Migration

From a Home to a Home

Kate Gorringe-Smith’s love for shorebirds began as a metaphor. For the Melbourne-based printmaker, her parents’ experience as English migrants in Australia suggested that whilst the meaning of home is not simple for any of us, it is especially complex for the migrant. Where is one’s true home? Is it where you were born, or where you move to? Following the passing of her father, Kate noticed her mother’s desire to return to England, but understood that it was not necessarily the place itself that was home to her mother – ‘it was my father who was her true home.’

This idea resonated strongly with Kate, encouraging her to ‘reflect on a whole lot of stories about when you leave home and what you leave behind… and the strands that tie you to the place that you came from – your possessions, but also the people you love.’ She realised that in many ways, the experiences of migratory shorebirds could be compared to those of her parents and other migrants: where was their home and how were they able to cope with a new one?

It was then that Kate decided to launch her collaborative art project The Flyway Print Exchange, involving ‘twenty artists, from nine of the twenty-three Flyway countries [who] created prints inspired by the idea of the Flyway.’ This project was a means for people to reflect on ‘how such tiny creatures can travel so far, so often, and endure so much’.

Starmap - Kate Gorringe-Smith  This piece of Kate's is just one of many artworks featured on  The   Flyway Print Exchange  .

Starmap - Kate Gorringe-Smith

This piece of Kate's is just one of many artworks featured on The Flyway Print Exchange.

So what is the Flyway? Kate explains that ‘it links countries from New Zealand to Alaska and Siberia with the journeys of these birds that… spend seven months of the year in Australia and New Zealand… and then they travel up the Flyway and they breed in Alaska.’ Migratory shorebirds inspired Kate and the other artists to create works based on the idea of a journey, and of finding a place of belonging in more than one location. Also known as the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, the route is travelled by Australia’s migratory shorebirds twice a year, making the art created by the Print Exchange a reflection of both the human and non-human experiences of changing homes.

More recently, however, Kate has collaborated with fifteen artists to collectively portray ‘human refugee experiences and migrant experiences through the…universalising lens of shorebird migration.’ The exhibition entitled From A Home to a Home: A Story of Migration displays these works in the wonderful space of Brunswick Street Gallery, mixing the diverse talents of various artists so that the public can immerse themselves in the different meanings of home. The artists, many of whom are migrants and refugees, come from a range of countries. Kate explains how their work will hopefully draw in ‘people who haven’t really thought about the migrant experience’, allowing them to ‘begin thinking about how hard that experience can be.’ For her, ‘the birds serve to remind us that none of us can survive alone’.

Flight - Khue Nguyen  Khue's video collaboration with Dr Rebecca Young and Haily Tran portrays what he describes as 'a moment of crisis, when mental strength and physical exhaustion contend in a battle of life or death.'

Flight - Khue Nguyen

Khue's video collaboration with Dr Rebecca Young and Haily Tran portrays what he describes as 'a moment of crisis, when mental strength and physical exhaustion contend in a battle of life or death.'

Humans indeed need to help both each other and the non-human in order to foster tight-knit, safe and happy homes that seem so rare in our busy, modern age riddled with the fear of the other – whether that be humans who are different to us in race or upbringing, or creatures completely outside of our species. ‘So many bad things come out of fear’, Kate believes, and it is through portrayals of hopefulness, beauty and imagination that she thinks art can be more engaging.

The exhibition itself, however, is not didactic in nature, but is rather a way to provide stories so that visitors can come to their own understandings of the migrant experience. As a fifth-generation Anglo-Australian, I am personally interested in how such art will challenge my own perception of belonging, and the influence that my seemingly non-existent English-Irish heritage has perhaps had on my understanding of home.

Flight of the Phoenix - Minh Phan  This piece is based on the design of a traditional Vietnamese long-dress brought over from Vietnam by the artist's mother.

Flight of the Phoenix - Minh Phan

This piece is based on the design of a traditional Vietnamese long-dress brought over from Vietnam by the artist's mother.

The range of artworks is impressive, from a fiery display based on a traditional Vietnamese long-dress embroidered with a phoenix, to bowling skittles with models of shorebirds placed atop. Stereoscopes, weaving, prints, and animations represent just a small portion of the variety of mediums to be experienced at this eclectic exhibition. In addition to these amazing pieces, Kate has also included a community aspect within the gallery. She explains how ‘we’ll have [laser-cut paper birds] hanging up [and] we’re going to ask people to write one word on a bird that defines home for them’ - a beautiful idea that will hopefully encourage visitors to engage even more so with this theme of belonging.

But in regards to the shorebird species themselves, is this exhibition revealing anything? Although Kate admits that the art is based strongly on migrant experiences, she reminds me as we discuss ecology ‘how everything is interconnected.’ By learning about migrant experiences or simply accepting the perspective of someone different to ourselves, can we also learn to understand those animals through which our experiences are mirrored? Kate hopes that ‘this exhibition might make people think about shorebirds’, but also believes that ‘there’s a difference between knowing something and believing it’.

