(RH) When you see Thelymitra flowering
it's often after a fire the previous summer. The fire must do something
to the soil, or maybe it regenerates dormant mycorrhizal fungi, I don't
know. A lot of people have got theories, but as far as I know the mechanism
is not yet known.
This theory business dominates everything to do with nature,
and what people try to do is bend nature to suit their theories. You can't
do this. You can publish papers and if people swallow it, fair enough,
but nature has a habit of making a fool of you.
As a guest speaker at the 1991 AOC conference I covered
Thelymitra the full story as I saw it from my experience, plus bits and
snips from other people.
Thelymitras are fantastic orchids and they are so aesthetically
attractive. People are absolutely staggered when they see them. Not many
people know much about these orchids.
(TW) I am still getting some great comments from people who have seen
the web site.
(RH) Yes. I'm delighted about that. In regard to future directions, I
would like to see as many of my slides put on the web site as can be done.
I realize that this is a lot of work for you.
(TW) Well, yes, but it's just a matter of putting your head down and doing
(RH) If they want slides, I can supply them, but they cost to get copied,
and you have to pay postage and that sort of thing. But my main interest
is to see that people get to see them. I don't want to make any profit
out of it at all.
When they had the World Orchid Conservation Conference here in Perth in
2001, they approached me about ideas for putting the terrestrials in the
exhibition hall. I said yes, I had about 100 prints and I could get some
more made to exhibit. There were about 400 of them and they were an absolute
sensation. Most of the locals had never seen some of them, never mind
(TW) Unless you are wandering about the bush, you wouldn't see them.
(RH) No. And you've really got to know your way around in the bush
they are not very co-operative
they are cunning little
they don't make things easy for we humans
all they are interested in is perpetuating the species.
When it comes to Caladenias, you need to be more selective because there
are a lot of Caladenias that are not aesthetically attractive. They are
uniquely different, but they are not any where near as colorful as the
Thelymitras. Some are very attractive but others are not, so you have
to say, well, all right, what am I going to do, just entertain people
or am I going to produce something that's got a bit of meat to it. From
my point of view, that's my approach. If people just want to look at them,
then that's OK, but I want to produce something that makes people think,
makes them get off their tails and do something.
(TW) When did you first become interested in orchids?
(RH) Well, my mother was mad about general flora when we were kids in
Perth, and the whole area where we lived was bush and covered in wildflowers.
You could walk from Claremont up to North Beach and there wasn't a house
or anything. At North Beach there was a pub, a couple of stores and two
or three houses. There wasn't anything in between at all. And it was a
tremendous patch of bush and orchids too. Kids are fascinated by orchids.
I mean wildflowers don't bother them much, they are pretty naff, but orchids,
they've got something that's entirely different, and kids get fascinated
as my sisters and I were. And when we grew up and went to school, if you
mentioned that you were interested in all that, they gave you the treatment
so we sort of, dropped out of it.
But when Pauline and I got married
. she was a country girl,
lived on a farm at Geeralying and there were orchids everywhere. We were
living in Katanning and I, along with five other people, started a naturalists
club. The bulk of the members were farming people and in those days, every
farm had a patch of bush on it. So we used to have a couple of wildflower
shows, and natural history shows every year. The farmers would bring in
buckets of Donkey Orchids and White Spider Orchids. I volunteered, with
Pauline's help with our kids, to be responsible for the orchids. We just
picked what we needed for the shows; about three specimens of every one.
From that time on we sort of concentrated on orchids.
When we went to live in Albany, we were fortunate that the headmaster
of our kid's school was also wrapped in orchids. Albany is a marvelous
area for orchids. There are more orchids within 200 km of Albany than
anywhere else in the state. We got involved with the wildflower society
and we did the same thing there as in Katanning. We took over responsibility
for collecting and displaying the orchid section, and as such, we were
invited to do something similar in other country towns. So we built up
an interest on the basis of learning something about them, not just finding
them. That's been very difficult but after 40 years, I've got a few clues.
