Herland II – Our Land, Catalogue Essay

First and foremost I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which this exhibition has been realised, the Gadigal and Wangal Peoples of the Eora Nation. I would also like to respectfully acknowledge all Elders and communities of this continent and its neighbouring islands – particularly the Women Elders of this land – and recognise their continued strength, integrity and courage in their ongoing fight for recognition, equality and the right to access and care for their traditional lands to whom they are intrinsically linked.

It feels – at least to myself – as if we have been talking [talking, talking, talking] about the environment, global warming, climate change and now the climate emergency for a long time. Talking talking talking. We – the people – not they – the government, particularly the current government, who appear to have been busy doing other things. More mining, more dredging, more logging and more than enough denying. More, more, more. All the while the earth has – according to the world’s climate change scientists – been getting warmer. But we live in Australia and hasn’t Australia always had a predilection to be hot? Afterall, 70% of our big, dry continent is semi-arid, arid or desert. That’s why the majority of the population dwells coasterly, living the ‘Australian dream’. Whatever that is. I don’t want to be the one to tell you but the dream is over and things are getting real. And they’re getting hot. According to NASA, the world’s leading science agencies are in consensus with one another. Climate change is real. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill. As the award winning climate scientist Dr Joëlle Gergis reported in 2019, ‘there is now nowhere to hide from the terrible truth’.1 And yet the federal government that 41.4% of Australia voted for is doing exactly that.

We have just been through a disastrous summer and I acknowledge that that is a vast understatement. Some of us have endured it much worse than others and are still picking up the pieces of their lives. Literally. As I write this2, 34 people have lost their lives, over one billion native animals have also lost their lives. In NSW National Parks alone, we have lost 10% of our forests. It has been reported that 80% of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area has burned as well as 53% of the Gondwana rainforests.3 The figures are sobering. It’s hard not to be affected by it and if you’ve been left feeling despondent in the aftermath of these events you’re not alone. It’s very difficult to remain outside of it when it is affecting whether or not you can go to work, whether or not you can open your windows and whether or not you can even go outside, that is, if your house is still standing. In Sydney, the skies and even the path ahead were blocked out by smoke and the light was a sickly, nuclear yellow. That colour had a solid tangibility that lingered, even long after the wind pushed it out to sea.

Our land, the earth that we inhabit, is all that we are. Whether we give awareness to it or not. It is what sustains us, protects us, provides us with oxygen, and we breathe it in. We fight over it, build upon it, pollute it, forcibly take it from others. Yet we forget that we are the land and the land is us – whether we come from this land, that land over there or another land somewhere else. ‘Our Land’ is not a statement of ownership, it is a call to action, to bring attention to the ecological destruction that we face – that we are facing. For so long we have denied that the climate is changing we have actually convinced ourselves it must be true – yet school age children are marching in the streets, skipping school on Fridays in a desperate and impassioned bid to gain our attention. One brave and fearsome young Woman faced up to the misogynistic hostilities of the world and said “How dare you!” And how dare we. Of all the possible legacies to bestow upon the future humans of our planet, we are choosing to leave them with our mess. How dare we indeed!

I was recently interviewed about this exhibition and one of the questions asked was how I personally linked Women artists as generators of positive change for our planet. I’ve had more time to consider it, and my answer is that Women possess the empathy, strength of will, tenacity and emotional intelligence to get the job done. Women artists have the capacity to assemble this into a medium that we can respond to, that can call us to action and instil hope. Clearly Scott Morrison cannot. Nor will he help Australia or save the planet. He doesn’t hold it within his capacity and he has demonstrated repeatedly where he positions himself. In January, the good residents of Cobargo, in south east NSW said what many wished they had the opportunity to say.4 But there are people, good people within the ranks of government and our science community who will help us and lead us in this oncoming tide, sadly I’m just not certain that the current government will win us this war of our own creation. This is the time and this is the decade. The CSIRO says that it isn’t too late but this is the critical decade for reducing greenhouse emissions.5

To quote Dr Gergis again:

“We still have time to try and avert the scale of the disaster, but we must respond as we would in an emergency. The question is, can we muster the best of our humanity in time?”6

I’ll leave that to you to decide upon.

This is the second iteration of Herland, in what I hope will be a long term project for The Women’s Library. In 2020 we asked Women artists what actions would they follow to be positive instigators of change for our planet, our land. And their responses are fierce. They are as fierce as Greta Thunberg when she addressed the leaders of the world at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2019; as fierce as the ecologist, scholar and activist Vandana Shiva as she calmly links environmental exploitation to the hierarchical social domination of Women; and as fierce as Mirrar Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula when she defended her country from mining at Jabiluka in Kakadu National Park and was then arrested for trespassing on the land that her family had cultivated and cared for, for over 65,000 years, which sadly, is something many Indigenous communities in Australia continue to face.

They are fierce. And if it’s frightening, then they are doing their job. If it also makes you think and fires up that despondent post disaster-summer rage in your belly then they are also doing their job. But if it makes you want to act; to bring about change; to protest; to bring further awareness; to give your time and energy to making sure that everyone, the people, the animals and the trees are okay, then that is the response we are striving for. And we wish you well on the journey friend, for we are right there with you and our fists are raised!

*For my Grandmother Olga, who cares so much and for all the birds who miss her. And for my Oma Paula, I hope it’s sunny wherever it is you’ve gone to.

Freÿa Black Curator

[1] Dr Joëlle Gergis. The terrible truth of climate change. The Monthly. August 2019. https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2019/august/1566136800/jo-lle-gergis/terrible-truth-climate-change

[2] February 2019.

[3] NSW Government. Understanding the impact of the 2019-20 fires. Sydney. February 2020.

[4] “You’re not welcome.”

[5] Will Steffen. “The myths of climate change-science”. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 125, no.1 (2013): 4 – 4.        

[6] Gergis. The terrible truth of climate change. 2019.