In this sense, exhibition visitors may be encouraged to take more notice of the people, places and wildlife around them via an emotional response to the art, rather than simply being told what is right or wrong. ‘Once you know about a thing,’ she explains, ‘you feel this ownership for it. You start looking for it.’ Believing is perhaps what comes later, from a more poignant connection with a bird or person. With a background in science and experience working for Birdlife Australia, Kate is not without her fair share of scientific knowledge; however, she perceives that it may be ‘easier to respond to art if you’re not an artist… than it is to respond to science if you’re not a scientist.’ The art of nature can therefore be a bridge for those who may not engage as well as with the science of it.

Love in March - Pimpisa Tinpalit  Pimpisa's sculpture is inspired by the themes of free will, captivity and freedom.

Love in March - Pimpisa Tinpalit

Pimpisa's sculpture is inspired by the themes of free will, captivity and freedom.

Interrupted (study) - Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)  Representing a cumulus cloud, this work explores the impacts of humanity on bird migratory routes.

Interrupted (study) - Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)

Representing a cumulus cloud, this work explores the impacts of humanity on bird migratory routes.

 

 

The Birds Fly Past the Windows - Kate Gorringe-Smith.  Kate's work is also featured in the exhibition and is inspired by 'the tug of two homes' and the image of birds travelling over the past homes of immigrants.

The Birds Fly Past the Windows - Kate Gorringe-Smith.

Kate's work is also featured in the exhibition and is inspired by 'the tug of two homes' and the image of birds travelling over the past homes of immigrants.

As so often seems the case, our natural environment and human experience converge in these stories of migration. In this unique and inspiring exhibition, the work of Kate and her fellow artists will hopefully encourage more people to perceive this idea, if not to understand the migrant and shorebird experiences, but to think about the interconnectedness within the spaces we inhabit. In my mind, From a Home to a Home truly demonstrates this reality that ‘none of us can survive alone’.

 

From a Home to a Home: A Story of Migration is supported by Multicultural Arts Victoria and can be viewed at Brunswick Street Gallery, Fitzroy from Friday 25th November to Thursday 8th December.

For more information on Australian shorebird species, visit the website of Birdlife Australia. 


Rachel Fetherston

Rachel Fetherston is an Arts and Science graduate who is passionate about communicating the importance of the natural world through literature. She recently completed her Honours year in Literary Studies, involving research into environmental philosophy and the significance of the non-human other. She is an editor and the Publications Manager for Wild Melbourne.

Find her on Twitter at @RJFether.


Banner image courtesy of Kate Gorringe-Smith.

 

Plight of the Orange-Bellied Parrot

This is a guest post by Lauren Hall

Did you know that one of the rarest parrots in the world can be found right here in Victoria? The orange-bellied parrot (OBP) is a small, beautifully coloured ground-feeding parrot slightly larger than a budgerigar. Named for the characteristic bright orange patch on their bellies, these rare parrots are endemic to south-eastern Australia. They are also particularly unique, being one of only two parrot species in the world known to migrate long distances over open ocean.

A captive orange-bellied parrot from Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Lauren Hall

A captive orange-bellied parrot from Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Lauren Hall

Wild populations of OBPs breed in Tasmania during the summer seasons (November to March) and fly hundreds of kilometres across rough seas to spend the winter months in the coastal saltmarsh habitats of Victoria and South Australia (April to October). During their northward migration they are also known to visit the saltmarsh coast of King Island.

Although populations are considered stable despite low numbers in Tasmania, they are listed as critically endangered in Victoria, with populations experiencing a severe decline between 2000 and 2008. There is estimated to be as few as 40 to 50 birds left in the wild, with captive breeding programs being the only back-up plan to bolster numbers. The captive breeding populations are estimated to number approximately 320 birds, with the largest located in Taroona, Tasmania and in Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria.

The major cause of their decline is still largely unknown; however, the extreme difficulty of crossing Bass Straight and the major drought of 2007 are thought to be key contributors. Additionally, degradation and loss of saltmarsh winter habitat, and higher prevalence of predators on the mainland are further decreasing wild populations. The birds prefer to stay well away from human disturbances, and are losing more and more habitat due to urban expansion, farming, and grazing by invasive species, such as rabbits. Higher concentrations of feral cats and foxes on the mainland also mean that the non-breeding winter populations are particularly vulnerable to predation. As they are ground-feeding, the birds can be easily targeted whilst feeding on open grassland, seeds and low-lying shrubs.

The stunning array of colours present on the orange-bellied parrot. Photo: Lauren Hall

The stunning array of colours present on the orange-bellied parrot. Photo: Lauren Hall

Although wild populations are continuing to decline, there is still hope for the orange-bellied parrot. The Captive Management Group for the OBP has released captive birds into the wild for the last three years in a row, once every year. The last release of 13 birds occurred in November 2015, just in time for the southward migration back to Tasmania for the breeding season. The biggest challenge of re-stocking the wild population is a loss of genetic diversity and risk of inbreeding. Currently there are geneticists from the Zoo and Aquarium Association keeping records of all captive bird genomes to help determine which birds are to be released.

