Two Fires Festival – artist statement

March 28, 2011

Two Fires 2011 coincides with the 25th anniversary of my move to the Shoalhaven catchment, at Charleys Forest, north-east of Braidwood. For most of that time I have been an activist as well as an artist, with the campaign to stop the Welcome Reef Dam on the Shoalhaven River being the kick-start to my local activist involvement. At about the same time I started my engagement with the processes of local government and in 2004 was elected to the newly amalgamated Eastern Capital Regional Council, which soon after was renamed Palerang.

Given the festival’s cornerstones of art and activism, I am very excited to be participating in the art stream of this year’s Two Fires Festival. I am bringing my own art and activism to the exhibition Shoalhaven Visions (whose theme is catchment health) through an artist book called Life in the catchment. As well as drawings, photographs and a papercut, the book includes rainfall data and growing season information, Palerang Draft Local Environmental Plan deletions relating to riparian health and protection, a letters to the editor exchange, and bird and orchid sightings records. These inclusions all relate not only to my own life in the catchment, but that of some of the flora and fauna.

As well as the book there is a series of digital photographs; these larger format photos are products of the field trips that were part of the process, with images sourced largely from Monga and Bungonia National Parks.

At the end of March 1986, I came to live in my tent on a cliff overlooking Sapling Yard Creek, which flows into the Mongarlowe River which, in turn, flows into the Shoalhaven. During that time I spent every day on the bank of the creek, and in it, looking at the micro-life and thinking more and more about environmental issues as I listened to Radio National.

As I became better acquainted with the wider community I soon became involved with the campaign against the Welcome Reef Dam and later, when I joined The Greens, became active in many other campaigns, some of them water-related, such as that to increase environmental flows to the Snowy River, the importance of old-growth forests in ensuring water quality as part of the campaign to stop native forest wood-chipping and the impact of climate change on water availability.

The issue of water has been a driving force of my activism over the last 25 years and informs many of the positions I take as a Palerang councillor. Some years ago I delivered a paper to a Beyond Federation conference in Canberra on the problems associated with the health of the Murray-Darling arising from conflicting state government legislation and the lack of an holistic approach. A decade or more later, this issue is far from being resolved, with communities divided on proposals for bringing back Basin health.

The concept of the two fires of art and activism, with its roots coming out of the work and commitment of Judith Wright, is one to which I strongly relate. In the early 90s I had the privilege of painting Judith’s portait as a commission for Wright College at the University of New England. I believe that artists play a vital role in raising the issues that are affecting environment and society, and it is our responsibility to keep those issues alive and hopefully help to bring about much-needed change through our creativity.

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