I want to take you on a journey of exploration, through an Exhibition of artworks on the theme ‘Mining Coal Seam Gas’. During it you may experience mystery, ambiguity, joy and pain. In some ways it will be like the journeys of those early European explorers of Australia – a strange land, an uncertain destination, a challenging vulnerability, a readiness to take risks, failure and an emerging need to see things in a new way.
Lake Mungo. Photo Courtesy of Pam Goldie
For this is what I encountered when I decided that I wanted to research and find out more about the polarising debate surrounding the mining of CSG. I thought it would just be a simple matter of assembling relevant facts, analysing them in an orderly and rational way, and reaching considered conclusions that found the right balance between economic development, environmental protection, self-interest and lifestyle.
How wrong I was.
That’s the impact of art, poetry, experience and emotion. Once you let them intrude into your consciousness and influence your outlook on life, you open yourself up to change. At least, that’s how it was for me. For reasons I cannot recall, I decided to explore what was, for me, the unknown territory of Australian landscape art and poetry. Then I began to ‘experience’ Land. This led me to redraw the maps that guided the way I valued the world around me.
I now let passion contribute to how I respond to CSG mining; in fact, my response goes wider than this, such is the power of these ‘more-than-rational’ inputs to influence me. I have come to see CSG mining policy as just one example of how we let our (often implicit and untested) assumptions about the world around us shape our values and consequential behaviour.
But does this provide a compelling and meaningful value-add input to the public debate surrounding CSG? For this is where politicians, landowners, environmentalists, lawyers, scientists, businessmen, indigenous communities and economists all fiercely compete to secure policy outcomes favourable to their particular interests.
I’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge of that. For now, all I ask is that you join me on this guided tour through a metaphorical Art Gallery that invites you to question and reflect on how you understand the reality in which you live. Follow this blog, see where it takes you and enjoy the experience!
In the entry hall to the Art Gallery is a sculpture of a woman with the Australian outback painted on her skin. The artwork is exquisite, there is a real sense of interconnection between the woman and the environment. It reminds me of Rodin’s The Thinker and is the artist’s response to a woman living in an isolated Outback community, contemplating the dilemma of a cancer diagnosis whilst being far removed from the required specialist services, and not wanting to leave her beloved environment.
It takes little imagination to see the woman as Land in Australia (Mother Earth), wondering if mining CSG is like a cancer growing in her womb. This interpretation is emotionally charged: if you regard Land in this way, it might change the way you respond to the risks associated with CSG mining. For instance, if your mother, sister, partner, daughter or best friend were exposed to the same CSG risks as Land, would you see things differently?
This became a painful issue that confronted me when cancer invaded my family. I responded rationally and emotionally to that news, and no one would have expected anything else. The challenge came when I asked myself should I respond in a similar way to Land facing the possibility of a cancerous invasion? In other words, should there be a place in the public square for policy decisions to be informed by more than rational, value-free and objective perspectives?
This sculpture leads me to question how I see Land: as an object, or in terms of a relationship? The artwork in the next exhibition hall provides some insights into this question, by exploring different ways of characterising Land.