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Drawing to make a difference

Drawing to make a difference

I fell in love with 40 acres of farmland 20 years ago in central Victoria. The sky was big and blue and the sight of tall ochre grasses in an undulating landscape took my breath away. The land we live on looks north to the extinct volcano known today as Mt Franklin, but probably known as Lalgambook to the Gunangara Gundidj people. The caldera has been planted with radiata pine and other European trees, but the bush around us is native. Mostly box and few peppermints, acacias, lots of grasses. I’m so grateful to be in the bush and for the inspiration it gives me. To have an opportunity to be part of its regeneration over 20 years is such an incredible privilege. The beauty and distinctive scent of the eucalyptus forest, is at times, overwhelming.

This property was once heavily grazed, but the removal of livestock has allowed the regeneration of native grasses, wildflowers, acacias and gums. It was important for me to let the forest grow back naturally, even though we have planted and landscaped parts of it.  We have all worked hard to manage the gorse and other weeds. Slowly – slowly – the land is improving. There is an abundance of wildlife here now. Not a day goes by when we are not in awe with this environment. Our dam has been planted with over 100 varieties of native species creating a mini ecosystem and paradise for both wildlife and ourselves. Also barbed wire fencing has been removed to allow for the free movement of kangaroos and other wildlife. Over the years I’ve observed changes on this property and in the surrounding bush and I have tried to capture its essence, not in words, but with line on paper.

I use the pen to transcribe my thoughts, feeling and connection with the landscape that is visceral. The pen allows me a way of engaging with place. It sits firmly and comfortably in hand and responds to almost every request – sometimes with ease and other times not. It is light and easy to manipulate – it can express how I feel in an instant. The pen, my object, drives me to create meaning from the landscape through spontaneous gestures and mark making. It enables me to understand aspects of self and the world.

The marks I make, eventually, after days of manipulating and repetition become shadows – and light – and form. My works are an attempt to reveal what I see and feel in the landscape. It is a search, in a sense, for a spiritual content. I try to capture fleeting moments, stories, fragments, illusive details and hints of the mysterious. Line work is used as a connective force – connecting everything. I endeavour to convey a life force which is so inherent in our forest and natural bushland.

I am hugely concerned about the environment and our government’s lack of initiative and vision when it comes to climate change. It is both disappointing and heartbreaking. There seems to be no prospect of a sustainable future unless the government, and we, the community, recognise and understand both the truth and severity of the state of our environment. Short term thinking makes it impossible to have intelligent, honest discussion about the environmental challenges we face in this country. Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia, wetlands have been lost  and native animals threatened. We don’t seem to be grasping the very serious implications of this. On one hand we have a very active concerned community, while others remain indifferent.

We need everyone on board  (council, government, community) to create change. The clearing of our forests has catastrophic effects on both ecosystems and humanity – damage to the quality of land, soil erosion, loss of habitat for wildlife, loss of clean air, the list goes on. It makes no sense to make economics a priority over sustainability. It is not an investment if it’s destroying the planet. How horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.

So my very small contribution is through drawing and trying to capture the fragility of our forests through line. The pen translates what I feel, although  it is more commonly used to inscribe words rather than lines and images. For me it is a light and flexible tool to capture the beauty of our bushland. I will keep working with my pen in the hope that it will make a fragment of a difference.


Irene Salmont is a Central Victorian artist.

Photos by Alison Pouliot