Our ecosystems are in decline, and this matters

This is my submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria. Submissions close on 31 August 2020.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”—Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry, and I applaud the government’s attention to this pressing issue.

Australia’s unique plants and critters, and their myriad complex relationships, are both endlessly fascinating and critically important to our world. One tiny example is the Nodding Greenhood Orchid (Pterostylis nutans), endemic to our southeastern coast. Its only known pollinator is a particular species of fungus gnat, which it entices by emitting a kairomone. When the orchid flower senses the right sort of gnat landing near its labellum, it tips the insect into the flower. Wriggling around to escape, the gnat contacts the flowers’ sexual organs and stimulates pollination. It is not known how valuable this entrancing interaction may be to humans, but a similar example from across the world, the Vanilla Orchid (Vanilla planifolia), gives us a glimpse of its culinary and medicinal possibilities. Native to Central America, the Vanilla Orchid is thought to be (i.e. it remains a mystery to science) pollinated in the wild only by a species of stingless bee and/or hummingbird, and requires laborious hand-pollination in cultivation. Originally cultivated by Aztec peoples in the 15th Century, vanilla is now used worldwide in commercial and domestic baking, perfume production, and aromatherapy, and is the second-most expensive spice after saffron. We can’t imagine life without vanilla.

Please bear with me; this seemingly random little story underscores the premise of my submission, which is that our richly biodiverse ecosystems are crucial to us in ways we may never know. And, further, that ecosystem health is critical to humankind’s very existence. However, it is apparent that our increasingly individual-focused and city-based society is blinding us to the importance of the natural world. If we care at all, it’s usually because of an emergency (such as the 2020 Southeastern Australian bushfires), and because we focus on individual and charismatic plants and animals (not that this has protected them from destruction) to the exclusion of the habitats needed to sustain them. We’re oblivious to the consequences of our own destructive actions (e.g. throwing a cigarette butt into a gutter, bulldozing a patch of grassland to make way for a new housing development, waving through approval for a new mine or dam or feedlot), seeing them as somehow separate from the unfolding environmental devastation we see on the news.

I believe what’s needed to arrest the catastrophic decline in our ecosystems is a quantum shift in thinking, from seeing ourselves as individuals operating in our own bubble separate from nature, to seeing ourselves as fundamentally and inextricably connected with all living things and reliant on biodiverse ecosystems to breathe, live, and survive. An example of a need for a shift in thinking is this inquiry itself: holding a state-based ecosystem inquiry is almost an oxymoron. I mean no disrespect when I say that it seems bizarre to me to investigate ecosystems as if they start and stop at our arbitrarily/politically-drawn borders. However, the best chance we have to coordinate and protect biodiversity efforts across state borders, the national Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, is failing dismally. It’s currently under review as well, but any national law that allows states to determine their own logging, water allocation, wildlife protections and the like, is problematic.

To complicate things further, Australians appear to possess a collective cognitive dissonance when it comes to our environment: we live on the driest inhabitable continent on earth and yet we squander potable water on an unfathomable scale. We have one of the greatest levels of solar coverage per square metre in the world, and yet we have no coherent national solar power policy. We’re blessed as one of the top 10 biodiverse countries in the world, with the majority of our flora and fauna species found nowhere else, and yet we continue to drive these unique species to extinction at a depressingly inexorable rate. In the face of rising salinity, soil erosion, catastrophic bushfires, dieback, and other dire indicators of ecosystem decline, we stubbornly keep growing the wrong crops, raising the wrong livestock, wasting water, clearing bushland, over-developing and over-building land, fragmenting ecosystems, allowing entire species to go extinct, and bulldozing, burning, clear-felling and culling.

However, I believe that we ignore the interconnectedness of all things, at our peril.

Here’s what I offer:

  • We need to stop seeing wildlife as pests and native vegetation as unproductive, ugly, or an infinite resource to be plundered.
  • We need to look at our environment and all that dwells therein as inherently valuable, precious, connected, and irreplaceable.
  • We must instil a reverence for our flora and fauna that begins at birth, is taught at schools and universities, and is fundamental to every choice we make as citizens, workers, governments, businesses, and custodians of this incredibly country.
  • Respect, awe and love for our unique environment must be reflected in robust, coordinated and powerful national, state, local government legislation. The rights of individuals and vested interests can no longer take priority over our environment.
  • Embrace and integrate Indigenous knowledge into all aspects of our environmental policies, approaches and activities.

