Wife com­mits to con­tin­u­ing en­to­mol­o­gist’s work

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - ANNE MATHER

BEE­TLES were Ge­orge Borne­mis­sza’s life and pas­sion, and his artist wife Jo is keeping the ob­ses­sion alive – a labour of love dis­played in del­i­cate de­tail.

Mrs Borne­mis­sza is com­plet­ing her late hus­band’s vast bee­tle col­lec­tion – and adding her own cre­ative flair to the thou­sands of bee­tles he never had a chance to mount and dis­play.

The fi­nal Borne­mis­sza bee­tle col­lec­tions are colour coded, and ar­ranged in rel­e­vant pat­terns.

Bee­tles from the world’s alpine re­gions have been laid out to form snowflakes, while those en­demic to Tas­ma­nia have been ar­ranged to form a map of the is­land. There are also bee­tles in waves and bee­tles in coils.

As well as care­fully dis­play­ing the bee­tles ac­cord­ing to their ori­gins and cat­e­gories, Mrs Borne­mis­sza is fas­tid­i­ously sketch­ing the dis­plays to en­sure their cor­rect names are on hand for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

“Ge­orge was to­tally ob­sessed by bee­tles,” said Mrs Borne­mis­sza, a re­tired art teacher.

Dr Borne­mis­sza is cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing the dung bee­tle to Aus­tralia, a step which means the na­tion is not over­run by flies.

He moved to Tas­ma­nia in the 1970s, and the world renowned en­to­mol­o­gist con­tin­ued his ob­ses­sion with bee­tles. When he died in Ho­bart in 2014, there were still thou­sands of bee­tles left to cat­a­logue and dis­play. “There were so many bee­tles in the house,” Mrs Borne­mis­sza said.

She is work­ing on the task with her hus­band’s “right hand man”, re­tired sci­ence teacher and fel­low bee­tle en­thu­si­ast Mike Bouf­fard.

“Ge­orge would work 12 hours a day with bee­tles, he had such a pas­sion for them and he wanted to share it with ev­ery­one,” Mr Bouf­fard said.

In his life­time, Mr Borne­mis­sza cre­ated 40 dis­play boxes of bee­tles for the Na­tional Mu­seum of Aus­tralia in Can­berra, and there are a fur­ther 96 of his boxes in stor­age at the Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery.

Since his death four years ago, Mrs Borne­mis­sza and Mr Bouf­fard have com­pleted an­other eight dis­play boxes which they have handed to TMAG, and they are com­plet­ing a fur­ther three dis­plays.

Bee­tles are from re­gions through­out the world, and some are so rare they are con­sid­ered price­less.

“Some of th­ese bee­tles are al­most 100 years old and can no longer be col­lected any­more be­cause they are vir­tu­ally ex­tinct their num­bers are so low,” Mrs Borne­mis­sza said.

Dr Borne­mis­sza was born in Hun­gary and em­i­grated to Aus­tralia in 1950, and joined the CSIRO.

The young en­to­mol­o­gist no­ticed soon af­ter his ar­rival in Aus­tralia that the na­tive dung bee­tles could not cope with the quan­ti­ties of dung cre­ated.

Dr Borne­mis­sza rec­om­mended in­tro­duc­ing for­eign dung bee­tles to Aus­tralia, which would be more ef­fi­cient in re­cy­cling nu­tri­ents into the soil and re­duc­ing the masses of flies which used the dung to breed.

“It’s be­cause of Ge­orge’s work that you can eat out­side with­out hav­ing to bat away flies,” Mrs Borne­mis­sza said.

His work was widely ac­knowl­edged and ap­pre­ci­ated, and in 2001 he was awarded a Medal of the Or­der of Aus­tralia for his ser­vices to sci­ence and en­to­mol­ogy.

About 20 species of bee­tles have also been named in his hon­our.

Bee­tles in the col­lec­tion of Ge­orge Borne­mis­sza, above, who died in 2014.

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