At 5pm on Saturday 14 August, the State of New South Wales went into a COVID-19-responsive lockdown. The regional City of Dubbo and its local government area had already been under stay at home orders for three days on the back of growing active COVID cases; the region’s Indigenous population dangerously exposed. Sydney, our State capital, has been in lockdown since 26 June – nearly two months, with slow to implement restrictions now encompassing the State.
At about the same time Dubbo was waiting to hear of the first active COVID cases following multiple positive sewage test results, in early August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report was released with what was described as “a reality check”. My Twitter feed swung from lockdown blues and finger pointing over COVID management failures to pleas from the environmentally conscious to hold governments to account and the need to act now in order to turn back the tide of climate change.
Two weeks into the eighth month of the year 2021, I was unable to face more bad news, with little energy left to scream about poor Australian leadership putting vulnerable regional communities at risk from the Delta variant of COVID and add my voice on the call to act on climate change. Then there’s the guilt of feeling I really have nothing to complain about.
My want is to shut my front gate, turn off my devices and ignore the world. Yet, the idea of walking away from two things I’m passionate about – regional communities and the environment, seems inconceivable.
Having grown up in a conservative rural community and all that entails, I’ve spent years trying to cultivate a more balanced view of the world – listening to multiple voices, reading, thinking, philosophising, trying to be open to new ideas and perspectives on issues. It’s underpinned my work as a journalist, communications specialist, artist, and I hope, as a human with an understanding that I’m part of the solution and not just the problem.
Despite this, I’ve been wanting to scream and rant in a quite irrational way. I’m angry. I’m angry with individuals who believe the rules don’t apply to them or are taking some personal stand against authority (not those who truly have not understood the poor public communication); angry at the politicisation of the pandemic and climate science; angry at the ego-driven leadership we’re subjected to when what we need is long-term vision beyond election cycles…and probably an angry in a sad way that there will be no ‘normal’ again on any front.
I’ve been trying to keep my anxiety under control by taking afternoon walks, sitting in the sun at lunchtime, knitting in the evenings (a childhood skill I’ve resurrected to stop me constantly checking my phone), connecting with friends, and my art making. I could so easily shut that front gate for weeks on end and spend my days working on the Pulse of the Wetland/ Mosses and Marshes pieces that have deadlines now shadowing them, and the book that we’re publishing as well.
Realist me finds solace in my art making during times of crisis, particularly when the bad news is coming thick and fast…
I’m in the post-production stages of this body of work and have been for some time. When I’m editing, I lose all sense of time, completely absorbed in minute details of building my soundscapes and visuals, searching for just the right sound or tone, or imagery that tells the story but allows for imagination, transitions, effects, levels and layers.
At the same time, I’m still talking to people about the project, reading and researching, listening to podcasts and interviews – gleaning ideas and information to feed into work even when it’s in post-production. The other night I was listening to an ABC Radio podcast with primatologist, Jane Goodall about humanity and hope – perhaps I was searching for something to hang on to.
I drifted in and out of sleep as I was listening, waking momentarily to hear her say: I talk about how we’re the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet, but we seem to have lost wisdom. That means there’s a disconnect between the clever brain and the human heart…I really believe that only when head and heart work in harmony we can truly attain our true human potential.
Goodall went on to speak truths I hold dear before I drifted into deep sleep: It’s now been proven scientifically that being in nature is beneficial for us, even necessary for us, because we are a part of the natural world and we depend on it for everything…We need nature and instead of that, we’re destroying it.
Jane’s book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet is coming out later this year. Despite having witnessed some of the worst of human nature and our fraught relationship with the natural world, Jane appears to be a glass-half-full kind of human. I recently saw a question on social media asking potential respondents if they were an optimist or a pessimist. I responded that I was a realist. Dictionaries describe a realist as a person who accepts and deals with things as they really are. This position informs how I approach my artmaking.
Realist me finds solace in my art making during times of crisis, particularly when the bad news is coming thick and fast – there’s a freedom to explore more optimistic and pessimistic outlooks without straying from the facts, my centre line. In the attention to detail required of sound and video editing, there’s also a stillness of being in the moment, cloistered by studio headphones, focussed only on those clips and grabs relevant to the narrative, removing all the distractions and noise of an outside world.
…this outdoor stillness is my deep connection with the more-than-human world that keep my glass half full.
It’s mentally and physically challenging. Hours of editing creates intense pain in my neck and shoulders, radiating down my back and into my hips. By late afternoon I need to take a long break, to shift the pain from my body by walking – striding out in time to my breath, stopping to observe the gentle flow of water beneath my feet or to inspect smooth, lace-like lichen on rocks and branches, macropod prints in dark mud, or to peer below the glassy surface of pooling water at a microcosm of life oblivious to the worlds’ woes before bending back, eyes skyward to appreciate the graceful swoosh of a raptor slowly tunnelling on invisible currents. Along with the silence of the studio where my senses are honed in on my field recordings, this outdoor stillness is my deep connection with the more-than-human world that keep my glass half full. Even this is a privilege by most standards.
Mosses and Marshes opens at Qube Gallery, Oswestery UK in October. The Mosses and Marshes book is due for release in October too. See the Events page for updates.
If you’d like to support the work of ecoPULSE, including future projects, you can donate via the Australian Cultural Fund over the next 12 months. Donations over A$2 are tax deductible.
Need some lockdown timeout? Take a walk through my back paddock in later winter. Best listened to with earbuds or headphones for a binaural experience.
Recorded with Sennheiser Ambeo 3D headphones