Wilderness Journal #027
Welcome to the second issue of our Journal. Each month we will share stories of nature and people. Photographers, artists, citizens and scientists share insights into the beauty of wildlife, wild places and what is being done to protect them. Plus a look back at the Wilderness Society's rich history in pictures. And more besides. Enjoy.
Protecting a delicate, green world
protect the natural sanctuary that surrounds their home in the Gold
Coast hinterland, the Russell family started small: just a kernel of an
idea and a willingness to make it happen.
Words Dan Down, photography John Feely—@johnfeely
It’s a feeling; a compulsion to get up and do something yourself because you can’t rely on others. “‘I'm only one person; what can I do?’ If everyone was like that, nothing would get done. And that's what I've learnt: one person can make a difference,” says Ben Russell.
Like many, Ben, Shevaun and their four daughters, are concerned at the declining state of the natural world around them. They live in the relatively isolated community of Cedar Creek, surrounded by stands of eucalypts and rainforest hugging the Albert River that meanders through the Gold Coast hinterland.
A friend of the Wilderness Society, photographer John Feely, visited the family at their home, his images offering glimpses through leaves, shadows, curtains and vines into their world. Feely describes it as, "The world they have become a part of through taking great care in protecting and cultivating what was already there. What was most obvious was that this care in itself brought its own joy and its own peace.”
Not far from the family, stretches of forest are being turned over by developers, fragmenting koala habitat with roads and houses as the burgeoning sprawl of Brisbane descends from the north. And there are other challenges too, not least the omniscient spectre of climate change.
To turn things around, for the people, and for the wildlife that has been living here for tens of thousands of years, the koalas and platypuses, they decided to do something. The Russell family’s mission started small: just a kernel of an idea and a willingness to make it happen. From teaching children at their local school how to build native bee hotels they are now set to undertake an ecological restoration of the area while engaging surrounding communities on environmental issues. Their work is set to become as far-reaching as that of the tiny, seemingly insignificant pollinators that have taken up residence in the school children’s hand-crafted bee hotels.
But you can’t act alone; effective change comes from harnessing the collective power of community. So they joined the Wilderness Society’s grassroots organising program, Movement For Life, setting up their own local group, Albert Valley Wilderness Society. “For a couple of years leading up to joining we would say ‘This is our year to do something for nature and to get involved with the community to do it,’” says Ben. “But we were never able to find the right group or what we were looking for. Now we've got some really close relationships with local councillors, and we've even got the support of a Liberal Federal MP who’s often contacted us to be involved with things. Now we absolutely have the community’s support and, more importantly, their trust.”
It’s a trust perhaps earnt when their group took on plans for an industrial development, and won. “It was the community; we just followed what the people wanted,” says Shevaun. The proposal, right on the bank of the Albert River, may have adversely affected platypus in the area. To oppose the project they formed an alliance with other organisations, but the campaign took a worrying turn when the company involved threatened their group with a defamation case. “We were very scared,” recalls Shevaun, but they stood their ground; the Wilderness Society backed them all the way, engaging a legal team, and the case was dropped. Not long after, the development was also abandoned.
“It was a worrying time. At the end of it, we did feel like the system had worked,” recalls Shevaun. “If we hadn't been working with the Wilderness Society and following their guidelines, we could have ended up being taken to court and possibly received a heavy penalty for simply trying to do the right thing.”
Their group has meant that they
can engage with the people that call the Albert Valley home on other
pressing local environmental issues. “Deforestation is a massive problem
not just for Queensland, but Australia as a whole,” says Isabel. “And
that impacts everything. It impacts the wildlife; it impacts the climate
and the quality of our lives as well. It especially affects our
wildlife here, because they have nowhere to go. And that's why Mum and I
are finding all this road kill.”
Through their group they
hosted a Koala Forum to address issues that the local population of the
animals face, such as a loss of habitat and car strikes. Koalas once
thrived in this part of the Scenic Rim, the ancient remains of a vast
shield volcano, bordered by Lamington and Border Ranges National Parks.
The event brought people together from across the Albert Valley to hear
guest speakers discuss the koalas’ decline.
“We are quite isolated out here, so people seem to like doing activities that are a little bit more of a social occasion,” says Shevaun. “That can mean coming together to talk, or to do workshops to make things and learn something new. So we started working with the local school painting environmental murals, and that gave us a lead into meeting a lot of people in the area where we live.”
Following this success they applied to the council for a Community Awareness grant to run eco-related workshops. Shevaun and Ben started native bee hotel-making sessions at the school. “We were able to talk to the students about what a habitat would look like if it was healthy enough to attract bees for the hotels,” says Shevaun. “So then we built bee gardens; we purchased 250 plants to put into those gardens.” Ninety-nine per cent of Australia’s 1,700 bee species are in fact solitary insects that burrow into trunks, stems or the ground. With insect populations falling due to the effects of climate change and habitat loss from sprawling development, just like the koalas, a bee hotel and a suitable range of native plants to harvest nectar from is a way to support the essential role these insects play.
