The Times Are A Changin’

Three hooded dotterels or hooded plovers (Thinornis cucullatus). Lights Beach, Denmark, Western... by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Three hooded dotterels or hooded plovers (Thinornis cucullatus). Lights Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

 

This week I read two articles that really made me stop and think not only about the looming climate crisis but  my photography and what purpose it serves.

 

 

East Cove by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
East Cove, Brunny Island.

 

Whether you believe in climate change or not, as Bob Dylan once sang “The Times Are A Changin’”. The first article I’ll reference was by the celebrated Australian author Richard Flanagan and he speaks of the joy he receives from observing birds around his home on Brunny Island in Tasmania. He also expresses the sorrow that the birds bring because of their diminishing numbers. For one reason or another bird populations are declining rapidly  and it’s not just in Tasmania, it is a global phenomena. In Perth, the capital of the state in which I live, the Swan Estuary is a highly important nesting and breeding site for migratory birds such as plovers, sandpipers, knots, stints, and curlews that travel from Siberia and North Asia. In the 1980’s it was estimated that 36 species and more than two million birds came to Australia each summer. The number of migrating waders on the Swan Estuary was around the ten thousand mark, but, by 2000 there were fewer than five hundred. The causes for this alarming decline are many and include feral foxes and cats preying on the birds, domestic dogs being walked through nesting sites, prawning parties , people digging on the mudflats for fishing bait. Here in York we had a sizeable colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters that migrate here from New Guinea and the tropical north of Australia to avoid the wet season there. They dig their burrows in banks above the Avon River and breed. Last summer the Shire of York Council put in gravel roads along the riverside to allow access for emergency vehicles. In the process of doing that they bulldozed the nesting sites killing the adults and the young they were rearing and then permanently destroyed the site by covering the area with rocks to make a retaining wall. It wasn’t malicious, it was pure ignorance as the council has no environmental protection policy and had not done any form of survey into the wildlife along the river. They were very apologetic when informed but the damage has been done. There should be a thriving colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters digging burrows and and rearing young at this time of year – I’ve just seen one solitary bird.

 

Rainbow Bee-eaters by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Rainbow Bee Eater, Merops ornatus. Avon Walk Trail, York, Western Australia.

 

The second article was also about Australia’s declining bird population and it talked about the phenomena  of ‘extinction of experience’ which is a phrase first coined by Robert M Pyle. Extinction experience has negative implications for people’s health and well being. The article referenced a research paper that basically says that if people are having less and less opportunities to interact with nature that will create an antipathy towards the natural world and consequently they will cease to care about it. So to get people to be more aware of environmental issues they must be encouraged to reconnect with nature. One of the reasons why I wrote my walking guide, and I articulate this in the introduction, is that I hope that the people who use it will develop a love for and an understanding of the environment.

 

Yenyenning Lakes by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Dead trees ring Lake Yenyenning

 

So what’s all this got to do with photography? Simple really. One of the main ways that I interact with the environment is through photography. It doesn’t matter whether it is close ups of plants, photos of birds or other wild animals or landscapes. It all equates to being out in the environment and experiencing it in a first hand way. Bushwalking, cycling, dog walking all do this as well and I feel so much better for it.

 

Denmark Nornalup Heritage Trail and Munda Bidi Trail by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Denmark Nornalup Heritage Trail and Munda Bidi Trail loop ride. Denmark, Western Australia.

 

I started this post referencing Bob Dylan and I’d like to end with Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam as he is now known. In his hit song “Morning Has Broken” the lyricist Eleanor Farjeon talks of the joy of walking through the Sussex village of Alfriston on a fresh morning. She talks of the joys of seeing the dawn, hearing blackbirds singing and experiencing the dew on the grass. Yesterday as I walked the dog along the river we were greeted by a territorial goshawk sitting on the branch of a dead tree. As we passed it swooped us while making plaintive calls. It was a totally sublime experience. Go out. Take pictures, walk, cycle, play. Enjoy the environment and revel in its beauty.

 

Pipe Dreams

Big Pipes
Stopped off at Tarraleah to admire the pipes and electricity pylons as they cross the valley.

 

There’s no doubt about it Australians love a dam. Build one and the accompanying recreation area will be full of happy Aussies burning sausages while commenting sagely on rainfall and water levels. On our recent jaunt around the Tasmanian North West we stopped at Tarraleah to admire the hydro and the Art Deco cottages that were built to house the workers when being constructed. They are now part of a swank resort where you can admire massive pipes and electricity pylons as they cross the valley.

 

Big Pipes
Big Pipes

 

The building of the dams polarised the community and gave birth to Australian green politics and the conservation of the Tasmanian Wilderness. Sounds odd doesn’t it? Renewable energy is supposed to be good for the environment, but not when you destroy the wilderness and make entire species extinct in the process. The Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) was set up in 1914 to capitalise on Tasmania’s topography and high rainfall which made it eminently suitable for the generation of hydro-electricity. The whole thing progressed smoothly until the HEC wanted to build three dams on the Upper Gordon River with the aim of attracting industry to the State with the incentive of cheap energy. In December 1982, the Franklin River dam site was occupied by protesters, leading to widespread arrests and world-wide dismay and condemnation. The Hydro and the Tassie government were dismissive of any criticism and saw it as outsiders meddling in Tasmanian affairs. As happened in 1930’s America where the photographs of the High Sierras by Ansel Adams were paramount in changing public opinion and convincing politicians to do more to conserve the natural environment, the photographs of Peter Dombrovskis brought the spectacular Tassie wilderness to the attention of the wider public and they were used in a media campaign that helped bring down the government of Malcolm Fraser at the 1983 election. The new government, under Bob Hawke, had promised to stop the dam from being built. The resulting stoush between the Tasmanian State government and the Australian Federal government ended up going all the way to the High Court which ended up as landmark decision in favour of the federal government. The building of the dams gave birth to Australian green politics and the conservation of the the Tasmanian Wilderness.

WA Orchids – the movie

York in Western Australia is one of the oldest and most picturesque settlements in the state. Aside from its historic buildings which give it much of its charm there is the landscape which comprises of rolling hills, forest and meadows. This landscape is set in a transitional zone between the Darling Range to the west and the Wheatbelt proper to the east which means there is a huge variety of flora and fora. One of the families of plants that can be found taking advantage of the transition are the terrestrial native orchids of which Western Australia has around 400 species which is half of the 800 species found in Australia.