‘It is busy with trees, with animals and with men. It is lonely and beautiful. It is a million wild acres. And there is no other forest like it.’
- Eric Rolls, A Million Wild Acres.
The Pilliga is a beaten-up burnt-out forest where the creeks flow underground and the trees grow barely as wide as a child’s arm. Its grasses have been eaten and its soils pulverised, its timber ringbarked and wood-chipped. It is criss-crossed with fire breaks and narrow old logging roads. Wild boars tear out from its sandy watercourses and wind whips dust into your eyes here.
And yet there are a bunch of people lining up to get arrested – to turn their lives upside down – for this ‘scrub’.
There’s a scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix that kept jumping into my mind during the annual international cycling conference Velo-City Global held in Adelaide in May. In a flash restaurant, one of Neo’s (Keanu Reeves’) collaborators is making a deal with the enemy, the machines. He bites into a piece of steak admitting that while he knows it is merely a virtual construction that makes it seem juicy and delicious, he would preferred to enjoy the meal and forget about the complex reality around him. In exchange for betraying Neo he will be given a virtual life full of everything he has ever wanted. His memory will be erased so he will never be aware of the awful truth that has befallen the planet: that humans have been enslaved and now exist as passive batteries, their lives played out in a virtual space, the matrix.
Yesterday I visited MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart, to meet with Reuben Parker-Greer. Reuben is employed by MONA to manage an inspiring initiative that helps local schools develop and maintain kitchen garden projects. MONA sits on the edge of a long established industrial and residential area, where fast-food outlets well outnumber community and school gardens. Moonah Primary School is one of the nearby schools that MONA supports, and also Continue reading
It’s been a brutal Australian summer. Record temperatures, unprecedented heatwaves, fires. Those people who draw their living from the land, and the livestock and crops they tend, have suffered most. In the years to come, as the chaotic ecological effects of global warming and climate change intensify, one of our greatest challenges will be to ensure the Continue reading
‘the cultural paradigm is both the most obvious and the least developed in fire research’
Stephen J. Pyne 2007
International Journal of Wildland Fire, 16: 273
‘The mechanisms of storytelling… are our best hope of building a more inclusive and a more responsible citizenship’
Quentin Bryce, ABC Boyer Lectures, 2013
The Victorian Bushfire Project 2009-2013
The Victorian Bushfire Project began with an unexpected story, and it has been fuelled by more and more surprising stories since. Telling true stories has been the route to the Continue reading
Not what you were expecting?
When I walked the beaches of the far south coast a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it either. The usually empty stretches of sand were littered with the dead and dying bodies of hundreds upon hundreds of short-tail shearwaters, commonly called mutton-birds. These events are called ‘wrecks’. They occur when these migratory birds return to Australia to breed after a journey of some 15,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea near eastern Russia, Canada and Alaska. If they are unable to feed or rest in calm water, they can perish in their thousands. They then wash up on the beach, exhausted, emaciated and half drowned.
‘North Taylors’ is the name of a paddock on the relatively fertile southwest slopes of New South Wales, south of the Murrumbidgee River, between the farming towns of Narrandera and Boree Creek.
The sixty-hectare paddock is part of ‘Oakvale,’ a farm owned by the Strong family. Over the past ten years or so, the Strong family has bolstered the resilience and productivity of Continue reading
How should museums engage and respond to climate change? How can we use our collections, exhibitions and programs and our traditions of fostering conversation and debate to help communities make sense of this global challenge?
A few weeks ago, I travelled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in the United States, to talk with other curators, educators, scientists and scholars about these complicated and challenging questions. The workshop was the first part of a project, called Collecting the Future: Museums, communities and climate change, that I’ve been developing over the past year with Libby Robin, a senior research fellow here at the National Museum, and with Jenny Newell and Jacklyn Lacey of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History.
‘Eating is an ecological act’, wise farmer and writer Wendell Berry famously wrote in his 1989 essay ‘The Pleasures of Eating’. Ecological thinking reveals connections, enacts relationships. At the National Museum of American History, one branch of the great Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, a new exhibition titled ‘Food: transforming the American table 1950-2000′ contains a fascinating array of historical objects that enable understanding about the embeddedness of our bodies, through eating, in material and cultural patterns of exchange. ‘Beyond Agriculture: Australian food flows’ is one of four research areas within the People and the Environment program at the National Museum of Australia, so I was keen to see how the National Museum of American History had explored the topic of food. Continue reading
Cultural institutions like the National Museum of Australia specialise in storytelling. We use collections to engage people in conversations about the meanings and the emotional aspects of environmental and social change. The Diana Boyer collection, for example, contains remarkable artworks, some of which creatively link one Australian farmer’s detailed knowledge of local plant and animal species with the globalised dynamics of climate change. Continue reading