Issue 21
Monday, 21 November 2016
Charles Darwin University
Art student Ian Archibald inspects Dromornis stirtoni, which he helped to assemble
Art student Ian Archibald inspects Dromornis stirtoni, which he helped to assemble

Art classes boost retiree’s zest for life

By Patrick Nelson

A Central Australian retiree with an interest in wildlife and a talent for art says the water colour classes he attended at Charles Darwin University this year have helped him stay fit and alert.

Ian Archibald, 75, has studied portraiture, still life, screen printing and now water colour during his tenure as a Certificate IV in Visual Arts student, since retiring about five years ago.

“It’s my way of staying mentally active,” he said.

Ian has spent much of his life combining his interest in wildlife with his natural talent for artistic expression. He was the taxidermist who prepared saltwater crocodile Sweetheart for display at Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in about 1980.

It was one of hundreds of creatures, including insects, birds and even a blue whale that Ian worked on in a career spanning 30 years.

He relocated to the Red Centre where, as a self-trained taxidermist, he prepared nearly all of the insects, birds, mammals and reptiles on display in the Museum of Central Australia.

“I’ve always loved museums, ever since I was a kid; and I certainly spent a lot of time in this one,” he said.

Ian was part of a team that assembled the skeletal remains of the extinct Dromornis stirtoni, a giant flightless bird that serves as the museum’s centrepiece.

It came from Alcoota, a vertebrate fossil site about 180km north east of Alice Springs that contains the fragmented remnants of thousands of extinct creatures dating to the Miocene, about eight million years ago.

“It’s quite a technical process to dig them out. Each bone had to be preserved while still in the ground. Most are fractured because the soil they’re in has expanded and contracted over millions of years.

“There’s something decorative about skeletons,” he said.

Some of Ian’s water colours will be displayed in Outside the Box, the end of year student exhibition in Alice Springs next week.