women, make our own stands for our stones. We are indebted to a few very talented men who have had the patience and guidance to teach the women over the years. I would have to say that the women have just as many, if not more, woodworking tools as the men have. We try to meet every 4 weeks or so at a bonsai nursery where we work all day at making wood bases.

Because Australia is a vast country with a small population, and also because we are so spread geographically dispersed, it is not practical to hold only stone exhibitions. The first small stone display was held in Sydney in 1995, when we hosted the first BCI Convention. It was a great success, but only about 10-15 stones were on display, mainly collected or purchased from overseas. The next major display was held in 2001 when a national Associated Australian Bonsai Clubs’ Convention was held in Sydney when Japanese bonsai artist Kimura Masahiko visited our shores. The stones were displayed with international stones on one side of the room and Australian stones on the other so that the general public could learn about stone collecting here. Mainly our stone displays are limited to our annual bonsai show displays. All stone clubs seem to display this way with great success.

We are very fortunate to have a couple of specialized bonsai nurseries who import viewing stones and for those of us who do not travel, it give us a great insight into stones to be found overseas. Many stones have been imported from China and Japan. These have been very affordable. Bases are provided with some, but not all, stones.  Of course many collectors now acquire stones from the Internet which is now very accessible to anyone. Of course, this does not match the pleasure of finding your own stones, preparing them, and making made-to-measure bases for them.

At our monthly meetings we try to learn about how stones are formed, their composition, and their origins. This is possible because a few members are geologists (including my son) or lapidary club members. Information is expanded as we learn more on the Internet. It is wonderful to appreciate the shape and patina of a stone, but it is just as exciting to find out how the stone was formed and its composition.  Our monthly meetings also include discussions on displaying stones, planning base designs for newly acquired stones, etc. We also include information for members on the different timbers and tools that can make our bases more professional. On behalf of Suiseki Australia, I would like to extend an invitation to other viewing stone clubs to exchange newsletters via email. We would love to hear of your adventures and what you have achieved within your club. I can be contacted direct at brendap7(at)bigpond.com . Australia may seem far away from the rest of the world, but the distance can be shortened through email. We would love to hear from you to exchange information.

A few photographs of Australian stones accompany this article. The bases were made by our members in authentic Australian timbers. Also see the Gallery Section of this web site for more stone photographs.

(Brenda Parker is the President of Suiseki Australia and President of the Illawarra Bonsai Society Inc., Sydney, Australia)

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