From that first bee hotel, an annual eco festival has become part of the school calendar. There’s also a recycling programme and the school voted in a sustainability officer who will now oversee greener practices. “The local council have been so impressed that they recommended we went for another grant this year, using what we have learnt as a model to replicate and bring the bee hotel workshops to more schools and communities,” says Shevaun.
And they were successful. “We have a grant to hold eco workshops, plant a thousand trees and build a community eco-learning space. We will be starting to engage with surrounding schools and the community with workshops in September. In doing the bee hotels we aren’t just reaching out to children and parents in schools, we can talk to a wide-range of people throughout the region.” says Shevaun Russell. “So in just something as small as a bee hotel, it's become a whole avenue of projects.”
The work Shevaun and her family are about to undertake
is set to be far reaching, but their simple mission to restore and
sustain the natural world around them in Cedar Creek started small. Like
the native bees they have encouraged in the region, quietly and
efficiently pollinating the surrounding flora to start a new generation
of growth, the family had a simple idea, reached out to the community,
and made it happen.
We would like to thank John Feely for donating his time and beautiful photography for this article.
Small Worlds : The Fragility of Beauty.
A painting by Tim Maguire."I started the first of the paintings in this show in September 2019—a large diptych based on a detail of a painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem, with small insects crawling over the stems and blooms of bursting roses and ranunculi. I felt a new resonance between the morality tales of the original painting and the current threats to our natural world—the loss of habitat to human activity, global temperatures rising, oceans under threat, and species declining and disappearing.
"By the end of last year, vast bushfires were rampant throughout Australia. In the dark glow of these horrific fires, the moral function of these still-life paintings—reminders at once of the marvellous and fragile beauty of the natural world, and of the temporality of our place in it—seemed even more relevant... Through the act of recreating some of their lovingly painted flowers, I could share in their sense of wonder at the precious diversity of life.
"It seemed now, as we saw around us the terrifying impact of human activity on the natural world, that reminders of the dangers of human hubris were even more necessary.”—Tim Maguire, 2020
The oil on canvas work is from Tim's recent exhibition 'Small Worlds’ at Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.
Taking on Equinor... and winning!
Earlier this year, the fossil fuel giant Equinor was forced to drop its plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight. Watch the story of how the Wilderness Society worked with Bunna Lawrie of the Mirning people as part of the Fight For the Bight Alliance to secure this historic win.
From travelling to Norway to take the campaign to Equinor’s
shareholders and public, to mass paddle-outs around Australia, it’s a
victory for nature and wildlife that’s been years in the making.
NB: Bunna is lead singer in the band Coloured Stone. Watch him perform in the music video for classic hit Black Boy, released 1984.
Dr Thomas Sayers, who recently completed his doctorate in pollination ecology at the University of Melbourne, explains the threats insects face, why they are critical to life on Earth and how to take incredible macro portraits of the tiny denizens that inhabit this secret kingdom.
It is often the cute, fuzzy, feathered and backboned animals that get all the attention, yet insects are the most dominant animal group on the planet. Comprising two-thirds of the world’s known animal species, it is estimated that there are 5.5 million insect species of which just 1 million have been described. That leaves 4.5 million left to discover!
Their unrivalled diversity and accessibility makes insects and other arthropods appealing to photographers, like Dr Thomas Sayers, who recently completed his doctorate in pollination ecology at the University of Melbourne. He explains how to get started taking images like his spectacular portraits here, why insects are so critical to life on Earth and what we must do to ensure their survival.
What role do insects play in ecosystems - and if we were to lose too many insects what would happen?
"Having existed for over 450 million years, through deep evolutionary time insects have developed countless functions and relationships with other co-evolved organisms and the abiotic world. Insects provide pollination, seed dispersal, predation (pest control), waste decomposition and nutrient cycling, and sustenance for other animals.
"If insect diversity and abundance are lost and certain thresholds are reached in a particular environment, there are likely to be a multitude of adverse impacts on other organisms dependent upon their services, including humans. For example, insects are critical for our food security because the majority of flowering plants and global food crop varieties are dependent on insect pollination to various extents."
There have been reports of plummeting insect numbers. How serious is this and what are the main drivers?
"There is increasing evidence of serious declines in insect diversity and abundance, at least at the regional scale and for some taxonomic groups. This is in response to a multitude of human impacts including habitat loss and fragmentation, intensive pesticide and fertiliser use, climate change, and introduced species and pathogens. Insect declines are of great concern, though the scale and seriousness of these declines at the global level is currently unclear due to our limited knowledge of insect diversity and abundance, and their complex ecology and biology."
