Woman Erickson, Frederica (Rica) (1908 - 2009)

Boulder City, Western Australia, Australia
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Artist, Historian and Naturalist
Alternative Names
  • Sandilands, Frederica (Rica) (Maiden)

Written by Dorothy Erickson, Independent Scholar

Frederica (Rica) Lucy Erickson was a leading naturalist, historian and botanical artist of Western Australia. Known as Rica, she was born in 1908 in Boulder City, Western Australia, the eldest daughter of Christopher Sandilands, gold miner and his wife Phoebe Louisa. She was a scholarship student who became internationally known, not least for her writing and campaigning to try to save the biodiversity of Western Australian flora and fauna, and to preserve the State's history. She was encouraged in this endeavour by her grandmother Frederica Cooke, a local midwife, with whom she lived when her parents moved to Kendenup to commence an orchard.

After teaching in various rural schools Rica married farmer Sydney Uden Erickson in 1936. They had four children. Dorothy, the eldest, became her mother's research assistant at times and also an artist-jeweller and author. John farmed and became a wine maker. Bethel became an award-winning photographer of rural pursuits whilst Robin nursed the Duchess of Windsor. The Erickson farm at Bolgart was a beautiful place of rolling hills, granite outcrops, white trunked gum trees and exquisite wildflowers. It was located on the western edge of the Avon district that straddles Australia's globally recognised biodiversity hotspot. It is an agricultural area of extraordinary species diversity, which contains more than 25 per cent of Australia's flowering plant taxa and 1.5 per cent of that of the world. Rica was in her element. She had exhibited her first botanical painting as a child winning first prize in the infants' division of the Eastern Goldfields Art and Industrial Exhibition in 1913, but really commenced painting wildflowers only in the 1930s whilst a teacher in the country. When she exhibited her paintings at the Wild Life Show in Perth in 1947 she was persuaded to write a book to accompany them. This began a career in botanical research into various families of the over 14,000 species endemic to Western Australia. She published Orchids of the West, Trigger Plants and Plants of Prey all illustrated with her paintings. There are a number of insects and plant species named for her and one orchid genus, Ericksonella. Rica continued painting until cataracts made this impossible. Her paintings hang in Pittsburgh USA, London and Australia. When the cataracts were removed in the 1990s she began painting again and was part of the Botanical Artists' Group of wildflower painters exhibiting regularly almost to the end of her life. Most of Rica's paintings are housed in the Battye Library which set up a website in her honour.

Whilst researching a book on James Drummond, the first Government Botanist in Western Australia, she became concerned at the loss of oral and historical records of the early pioneers and she was drawn into historical research in the 1960s. Rica was the author or editor of some twenty books on botany and history. Her enormous project, the Biographical Index and Dictionary of Western Australians, was the first of its kind in the world. From this the Dictionaries of Western Australia and the revised Bicentennial Dictionaries were published. Her last book was published in 2006. Awards came late in life after she and her husband had retired to Perth to facilitate her research. In 1980 she was made Citizen of the Year for the Arts in Western Australia and awarded an Honorary D. Litt. from the University of Western Australia. In 1987 she was awarded the Order of Australia (Gen Div.) for service to the arts, particularly as an author and illustrator. In 1996 she became the first living person in Western Australia to have a Park or Nature Reserve named in her honour: the Rica Erickson Nature Reserve at Calingiri and in 1999 she was honoured with a plaque in the paving stones in St Georges Terrace. In 2006 she was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in Western Australia's history and in 2007 won a State Heritage Award. She died in 2009 leaving an enduring legacy.

Published Resources


  • Erickson, Rica, A Naturalists Life, University of Western Australia (UWA) Publishing, Crawley, Western Australia, 2005. Details
  • Gooding, Janda, Brush with Gondwana: The Botanical Artists Group of Western Australia, Fremantle Press, North Freemantle, Western Australia, 2008. Details
  • Keighery, Bronwyn and Erickson, Rica, Sharing a Wonderful Dream: Rica Erickson (interpreted by Bronwen Keighery from a series of interviews), 2 edn, Wildflower Society of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1991. Details

Book Sections

  • Erickson, Rica and O'Mara, Gillian, 'Convicts in Western Australia 1850 - 1887', in Rica Erickson (ed.), Dictionary of Western Australians, vol. 9, University of Western Australia (UWA) Publishing, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1988. Details

Edited Books

  • Erickson, Rica (ed.), Dictionary of Western Australians 1829 - 1914, vol. 1 - 4, University of Western Australia (UWA) Publishing, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1984 - 1986. Details
  • Erickson, Rica (ed.), The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians pre 1829-1888, vol. 1 - 4 of 4, University of Western Australia (UWA) Publishing, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1987 - 1988. Details
  • Layman, Lenore (ed.), Rica's Stories: Rica Erickson, Royal Western Australian Historical Society, Nedlands, Western Australia, 2001. Details

Online Resources

See also