What can you do to help?

Daniel Gowland, Chairman of the Captive Breeding Management Group, urges the public of Victoria to keep a vigilant eye out for orange-bellied parrots. He emphasises the importance of regular sightings for the success of the Captive Breeding Management Program. As we are now approaching April, the birds should be completing their treacherous journey across Bass Straight and will be currently landing in locations surrounding Melbourne. Now up until November is therefore the prime time for everyone in Victoria to search for these small, elusive parrots.

The orange-bellied parrot. Photo: Lauren Hall

The orange-bellied parrot. Photo: Lauren Hall

The blue-winged parrot. Photo: Jan Wegener

The blue-winged parrot. Photo: Jan Wegener

The places that they are most likely to be sighted seem to be at the Water Treatment Plant just outside of Melbourne, or other coastal Victorian saltmarsh and farmland habitats, particularly around Gippsland. Gowland also advises that blue-winged parrots are often seen in conjunction with the orange-bellied parrots, so sightings of these birds may be an indication that the OBP is in the area. For more information on how you can help sight the OBP and report your findings, please visit Birdlife Australia's website or contact your local National Park Authority. You can also help by keeping your dogs and cats indoors during winter, especially if you live in coastal country areas.

To lose such a rare and beautiful parrot species would be devastating. On many levels, the current plight of this species unfortunately seems to be a consequence of human expansion and urban development. If we want to continue to enjoy the variety of wildlife within and surrounding the city of Melbourne, we must work together as a community to do anything we can to help save the orange-bellied parrot from the brink of extinction.

Will you be lucky enough to spot one this winter? 

Cover image taken by Lauren Hall

Cetacean sensation: killer whales in Port Phillip Bay

Yesterday Melbourne was set abuzz with the news of some rather exciting guests in Port Phillip Bay. A pod of Killer Whales (also known as orcas) was spotted travelling up the bay as far as Mornington & Mount Martha with several lucky Melbournians catching sight of the pod as it traveled by. Although their visit sparked a flurry of surprise and excitement from locals, orcas are not as uncommon to our waters as many might think.

Wild Melbourne spoke briefly with David Donnelly of the Australian Orca Database to find out more about these mysterious visitors. Dave tells us that while it is somewhat of a rarity for orcas to venture as far north in the bay as witnessed yesterday, orcas have been recorded on several occasions in the southern areas of the bay and areas just outside of Port Phillip Heads. Data compiled from the Australian Orca Database over the years suggests that orcas are not uncommon to areas such as Queenscliff, Phillip Island, and Wilsons Promontory. The latter two sites seem to be particularly popular, as they host large seal colonies for orcas to predate on.

Interestingly, the collected data suggests that around the Port Phillip area,  May to June and December to February are the peak periods for orca sightings. The reasons for these trends are largely unclear, although the movement between May to June seems to be at least in part due to prey activity, as the timing loosely correlates with the humpback whale migration and when young and naïve seal pups become independent from their mothers, thus making them easy prey. The December to February spike is again unclear, though many of the individuals sighted in Victorian waters at this time have been found to travel on to Tasmania or the Bonney Upwelling off Portland.

Killer whales frolicking in Port Phillip Bay off Sorrento Pier on Friday 4th December (Photo: Karl Bromelow)

Killer whales frolicking in Port Phillip Bay off Sorrento Pier on Friday 4th December (Photo: Karl Bromelow)

Finding the answers to these questions will not be easy. Orcas are renowned among marine biologists for being notoriously difficult to research. However, it is undeniable that understanding the migratory patterns of the world’s largest dolphins is an extremely exciting venture both here and abroad. What makes it even more exciting is that you and I can help with this research!

The difficult nature of orca research means that much of the data compiled by the Australian Orca Database comes from reported sightings and photos taken by everyday citizens that were lucky enough to encounter orcas by chance, much like those lucky few at Mount Martha yesterday. We strongly encourage you to send any photos or information you have from recent or future encounters with orcas to the Australian Orca Database using the links below.

Australian Orca Database Facebook Page

Oz Orcas

Fur seals like these ones are prime prey items for killer whales (Photo: Chris McCormack)

Fur seals like these ones are prime prey items for killer whales (Photo: Chris McCormack)

Of course, while we understand that an encounter with a pod of orcas can be an overwhelming experience, it is vital for the safety of these animals and the public that we follow the regulations set by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning of a minimum approach distance of 200 metres for boats and 300 metres for jetskis. For the most part, yesterday’s encounter was one of respect; unfortunately, however, there were a few boats seen harassing the pod.

Yesterday was another example of Melbourne’s marine marvels that exist right on our doorstep. Although finding orcas can be a tad tricky, with the water warming up for summer it is a great time to get out and explore the various underwater wonders of the bay that we’re lucky enough to call home.


Evatt Chirgwin

Evatt is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on how natural populations can adapt to environmental change. He is currently undertaking his PhD at Monash University.

You can find him on Twitter @EvattChirgwin