• We planted a tree on Marathon…

    by Tanya Bailey, April 2016

    We planted a tree on Marathon at our most recent artists’ camp to mark the occasion. Andrew declared that is was a symbol of optimism that it may rain again. A striking and poignant statement.

    Image: Mel de Ruyter

    Andrew and Diana live and farm on Marathon, Diana for over a decade, Andrew for most of his life. They are nurturers and stewards of the land who are now living the daily, draining and really quite scary experience of climate change.

    Image: Mel de Ruyter

    The rainfall records that have been taken on Marathon for nearly a century reveal elongating periods of no or little rain, sporadic heavy rainfall events that cause flash flooding and erosion, and the absence of any predictable patterns of rainfall that would assist farm production planning.

    Rainfall records have been taken at Marathon since 1920. Image: Tanya Bailey

    Andrew and Diana now live the reality of supplementary feeding of sheep and horses as the spring rains continue to fail and pastures struggle to grow. The good years, where rain falls with regularity and supplementary feeding is unnecessary, are becoming few and far between.

    Image: Mel de Ruyter

    Diana seemed to be embarrassed by the state of the farm that the dry has caused. To us visitors, mostly city folk, this toll is only slowly revealing itself as we come back for each half yearly camp. To an untrained eye, Marathon is still the idyllic rural landscape that John Glover depicted in his 19th Century paintings of the area.

    Image: John Glover, Patterdale van Dieman’s Land 1834 oil on canvas

    However, as we come back for each camp and immerse ourselves in the place the strain on both the land and the people starts to become apparent. More trees are dead after suffering from “ginger tree syndrome” due to a high temperature event in March 2013, the creek beds remain dry, the soils cracked and the pastures short. While Andrew and Diana feed their animals without complaint, the time, emotional and financial toll must be great.

    A White Gum suffering from Ginger Tree Syndrome caused by an extreme high temperature event in March 2013          Image: Tanya Bailey

    The local, personal consequences of global climate change are evident at Marathon. It is not some distant, vague notion that can be kept at bay by air conditioning and garden hose bans. Our farmers are at the coal face and it won’t be long until they can’t shoulder the burden alone. Production costs will have to be passed on, scarcity of water will have to lead to scarcity of food – these realities will impact our cosy city lives and we need to be aware.

    Image: Tanya Bailey

    My personal reaction to the enormity of climate change is to plant trees. It is one way I feel empowered to do something towards mitigating CO2 emissions. As it grows each tree will sequester carbon, release oxygen and provide habitat for a whole range of creatures. So to my mind the more we plant the better- the more we plant the more we can impact the local and even the global environment in a positive way. Andrew is a tree planter too:

    Some of Andrew’s plantings. Image: Jess Dorloff.

    I have come to realise that the collection of seed from trees that are currently thriving on Marathon despite the pressures, the growing on of a family of seedlings from each tree, the planting of these seedlings back on the place and the documentation of this process is my creative practice.


    Seed capsules and data collected from Eucalyptus ovata tree A620. Images: Tanya Bailey

    I, like Andrew, live in hope that some rains come again so that the trees we plant can survive and thrive, play some small part in replacing what we have lost and assist in creating a less scary future.

    Image: Mel de Ruyter

    Image: Mel de Ruyter