Pooling our creative resources opens up possibilities

Tackling climate change is above all a creative challenge, in which the arts community plays a crucial role. [15 May 2009 | Peter Boyer]

Statement of context for launch of Fresh! — a community arts project for young Tasmanians to develop tools for resilience in the face of climate change, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, 15 May 2009

Picture the islands on a map of the world. Most are in big archipelagos, like Indonesia and the Canadian Arctic, but some are more alone, such as Iceland and New Zealand. And Tasmania, in an ocean of blue near the bottom. In evolutionary terms, we’re truly Deep South. When the super-continent of Gondwana broke up, the last land mass to separate from what is now Antarctica… was Tasmania.

A small part of our human lineage is also southern: from a truly ancient people who belonged on this island thirty or more thousand years before Solomon or the pharaohs. But most of it comes from elsewhere: from the 19th century Anglo-Celtic invasion that gave us this language, and from the waves of immigration that followed, from Europe, Russia, China, south and south-east Asia and the Pacific, North and South America, Africa and the Middle-East. The world in one island community, carrying in its genes the world’s history and experience.

Our art, drawing on this great diversity of cultural traditions and skills, is reshaped by our experience of living in this special place.

European Tasmanians have been slow to acknowledge the deep, ancient Aboriginal knowledge of Tasmania; Bea Maddock stands out for her powerful representations of Aboriginal feeling for place. Immigrant wilderness artists — the painter Piguenit, the photographer Dombrovskis, for instance — wondered at the island’s marvels and set out to make them known here and abroad. Most of us are just starting on this journey of discovery.

Tasmania is my birthplace and where I’ve now chosen to live out my days. As a boy I learned to wield an axe to clear the forest at the same time as I discovered the joy and wonderment and inspiration and contentment to be felt in wild places. Such are the contradictions of life. I loved my childhood in the Derwent Valley bush, but it was only when I lived and travelled in other places that I grasped how special that experience was. And how tenuous.

We are now faced with something that is at once primordial and utterly new. Humans are the only living things that know they’re going to die. Down the centuries we’ve come to know much more. We’ve used the knowledge to gain power over other species and to change the face of the planet. Now, ahead of us, we’re starting to sense the edge of an abyss — the limits of that power and the devastating consequences of abusing it.

What we do over the next two or three decades is going to determine the much longer-term future of Homo sapiens. By “we”, I mean everyone here tonight and everyone else: all citizens of the world, all Tasmanians, all our friends, our work colleagues, our neighbours, our families… and ourselves. The effort to mitigate our impact on the planet is not someone else’s responsibility. We’re all responsible, each and every one of us.

But this responsibility is no burden. Accepting it is to take up a challenge and to discover hidden powers within us. If we can put aside reliance on state welfare and recognise that we must help ourselves, if we can act together, with imagination and determination, opening up to possibilities and building more resilient communities, we can yet make this experience a rejuvenation, a rebirth.

We’re an adaptable species. Starting out, we should allow ourselves a good chance of substantial success. As we get through difficult times, with real achievement inspiring growing confidence, we will discover resilience and creativity we didn’t know we had. It won’t be easy. Nothing of value is ever easy. But it can — it can — be done.

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