Writer’s festival event puts focus on ecology

ISABELLA CHENG

The Brisbane Writers Festival is back this week, bringing literary fans in touch with more than 200 international and local writers through a series of special events held around Brisbane.

Author Darryl Jones

Darryl Jones’ book, The Birds at My Table, tackles the unexpectedly controversial topic of bird feeding. Photo: Griffith Photography

This year’s festival theme is “what the world needs now”, which encourages writers to use their work to help audiences make sense of the world around them.

One event that is tackling that challenge from a grassroots level is ‘Ecology In Your Backyard’, on September 7.

The event features Brisbane-based ecology professor Darryl Jones and UK author Helen Jukes and is chaired by reporter and presenter Emma Griffiths.

‘Ecology In Your Backyard’ explores society’s relationship with birds and bees.

First-time author Darryl Jones’ book, The Birds at My Table, focuses on a subject that can be controversial in Australia: Feeding birds.

The Birds at My Table is a non-fiction work that shows Jones’ fascination with the way people interact with wild birds and why they feel the need to feed them.

It also investigates why feeding birds matters and looks at the impact that a practice that so many of us do – whether through bird feeders in the garden or by throwing picnic scraps to birds in the park – can have on our feathered friends.

Professor Jones said his mission in life was to open people’s eyes to the interactions they can have with wildlife, which, he said, begins in our own backyards.

“Brisbane is rich in wildlife, and nature is not something you have to drive miles and miles to find, it is in our backyards,” he said.

“We are really fortunate, nature is right around us and we should enjoy that because lots of people don’t have that.”

Professor Jones said it was important to be aware of the impact your actions have.

“Everything we humans do to the world changes something, somehow,” he said.

“It’s [about] facing up to that: The plants you put in your garden, the decision you make on what you buy, all affect the world.”

Professor Jones’ book also looks at why bird feeding is considered controversial in Australia – where it is strongly opposed by most bird and conservation groups – but not in other parts of the world.

“In Australia we are the only country in the world where feeding birds is really frowned upon,” he said.

Yet despite the controversy about bird feeding in Australia, Jones said people in Australia still feed native birds at the same levels as is done by those in countries where bird feeding is not frowned upon.

One of the problems, it seems, is that people aren’t aware that by feeding birds they can cause harm, making them ill or dependant on humans for their food supply.

“Most of the people feeding birds really care about them,’ Professor Jones said.

“They will be alarmed and shocked to find out what they’re doing can cause harm to birds,” he said.

Professor Jones said his book had opened the door on a subject that has left many Australians divided.

“Who thought you’d write a book about bird feeding and it would create a revolution?” he said.

First time author Helen Jukes also explores the relationship between people and wildlife – in her case, bees – in her book, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings.

Author Helen Jukes

Helen Jukes’ book, A Honeybees Heart Has Five Openings, is as much about finding your place in the world as it is about bees. Photo: Lore Photo

Jukes’ book, however, is part nature book and part memoir.

In it, Jukes takes up beekeeping as a salve for an unsettled life and an uninspiring job.

Through it, she not only raises awareness about the benefits and importance of keeping bees, but she also manages to show readers the benefits of being attuned to the world around them.

Ms Jukes said there had been a positive response to her book.

“People talk about it being a hopeful book, that’s nice,” she said.

“I think there is something important to focus attention on, what is happening, and the nature and world that exists in my garden.”

Ms Jukes said when she started beekeeping it was to escape from her office job, and this peaked her interest in exploring the idea of “keeper” and how the idea had merged.

She said since bees are wild creatures, they don’t actually “need” humans, or to be “kept” by humans, but the world really needs them.

Ms Jukes said bees are vital to our survival because they are pollinators, and it’s estimated that a third of our food supply is pollination dependent.

“What would a supermarket fruit and veg section look like without bees and other pollinators?” she said.

In her book, Ms Jukes poses the possibility that humans are in fact the ones being kept by the bees, since they are the ones ensuring our food supply continues.

A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings explores the importance of attention and what can come from that, and bringing care into our relationships,” she said.

In ‘Ecology In Your Backyard’, Jukes and Jones hope to use their work to bridge the gap between story telling and nature writing, encouraging people to be more thoughtful in their interaction with wildlife and to understand how their actions affect the world around them.

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Brisbane Writers Festival website.

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