Damien will be exhibiting in April from 4-28 April. Opening on Saturday 5 April at 7pm.
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the earth, yet it is also one of the most biologically diverse. Many ecosystems in Australia are supremely adapted to surviving prolonged drought and go through ebbing and flowing cycles of harsh dry times when biological productivity is low, to starkly contrasting wet periods when flooding rains bring the landscape into verdant splendour.
These cycles are well understood by aboriginal people, who after living with this ebb and flow for many thousands of years developed ways of living that simply took account of the way the system worked and walked in tune with it.
The European invaders who arrived only a few hundred years ago did not understand these cycles of productivity and drought; they were used to a regular beat of four seasons which faithfully played out year after year. They stole from the original inhabitants what seemed to their eyes to be large tracts of fertile and productive plains and moved in their crops and grazing animals, yet when the dry times came their crops turned to dust and cattle and sheep died of hunger and thirst in their thousands.
Rather than fitting in to the natural ebb and flow of the Australian environment the European invaders tried to make nature suit them, with devastating consequences for natural ecosystems. Vast areas were cleared of their protective cover of native vegetation, rivers were dammed and made to flow when it suited agriculture and many wetlands were either drained or drowned by being turned into water storages. The legacies of these attempts to subdue nature are soil erosion, salinity, a changing climate and one of the worst rates of human-induced extinction in the history of the world.
There is now a movement amongst the Australian community to repair the damage done to our unique ecosystems and better manage land and water. Environmental flows are being returned to rivers and wetlands, drowned swamps are being revived with more natural wetting and drying cycles and land management is improving in some areas to reduce over-grazing, allow native vegetation to regenerate and control invading weeds and feral animals. While now fragmented and disturbed to varying degrees the Australian environment still goes through its natural ebb and flow and there are many beautiful places to watch its story unfold.
This series of photographs celebrates the thread that draws the Australian landscape, its flora, fauna and people and the preciousness of water together. The photographer Damien Cook is an ecologist whose work includes monitoring environmental health and the revegetation and restoration of degraded landscapes.