In the 1860s Tower Hill in South Western Victoria was a thickly wooded area, but clearing and agricultural use over the following century left it a devastated wasteland. A project was launched to remediate the area, but faced a key problem: nobody could remember what it originally looked like. They found a solution in a creative source: the landscape painting of Eugene von Guerard.

von Guerard was an Austrian-born failed gold-digger who came to fame as a landscape artist in Australia in the 1860s. The National Gallery of Victoria currently has an exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre showcasing his work, most of which is astoundingly detailed and realistic.

So realistic, in fact, that it has assisted science on several occasions. Most recently, his painting of Mount Gambier’s crater lakes was used to assess changes to the water table, measurements of which nobody thought to record at the time.

It’s easy to forget that only a century ago obtaining detailed and realistic images was almost impossible, apart from the work of talented artists like von Guerard. In today’s digital world we all have the ability to record reality with the push of a button or click of a mouse. Even so, the next time you post a photo on your wall, or upload it to Instagram or Flickr, you just might be the one helping researchers of the future with their work.

A view from Daylesford towards the Pyrenees