Thank you for your consideration,
Kind regards,

Diana Wolfe

Review & media release: Red Dress and The Sugar Man—Marisa Quigley

Review of Butterfly Club show, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016, by Diana Wolfe

You don’t have to know or like the music of Tom Waits (although you certainly will by the end of this show) or the extraordinary singing voice of Marisa Quigley (ditto) to be utterly seduced by this captivating beat-poetry-song-noir-cabaret show.

Everything about Red Dress & The Sugar Man interacts seamlessly to draw the audience under its spell. The venue (the elegantly wasted Butterfly Club) and its smoky lighting, the costumes, the performers, the songs, the intriguing and seductive narrative all begin to steal over you even before the 6’2” Titian-haired bombshell Quigley sashays onstage. She’s a latter-day and louche sort of Andrews Sister, a larger-than-life Jessica Rabbit with a voice like a fallen angel. The red velvet curtains part and she joins her backing band—all gangsterish older gents with rolled-up shirtsleeves, pork pie hats, world-weary attitudes and killer chops. Her two female backing singers are squeezed into tiny rock-and-roll dresses; they’re all breathy-voiced-coiffed-hair-staring-into-the-middle-distance-cool and sexy as all get-out. Kinda Jessica Lange in Blue Sky.

Quigley opens her scarlet-lipped mouth: first to begin the story of when Romeo met Rosie, then to sing the first of many carefully-chosen Tom Waits songs. And you’re gone.
She effortlessly affects an American accent, but far from grating or distracting, it only adds to the atmosphere. Her voice is deep, husky, measured, almost matter-of-fact. Playing a role reminiscent of Sam Elliot’s laconic LA cowboy narrator in The Big Lebowski, Quigley unfolds the chance meeting in a late-night coffee dive between the swaggering and dissolute Romeo and Rosie, a bad-girl-back-from-the-brink. Rosie’s clinging tenuously to her new, clean life, her St Christopher neck charm a sort of talisman to her redemption.
Quigley wrote the show (her debut script) and damn, this singer best known for her years of blues and folk performing, is a natural. Her script is playful, tantalising and pitch-perfect in terms of her wordplay, references to Waits’ lyrics, phrasing, delivery, and smooth segues into the next tune. The story of the doomed lovers is familiar and the ending, inevitable… but the journey is fascinating and heartbreaking nevertheless.
During Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016 it’s on at the suitably late hour of 10pm, down the end of seedy Carson Place off Little Collins Street. It’s only an hour long but Red Dress and the Sugar Man will leave you feeling like an extra on a 1940s detective film noir set to a Tom Waits soundtrack, witnessing the slow-motion death of a romance before it had a chance to live.
Media release for Adelaide Fringe Festival 2017—Prodigal daughter returns to Adelaide with tantalising cabaret show

Blues chanteuse Marisa Quigley returns to her Adelaide birthplace with her dark and sultry cabaret show, Red Dress & The Sugar Man.

Performing five shows from Wednesday 15th to Sunday 19th March as part of Adelaide Fringe, Red Dress & The Sugar Man is an original one-hour show that interweaves the music of Tom Waits with the modern-day story of a doomed love affair. The swaggering, dissolute Romeo and bad-girl-back-from-the-brink Rosie meet by chance at an all-night diner and fall prey to each other’s addictive allure, before drowning in a sea of regret.

You don’t have to know or like the music of Tom Waits or the extraordinary singing voice of Marisa Quigley to be utterly seduced by this captivating beat-poetry-music-noir-cabaret show. Everything about Red Dress & the Sugar Man interacts seamlessly to draw the audience under its spell. The performers, the songs and the seductive narrative all begin to steal over you even before the 6ft-tall Titian-haired bombshell Quigley sashays onstage.

With a cooking live band and lush harmonies, and set in Adelaide’s home of divine decadence, La Bohème, Red Dress & the Sugar Man will draw you in and leave you feeling like an extra on a 1940s detective film-noir, after witnessing the slow-motion death of a romance that never had a chance to live.

Marisa Quigley is an award-winning blues singer and songwriter, solo artist and cabaret performer. She lives in country Victoria, by way of Darwin and South Australia, and continues to travel to wherever her music takes her. She is a long-time Tom Waits obssessionado, and Red Dress & The Sugar Man marks her debut as a librettist. She has road-tested and refined the show to packed audiences and adoring fans throughout regional Victoria as well as the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival, and is thrilled to be back performing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which she last performed at in 2014.

