The Coal Throated Finch by artist Rew Hanks features in the exhibition Bimblebox 153 Birds. (Supplied: Rew Hanks)
Artist Jill Sampson has collaborated with hundreds of people to create an exhibition featuring 153 bird species found within the Bimblebox Nature Refuge in central-west Queensland.
The exhibition, Bimblebox 153 Birds, is named for the number of species known in the refuge at the time, but extra birds found since have been included in the show, now making it 158.
Ms Sampson said she started Bimblebox 153 Birds after her family’s farm, west of Kingaroy, was the site of mining exploration.
“I was living on my parents’ farm with my own family from 2010 to 2015 and our farm itself had a mining exploration lease over it … many places in Queensland and Australia did and many still do,” she said.
“The idea that you could lose the place that you’ve spent your life living on and building an agricultural business on … or even just looking at the future and passing that onto your children, that really frustrated me.
“It really frustrated me that we don’t have certainty for the future with our land, and that a mining business can come along and take that future away from you.
“I think art can be a wonderful way of growing conversations about difficult issues because it is difficult in Queensland, the issue of what land is used for and whether land can be protected or not.”
Artist Jill Sampson is the curator of the exhibition Bimblebox 153 Birds. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Bimblebox Nature Refuge
The 8,000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Refuge is located 450 kilometres west of Rockhampton in the south Galilee Basin — an area known for mining exploration.
Red-tailed black cockatoos are among the wildlife that live in the Bimblebox nature refuge. (Bimblebox Nature Refuge)
“I approached the people at Bimblebox Nature Refuge because I felt like no-one would care about my own family farm except me,” Ms Sampson said.
“But Bimblebox Nature Refuge has a small agricultural business … it runs a sustainable beef herd on the property and it also hosts scientific research.
“I thought people will care about this because it ticks all those boxes for what’s important for the future.”
Paola Cassoni is a part-owner of Bimblebox and has led the campaign to raise awareness of the refuge to protect it.
“The public is kept in the dark of unfortunate policies that usually suit the big end of town by the smoke and mirrors of politics,” Ms Cassoni said.
“When I started in 2007 to rebel against this notion that nature refuges were protected in perpetuity on paper, I realised that 100 per cent of the people I contacted were unaware that all protected areas, except national parks, could be mined.”
Ms Cassoni said she hoped the exhibition would increase awareness of environmental issues.
“I hope that by the time people go out of the door, the beauty of the birds, the poems and the music will make them aware it’s such a shame that we are losing species and habitats unnecessarily.”
The Shining Bronze Cuckoo v the Short Term Greed by artist Susan Goddard. (Supplied: Bimblebox 153 Birds)
Waratah Coal, owned by Clive Palmer, was given environmental approval by the Federal Government in 2013 for a major thermal coal mine near Alpha in the Galilee Basin.
The Gina Rinehart-backed GVK Hancock Alpha coal mine project is also proposed for the Galilee Basin.
“Bimblebox will be obliterated by Palmer and, as for the Alpha coal mine, the species of the refuge would be threatened in more than one way,” Ms Cassoni said.
“We also have a water-dependent ecosystem and, with the de-watering activity of the Alpha coal mine, [the birds’] very existence would be in danger.”
The ABC has contacted Waratah Coal and GVK Hancock Coal for comment, but both have declined.
Hundreds of prints, prose and music
Ms Sampson said the project involved more than 450 artists, writers and musicians from Norway, Canada, America, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia.
She said each person was assigned a bird, which they then printed, wrote about, or composed music to.
“Bimblebox 153 Birds is [about] responses to each of the bird species that have been seen out at the nature refuge and an artist, a writer, and a musician have written about each species,” she said.
“It’s a living representation of the birdlife at the nature refuge.
Artworks from the Bimblebox 153 Birds exhibition at the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
“I started the call out to artists in 2013 and then later on I started the call out for writers and I had Boyd, who is a musician and sound artist, who contacted all the musicians.
“It took a long time writing individual emails before it got to the point where it had a self-perpetuating motion.
“Eventually, I had more people respond to me than I could possibly give birds to.”
Gladstone Regional Art Galley and Museum manager Jo Duke wants the exhibition to start a conversation about industry and the environment. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Highlighting environmental issues in regional areas
Bimblebox 153 Birds is currently showing at the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum.
Manager and curator Jo Duke said she chose Bimblebox 153 Birds because it was a relevant and topical exhibition.
“Bimblebox 153 Birds starts a conversation about environmental impact, [about what we] as humans are doing in our environment, but it’s a very gentle way of doing it,” she said.
“It’s a national topical discussion that’s happening and it’s really nice for regional centres to have a look at what’s being discussed in a wider national way as well as informing [the debate].
“This is our next generation coming through, if we can get schools in to have a look and start thinking more widely, then people start to have that conversation, which is a bit hard in regional centres when it’s about industry and the environment.”
Research finds art influences behaviour
Researcher Andrew Nicholson studied the influence of art advocacy on environmental behaviour.
Mr Nicholson used another Bimblebox exhibition, art-science-nature, to study an individual’s reaction to an environmental art exhibition.
He surveyed a sample group of 79 people two months after they saw the exhibition and again 12 months later.
His study found more than half of the participants who answered the survey within two months of seeing the exhibition indicated future, environmentally supportive intentions linked to their art experience.
It also found that 12 months after visiting the exhibition, people were even more likely to have environmentally supportive intentions.
Mr Nicholson’s research stated that an environmental art exhibition could create real changes in behaviour.