What can be done to conserve insects and help them survive in strong numbers into the future?
"Key to insect conservation is limiting and reversing the main drivers of insect declines. Rewilding, increasing habitat diversity and connectivity in agricultural and urban landscapes, maintaining protected areas and habitat structure, reducing our reliance on pesticides, climate change mitigation, strong biosecurity, increasing entomological research and threatened species listings for vulnerable species are just some of the mechanisms that can protect insects.
"The general public can also play a direct role in insect conservation through, for example, reducing pesticide use and enhancing the diversity and structure of vegetation in their own gardens, and planting native flora to support native insects."
What is your favourite insect and why?
"I have a soft spot for rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) as they formed a large part of my PhD on pollination. One amazing fact about rove beetles is that they are one of the most species-rich organisms in the world with more than 63,000 known species! The charismatic blue-banded bees, and morphologically diverse treehoppers are also favourites of mine."
What equipment do you need to take shots like yours of insects and how patient do you need to be? Do you need to stage the subject at all?
"To start taking detailed photos of insects and other arthropods you ideally need a true macro lens. This is a lens that has a magnification ratio of 1:1 or greater, so that the subject is captured on the camera’s sensor at its actual size or greater. You can buy lenses that shoot at higher magnifications, although a much cheaper option is to use extension tubes attached to a rudimentary or 1:1 lens.
"Speedlights are a necessity at higher magnifications and I recommend DSLRs with good frames rates for insect macrophotography. Remember that improving your technique is most important for macrophotography, particularly in the early stages. Only once you feel you have outgrown your equipment should you start improving your kit. Patience is key, and when looking for insects in gardens, parks or reserves it is best to take your time and let them come to you.
"Note that all my images are of live and unharmed arthropods."
If you have questions on how to get started in macrophotography, message Dr Thomas Sayers directly via his Instagram account @tdjsayers.
Shots from the archives
We thank everyone who contributed to this edition and we will continue to explore this theme in a future Journal. We'd love to hear your perspective.
If you haven't signed up for the Journal you can do so here. And take a look at past issues of the Journal below.
We recognise First Nations as the custodians of land and water across Australia and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge sovereignty was never ceded.
With Nature Book Week taking place from 4-10 September, a special edition with authors, poets and illustrators sharing their passion for nature and storytelling.
Wilderness Journal #022With works from the great Australian poet Robert Adamson that explore his fascination with birds, paintings of local bird species birds from landscape artist Robert Moore, incredible stories from the world of ornithology, and an activist trying to save the swift parrot, this issue explores the wonderful world of birds.
Wilderness Journal #019A special edition to celebrate Nature Book Week. Science writer Fiona McMillan-Webster on her new book The Age of Seeds; zoologist Danielle Clode reveals the fascinating world of koalas; extracts from Astronomy: Sky Country; and the authors of One Small Island ask what Macquarie Island is like today.
Wilderness Journal #017Photographer Matthew Stanton shares work from Queensland's Wet Tropics and his series Deep North; author Sophie Cunningham on a collection of snow gums that inspired her to write and paint; contemporary artist Leila Jeffreys' dazzling portraits of WA's black cockatoos; and more besides!
Wilderness Journal #015This issue we consider extinction, what it means and how it can be averted, with perspectives from a scientist, photographer, artist, ranger and members of the public. Plus a look back at how the Wilderness Society helped deliver more than 70,000 hectares of protected wilderness on Kangaroo Island.
Wilderness Journal #013We join Robert Cooley, who shows us the traditions of his people along the shores of Gamay (Botany Bay); the Nawarddeken of Western Arnhem Land reveal how they are healing Country with the support of Karrkad Kanjdji Trust; and the Wilderness Society's Patrick Gardner details his journey to Bungalbin (Helena Aurora Range), WA.
Wilderness Journal #012A Nature Book Week special: join Cammeraigal Elder, Professor Dennis Foley of the University of Canberra on a journey along the Warrigal Songline; discover the biodiversity of soil with Matthew Evans; and Nature Book Week Ambassador Dr Jen Martin reveals the five nature books that have influenced her most.
Wilderness Journal #010This issue: art from Bruno Cowen; poet Kristen Lang discusses her new collection of verse Earth Dwellers; 'trashion' creator and artist Marina DeBris on the ugly beauty of our rubbish; and actor George Shevtsov on filming upcoming docuseries Rewilding The West and the power of volunteering.
Wilderness Journal #004This edition we're celebrating a drive and passion for nature from young people around the country. Watch Jadiny, a film by Marlikka Perdrisat, see artwork created especially for the Journal by artist Kitty Callaghan, and in their own words inspiring individuals discuss the different ways they are advocating for the environment.