Hearing the unheard

Kim V. Goldsmith An ancient land video still, 2021
Kim V Goldsmith An ancient land video still
Kim V. Goldsmith, An ancient land: a history of the wetland in chapters, 2021, video still, WATCH A PREVIEW

I recently observed the thread of a conversation on a Twitter post[1] by Professor Euan Ritchie[2] of Deakin University suggesting the ecological and conservation community needed to reflect deeply on ideas and narratives that had questionable outcomes for biodiversity.

You could hear the frustration in the tone of Ritchie’s tweet and responses. His post and threaded comments referenced conservation triage, environmental offsets, the assumptions made on the back of expert elicitation in place of a lack of data, and of course, funding. It was at best a snapshot of just one of the conversation threads happening about how the current modus operandi is not working.

We need a pluralistic dialogue

One of the outcomes of the past three year’s work on the Mosses and Marshes project has made it very clear that in the case of the Maliyanga Ngurra[3]/Macquarie Marshes, there’s a need to do something differently. As Professor Ritchie says in the thread of his Twitter post:

We can have academic discussions all we want, and we do, but the facts and outcomes speak for themselves. We urgently need to do things very differently.

The same could be said about politics, at all levels. Even grassroots political conversations around the future of these fragile ecosystems are adversarial. The echo chamber endures and there are several voices unheard in the process, Traditional Owners and the environment being two.

One of the collaborative videos works Andrew Howe and I created for the Mosses and Marshes exhibitions[4] is called The tone of things. The idea underpinning the work is explained in the exhibition statement:

Tone tells the truth even when words don’t. It’s hard to define. As humans, we understand the influence tone can have on conversations, on trust, on decision-making. The more-than-human world of the wetlands generates their own tone. Too often though, when heard together our tones are discordant.

Kim V. Goldsmith recording with hydrophones in the Macquarie Marshes
On-site in the Marshes listening to life underwater

We need a pluralistic dialogue or conversation, based on multi-disciplinary collaboration, with a vastly different tone and intent if we’re to enact any real change with any real future benefits for these environments. The conversations can’t just be academic, scientific, economic, cultural, or political.

Professor Ritchie referenced an Environmental Conservation[5] article by Megan Evans in his Twitter thread, about a review of major conservation themes in literature and historical shifts in the framing of conservation. In the article summary, Evans writes:

Greater critical reflection on how conservation science might better accommodate multiple knowledges, goals and values could assist in ‘opening up’ new, legitimate pathways for biodiversity conservation.

Imagine the possibilities if we could inquire into nature from a range of perspectives?

UK-based coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Network[6], Dave Pritchard[7], provided the foreword in the Mosses and Marshes book[8]. He wrote:

Sustainability, for example, is not a law of the universe—ecosystems change, species come and go. It is, instead, a human construct, based on value judgements—we want to conserve some biodiversity, but not the Coronavirus. The concept only has meaning when choices are made about what timescale to define and how wide a net of interdependencies to consider. It is consequently as much a cultural matter as it is a scientific one.

This is exactly where arts-led approaches can often contribute most: transcending sectoral boundaries and fixed ways of thinking, exposing preconceptions about how long is ‘now’ or how big is ‘here’; and cultivating the imagination to ‘see differently’.

Dave Pritchard is one of the guest speakers at the Mosses and Marshes International Panel Discussion event on 11 November, where six panelists will discuss alternative ways of understanding and valuing special environments like the Mosses and Marshes, to help inform and shape their future. It’s a lofty ambition for a one-off, online event, but we must start somewhere.

The voices of our six panelists will be supplemented by provocateurs (through pre-recorded videos) from Australia and the UK with an interest in the Mosses and Marshes, and a live audience who are invited to comment and ask questions throughout the one-and-a-half-hour event. It’ll be recorded and put online to continue the conversation over the coming months.

It’s not about changing minds overnight, many of whom are already invested in their chosen position. The art of persuasion is a dark art given much discussion or debate today is about competing monologues playing to the already convinced, rather than expressions of genuine responsiveness. However, I am hoping there will be considered contributions and genuine provocations put forward with the intention of listening and considering the responses, not just throwing bones into a dog fight.

We need the willingness, space and time —while being aware the clock is ticking on these issues, to consider alternative perspectives. Hannah Arendt wrote in The Human Condition[9] in 1958:

if we inquire into nature from the standpoint of astronomy we receive planetary systems, while if we carry out our astronomical inquiries from the standpoint of the earth we receive geocentric, terrestrial systems.

Imagine the possibilities if we could inquire into nature from a range of perspectives?

International Panel Discussion 11 Novemer 2021

REGISTER for the International Panel Discussion, being hosted and facilitated on Zoom, by 9am AEDT, 11 November. This event is a partnership with Dubbo Regional Council and is supported by Orana Arts.

BUY the Mosses and Marshes book.

Additional resources

Listen to the stories of the Marshes
Listen to the Soundscapes of the Wetlands (exhibition soundscapes)


[1] https://twitter.com/EuanRitchie1/status/1451651920746061827?s=20 (23 October 2021)

[2] Professor Euan Richie, Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Life and Environmental Sciences (LES) Higher Degrees by Research (HDR) Coordinator, Deakin University

[3] Maliyanga Ngurra is the Wayilwan name for the Macquarie Marshes

[4] https://eco-pulse.art/sonic-stories-of-the-wetland/ (24 October 21)

[5] Evans, M. (2021). Re-conceptualizing the role(s) of science in biodiversity conservation. Environmental Conservation, 48(3), 151-160

[6] https://wli.wwt.org.uk/initiatives/ramsar-culture-network/ (24 October 2021)

[7] Dave Pritchard is an independent consultant for bodies including the UN Environment Programme and the Council of Europeand serves on a variety of UK and international advisory boards.

[8] Howe, A. and Goldsmith, K.V. (2021). Mosses and Marshes. Andrew Howe Art & ecoPULSE Art. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=CRKkzgEACAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=editions:ISBN0645294608

[9] Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition (p. 258). The University of Chicago Press.

Published by Goldsmith's Studio

Digital media artist, creative content producer & instigator of ART e-Parties.

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