The problem with orchids, as I've mentioned, is that they are cunning
little devils, diabolically cunning. You think you know something about
them and then you are confronted with irrevocable evidence that you were
wrong. This goes on all the time, so you keep having to change your ideas,
but eventually, you come to the inescapable conclusion that you've got
to accept that the varieties are infinite. There's neither a beginning
nor an end to them. Some professionals like to put them into tidy little
boxes called genera and species. They won't stop in those boxes; many
jump straight out of them. Once a professional publishes something and
has it validated, under the international code, we are all expected to
follow it. Well, I do a bit of that, but I query them. I write and publish
papers representing different points of view. Well, I'm sometimes not
very popular for that. Some don't like amateurs they consider are encroaching
on their preserves.
Some taxonomists change the genera and species and are going overboard
by splitting up genera, and this has made it very difficult. These revisions,
if anything, are supposed to make things clearer, instead of that, they
make a highly complex business more complicated. Anyway, that's another
(TW) When did you start taking Photographs of orchids?
(RH) In the mid seventies. I was invited to become a collector for the
State Herbarium. It was pretty difficult to get specimens to Perth, and
I didn't know what they wanted, so I thought that if I photograph them,
they could have a look at the slides, and if they want them, I can go
and get the specimens for them. Well, I started off with an old second
hand Practica SLR with a standard lens and distance rings, and using natural
light. Albany's not a particularly good place for natural light, and with
that equipment which is very basic; there were endless problems with focusing
and depth of field. The depth of field is essential when photographing
Anyway, after about two and a half years of this, and making a mess of
a lot of film, I met Herb Foote who came down from Perth to photograph
the wildflowers. He looked at my camera equipment and said "Oh Ron,
you'll have to get something better than this. You're never going to do
any good with these. You need much superior equipment"
Anyway, in 1981 I bought a Pentax K1000 with a zoom, flash and a "one
to one" screw on lens for macro shots. I didn't know how to use the
zoom lens and I couldn't find anybody in Albany who could either. Herb
Foote showed me how to use the zoom. It has an automatic stop down so
that when you focus, you've got the aperture wide open and you can get
it exactly as you want it. Then when you select the "f" reading
you want, it stops down to that reading automatically. That solved the
problem of focusing and the depth of field was solved with the one to
one adaptor and the zoom lens, which has a lot of magnification; I could
get in real close. And later, I bought a set of diopters so I could take
super close ups. Eventually I got to the stage where I could take a decent
photo, but I still messed up a bit of film here and there. It's not hard
I also use a flash. The flash meant that I could take photos regardless
of the weather, no matter how poor the light was. For super close-ups
I had to pick the flower and take it into my studio where I could put
the camera on a tripod along with the flash to juggle the two to get what
I wanted. I found, by trial and error, that colour is something that governs
the aperture setting to get a sharp photo. I found that I had to have
the flash 12 inches (30cm) away from the camera, 12 inches away from the
screen, (backing board) for light coloured orchids, and 8 to 9 inches
(20 to 30cm) for dark coloured orchids, and in between, for all different
colours. I had a book in which all these results were written down. Eventually,
I memorized it and didn't need the book any more. This meant that I was
then taking quality photos. Another thing I did was to have the flash
on one side slightly above the lens and angled down so that it hit the
middle of the screen. I got a bit of cooking foil and crumpled it up and
held that on the opposite side so when the flash bounced, it hit the foil
and bounced back so that it lit up all round.
(TW) A deflector?
(RH) Yes. Some people use two flashes but the flash has got to be very
low powered. If it's a high-powered flash, it just washes the colour out.
Automatic setting only gives you an average shot. But it's not good enough.
The flash must be the correct distance from the orchid and you must use
(TW) So how many cameras have you had altogether?
(RH) Oh, that's all, only those two. The K1000 was only an update of the
old Praktica, but a much better camera.
(TW) So when did you get the K1000?
