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With Queenslanders experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand, the State has witnessed growing individual and collective demand to address the climate emergency. At the same time, the link between climate change and human impact on our environment is becoming increasingly clear.
Yet, from a historical perspective, understanding the need to protect and conserve our environment is not new to Queenslanders.
In 1922, Gayndah amateur naturalist, Cyril Jerrard, documented and photographed a pair of the exquisite, but now extinct, Paradise Parrot. Describing the parrot to The Nature Photographic Society as ‘perhaps at once the rarest [and] the most beautiful parrot in Australia’, Jerrard’s reasons for its decline were prescient and clear.
Two years after his first sighting of these enchanting birds he had written, ‘Directly by our avarice and thoughtlessness, and indirectly by our disturbance of the balance so nicely preserved by nature, we are undoubtedly accountable for the tragedy of this bird’.
A century later, twenty- seven bird species are now extinct, seventeen further species are listed as critically endangered, and Australia is now a global leader in wildlife extinctions.
What may have been Australia’s first citizen-led conservation movement, provoked a public outcry following the 1927 declaration by the Queensland Government of ‘open season’ on koalas. During ‘Black August’, as it became known, over 600,000 koala pelts were collected, however it is believed that the real count may have exceeded 800,000.
The world's most extensive coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef extends approximately 2300 km along the coast of eastern Australia from the Gulf of Papua and the Torres Strait to islands off southern Queensland. Recognised as a wonder of the modern world and an important World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's best known and most iconic natural environments.
Pioneering scientific research and exploration of the Great Barrier Reef by marine biologist, William Saville-Kent from 1889-1892, followed by the Great Barrier Reef Expedition 1928-29, led by Charles M Yonge, paved the way to a new understanding of the reef’s delicate ecology and to growing awareness of the need to educate and to conserve the reef for future generations.
These pivotal events, among many others, led to the establishment of many environmental organisations, such as the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (1962), Queensland Conservation Council (1969), Fraser Island Defenders Organisation (1971), Friends of the Earth Queensland (1974), the ‘Anti-Nuclear/Stop Uranium’ campaigns of the early 1980s, the Daintree Blockade (1983), and the ‘Save the Reef’ campaign.
As science has progressively shown, environment and climate change are inextricably linked.
Recently, growing recognition of the relationship between anthropogenic (human) influence on our environment and intensifying climate change has seen the coming-together of earlier environmental and conservation movements with climate change protest and activism.
Three groups, in particular – Youth Strike 4 Climate (YS4C), Extinction Rebellion (XR), and the Stop Adani! campaign have dominated the news.
Youth Strike 4 Climate (YS4C)
The rights of children are often overlooked in debates over climate change and what this means for the future of our planet.
On 15 March 2019, inspired by the international movement, School Strike 4 Climate, instigated by Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, more than 150,000 schoolchildren and adult supporters in over sixty cities throughout Australia took part in an historic nationwide strike and march.
Worldwide, children from more than a hundred countries demanded action by Government and politicians to prevent further climate change.
Abbreviated as XR, Extinction Rebellion is a socio-political movement that uses nonviolent action to protest climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
Drawing on the simplicity of previous iconic symbols – think, 1960s symbols for peace and nuclear disarmament – the Extinction Rebellion symbol features a stylised hourglass, representing time running out, surrounded by a circle, symbolising the earth.
Dying for change
In May 2019, Extinction Rebellion staged a ‘die-in’ event in Queensland Museum’s ‘Lost Creatures’ gallery. Hundreds of peaceful protesters, many dressed as endangered animals, lay on the gallery floor, surrounded by fossils and a reconstructed Muttaburrasaurus. The symbolic act sought to draw attention to increased species extinction and to the possible extinction of human life due to climate change.
The event was held simultaneously in countries around the world, including, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, The Netherlands and Britain. As protesters lay across the ground in museums, at transport hubs, cultural centres and shopping centres, they held banners and posters and messages to demand action to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Aside from the pandemic, nothing has dominated recent political debates in Australia like climate change and the place of coal in our economic and environmental future.
The #Stop Adani campaign is perhaps the most recognisable and well-known of anti-coal mining movement. Located on the traditional lands of the Wangan and Jagalingou people, the Adani Carmichael coal mine has galvanised opposition from Greens’ members and supporters, Indigenous landowners, conservation organisations, environmental scientists, and citizen activists alike.
With the COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront of the news and minds of most Australians, it can be easy to forget that only three years ago, Australia was dealing with one of the deadliest bushfire seasons in Australian history. A collection of 41 posters in the Queensland Museum collection records the public response to the 2019-2020 Bushfire Emergency.
The 2019-2020 bushfire season, known as Australia’s Black Summer, had a catastrophic effect on the residents, primary producers and unique ecosystems of Queensland, with more than 7 million hectares burnt across the state. As homes and livelihoods were lost, communities called for decisive climate action and government accountability.
In February 2020, under the banner, ‘Bushfire Brandalism’, a collective of 41 Australian artists replaced 78 advertising posters across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with satirical posters speaking to the Australian government’s inaction on climate change. The artists, some of whom chose to remain anonymous, wore high visibility vests printed with JCDecaux branding which allowed them to operate in plain sight at local bus stops and other outdoor advertising spaces.
Representing a significant acquisition for Queensland Museum’s social history collection, this collection of posters documents a critical moment in our nation’s environmental and climate history.
In a recent State of the Environment Report, a group of independent Australian scientists found that intensified agricultural and grazing practices have contributed significantly to land degradation and to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall are adding to the stresses already affecting farmers and graziers across Australia.
‘Farmers for Climate Action’ (FCA is the only farmer-led organisation focused solely on climate change, supporting farmers to take action on climate change ‘both behind and beyond the farm gate’.
Dissatisfied with long-term political inaction, farmers have taken up the issue of climate change and are exerting pressure on governments through collective action. Their primary focus is to influence economic and climate-related policy to mitigate the impact of climate change on rural communities.
As a form of communication, whether produced as art or for activism, posters have the capacity to capture attention, to disrupt and surprise, to provoke thought and action. This poster and others like it in the Museum’s social history collection encourage viewers to reflect on, to engage critically with and to spark discussion and debate on past and future effects of climate change on the natural environment.
As one of the most environmentally and biologically diverse environments in the world, Queensland is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Rising sea levels, more frequent heatwaves, and increasing numbers of intense rainfall events are just some of the threats that are becoming increasingly apparent.
In continuing to collect and preserve the objects and stories during this profoundly challenging time, we hope to play our part in helping shape and support a fair and sustainable future for all.
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