(RH) I bought it in one of those arcades in Perth, where they sell photographic
equipment. That would have been '81 or '82. The K1000 has been superceded
by something now that will do everything. I tried borrowing other people's
cameras but I made a bigger mess than I did with my own. Every type of
equipment gives you a different result so you've got to learn to handle
the equipment that you've got. There's always an average you can use,
but with orchids, the detail has got to be shown and the average is just
not good enough. It's got to be precise.
(TW) Do you prefer to take them indoors or out side in natural light?
(RH) Well, I do both. It depends on the weather. When it's windy, it's
a waste of time taking them, they jump around and you can't get them.
You can stop some of the movement, as long as it's not too much, with
the flash, but if the wind is very bad, you are wasting your time. If
it's inclement weather, drizzling and raining and so on, the orchids don't
look too good with water droplets all over them. So I've taken about half
of my photos in the bush. I take different coloured sheets of card. If
the orchid has a bush behind it as background, then that's beautiful,
but if the bush is further back, as often as not, the camera will focus
on the bush. I used different coloured card; white, gray, pale green,
pale blue and black which I carried in the car. I had two bits of wire,
bent up like a staple, and I would just bend them round the orchid and
put them down just to hold each end attaching the card so that it went
out of focus. Another thing that I found, with super close-ups, was that
when I photographed the whole orchid, the front part of it was out of
focus. By pure accident, I took a photo one day and had focused on the
tip of the orchid that was closest to the lens. It looked all blurred
in the background, but when I got the slides back, it was in perfect focus.
I took a photography course at TAFE for a while, but their equipment was
different to mine, and if I did what they did, with my equipment, it didn't
work. These are pitfalls that occur. You really need to study photography
if you take on this business, because orchid photography is the most difficult.
I'd never owned a camera till I tried to break into macro-photography,
and of course, I was naturally behind the eight ball.
(TW) So you had to learn from scratch?
(RH) That's right.
(TW) What sort of film do you use?
(RH) Well, originally it was Kodak 64, but eventually I switched over
to Fuji 100's, and the bulk, the best of my photography was done with
Fuji 100's. These days people are using 400 film with natural light, and
getting beautiful results. I never tried that, I was on a good thing and
I stuck to it. Well, I reckoned I was.
(TW) You knew and understood what you were doing and what
you were working with.
(RH) That's right. Also, I learned, like everybody else, by my mistakes.
The essential thing is to write down everything you do. Write down the
distance the flash is away. Write down whether its full size orchid or
half size or whatever. When I took my orchids inside, I used f22, which
gave beautiful depth of field. But if I tried to use F22 out in the bush,
they were all underexposed because the opening was too small so I used
F16 with the flash and got very good results. But I had to write all this
(TW) So you used the flash outside too.
(RH) Yes. All I did with the flash outside. You can have the flash attached
to the camera but its pretty cumbersome to cart them around. A lot of
people have one flash angled up from below the lens, and one angled down
from the other side of the lens, and they get excellent results, but all
I do, using the zoom lens and the adaptor, is hold the flash alongside
the lens. There's a tolerance of a half inch (12mm) in the flash distance
and anywhere in that half inch, you get fairly good results, but if its
over half an inch, well, it shows, either over exposed or under exposed.
We concentrated on 200kms from Albany, and we've possibly looked at 1%
of what's there.
(TW) You've got some orchids named after you. What are they?
(RH) Yes, ones a Donkey (Diuris heberlei) orchid and the other's a Spider
(Caladenia heberleana) orchid. The Donkey orchids are something that we
should be put on the net. They are beautiful.
(TW) You have slides of them too do you?
(RH) I have all the named WA species and a few that haven't been named.
For some obscure reason, they don't appear to hybridize over here. I've
only seen one Donkey orchid that, I think, is a hybrid. In the Eastern
States they hybridize like mad. It's all a question of pollinators. The
Donkey orchid has probably got a specific pollinator and there aren't
many of them around. Whereas Caladenias, most of them have non-specific
pollinators, any sort of insect will do. It's a possibility and it could
be a probability, but you're going to be hard pressed to bring it up to
I've got a lot of correspondence from a chap who lives in the U.S.A. He
had a theory that some orchids have a specific pollinator, and if that
pollinator is not present, it never got fertilized. He published a series
of very plausible papers built around this theory, but the more I got
into hybrids, the more I was quite certain that he was going up the garden
path. So he came over, he had four trips to Australia, and he came down
to Albany. I invited him to stay with us, and every night I'd take him
into the lounge room where we had the projectors set up, and I'd show
him all these hybrids. I said that they couldn't have a specific pollinator
because of all these hybrids. He said 'Ron, I'm convinced that what I
wrote was wrong in some cases. No one challenged me'. He was one of the
first in that field of study you see.
When anyone publishes anything, it's up to be debated. You get a personal
point of view, and a single personal point of view isn't worth that much.
If a personal point of view is backed up by a great many others contributing,
well then, maybe you are on the right track.
I published my first paper on Caladenia hybrids about 1991 in the Orchadian.
A chap had written to me suggesting that I should publish a paper about
Caladania hybrids. I agreed and roughed out some notes (I'd never written
one before) and I sent it to a friend of mine who was a big noise in the
orchid world in Sydney, for his advice. He wrote back and he suggested
certain amendments and so on, and he said,"Look, if you are going
to publish in the Orchadian, you should get in touch with the Orchadian
editor and get his assistance". This was a chap named Joe Betts.
We swapped letters back and forth, and eventually the paper was drafted
as a professional paper, though even with his assistance it was written
by an amateur. He published it, and, I didn't know it, but at that time
it was the first paper that had ever been written about Caladenia hybrids
in Australia. So it was a benchmark. I made some predictions. Only one
of them has survived because they were wrong. For instance, I said that
apart from the early flowering and late flowering Caladenias, all the
rest are free to hybridize. Well I've never seen an early flowering hybrid
but we found late flowering hybrids, so maybe I was half right.
I got interested in hybrids and as far as I know, few others have. In
the first paper, I suggested that other people should do the same work
in other locations and then the full story might be known some day, but
as far as I know that hasn't happened.
(TW) I guess most people would want a fair bit of money to do the sort
of work that you have done, but you have done it as a hobby.
(RH) Yes. We spent a lot of money. Neither of us drink nor smoke and we
haven't got any expensive habits, so we always had a few bob to fill up
the car and go somewhere. We were very lucky in that we had friends and
relations spread all through the country and could nick up on a Friday
night, stay the night with them and go out looking at orchids the next
day. They knew the bush and where the orchids were. Then we could set
off back to Albany by another route and get back about 6 o'clock Sunday.
In that way we could really cover the countryside. We would never have
been able to do it without them.
(TW) You told me once that you tried to grow some Thelymitras and you
hadn't been 100% successful.
(RH) No. The Thelymitras were easier to grow than Caladenias in general,
but some of them were impossible. The easy ones are a lot of those blue
ones. But they survive in the pot from three to five years because they
use up the mycorrhizal fungi and it isn't replaced so they die.
(TW) I see. So if you could find some way of replacing the fungi
(RH) Yes. That's what they are doing today. That's what Heinrich Beyrle
The most beautiful Thelymitra vareigata I've ever seen, used to grow on
Mt. Wylieyung, which is behind the airport at Albany. It was a big granite
rock. The farmer sold the rock to Australian Blue Metal and they started
blasting it out for road making. They dumped the metal dust on top of
the Thelymitras. You are lucky to find one or two there now. It's a great
heap of metal dust now. About 200 square metres. It was the only place
I've ever seen these. They were the most beautiful colour forms we had
There are some T. vareigatas growing north of Perth that I have never
seen, and they are beautiful. They used to grow all around the Swan River
when I was a kid. They grew from Belmont, down through Burswood, Victoria
Park, South Perth, Mt. Pleasant, down through Jandacot to Woodman's point,
Twelve Mile Well and right around where Kwinana is now, down to Rockingham,
Point Peron, and then all the way down to Bunbury. Of course, many of
them are gone.
(TW) Thanks for talking with me today Ron. I'm sure many people will be
interested in your comments.