Associate Professor David Mackenzie

Media campaign: The Costs of Youth Homelessness in Australia

With lead agency Margot Gorski PR Matters, I worked on the national launch of a world-first study into the costs of youth homelessness to the Australian economy.

The study by a leading homelessness researcher and two economists showed that preventing young people from becoming homeless by strengthening and integrating school and youth services at a community level could save an estimated $626 million per year across the youth justice and health services systems alone.

The report provides important evidence that early intervention works, and deserves investment to prevent future costs and the devastating social and personal impacts of youth homelessness.

Principal researchers: Associate Professor David Mackenzie (Swinburne), Professor Paul Flatau (The University of Western Australia) and Professor Adam Steen (Charles Sturt University).

Media reach—summary:

  • Estimated online views 213K
  • Social shares 1.67K
  • Press circulation 325K
  • Radio audience reach 1224K
Media coverage included:
  • ABC Radio 702 Sydney, 666 Canberra, 774 Melbourne, 891 Adelaide, 720 Perth, 612 Brisbane, 936 Hobart
  • ABC Radio and Online, The World Today with Rachael Brown (Listen: The price tag of youth homelessness)
  • ABC Radio National Drive with Patricia Karvelas
  • ABC Radio National Canberra with Kim Landers
  • ABC Radio Newcastle, Illawarra, Broken Hill, Mid North Coast, Central West NSW, Western Plains, Riverina, Far North
  • Radio Triple J Sydney
  • Radio 2GB Sydney
  • Radio 4BC Brisbane
  • Radio 2MCE Orange
  • Radio Adelaide
  • Herald Sun online
  • The Conversation
  • Australian Policy Online
  • The Canberra Times
  • Pro Bono Australia
  • Bendigo Advertiser
  • The Standard
  • The Ballarat Courier
  • SBS Online
  • The Border Mail
  • The West Australian (Op Ed)

Media information:

Essay: Beyond The Third Fret

Despite recent acclaim for Courtney Barnett, the representation of female instrumentalists at our major music awards remains dismal. Diana Wolfe questions why women who play instruments still struggle to find recognition, credibility and awards success in Australia.

This essay was first published in Aphra magazine (no longer in publication) on 28 September 2015.

Beyond the Third Fret

by Diana Wolfe

In the October 2014 edition of Uncut magazine, Jack White of The White Stripes bemoaned the gender disparity in the US music industry, highlighting the ‘novelty’ factor of seeing women instrumentalists on stage.
“When you have all-female acts or female front people, there’s a different perception. It’s sort of a real shame that if a woman goes onstage with an instrument – a guitar or drums or something – it’s almost a novelty to people, like ‘Oh isn’t that cute?’,” he said.
However, while this sexist attitude is also rife throughout the Australian music scene, few are calling it out.
With the most recent exception of Melbourne guitarist-singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, our female musicians always have been—and still are—overlooked and excluded here.
And apart from an occasional mention of the lack of women invited to perform at major festivals and the lack of fair treatment for female artists, nobody really talks about it.
Of the many examples of gender inequality in music, perhaps the most insidious is the ongoing under-representation of female musicians in major awards ceremonies.
Industry awards are critical for an artists’ career because of the direct and lasting impact on their credibility, profile, music sales, future opportunities and career longevity. For example, winning an Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) award generates enormous attention for an artist and can significantly boost sales and chart performance.
As recently as 2014, Head of Artists and Repertoire (A&R) at Mushroom Music Publishing, Linda Bosidis, said the Australian music industry is in a ‘time warp’ when it comes to gender equality.
‘Yep, too many dudes!’ says Bosidis. ‘Music awards are where cracks appear… (and) this extends to the negligible number of women featured in the media, represented on boards, music conferences and panels and in A&R positions for labels and publishers, music critics, journalists and radio station programmers.’
Bosidis’s view is supported by the facts: a review of our five largest music awards reveals not just cracks, but a gaping chasm. You can count on one hand the number of female instrumentalists who have featured in these ceremonies. Remove the female vocalists and guitarists, and there are almost no women at all.

Take a look at the ARIA Hall of Fame: of the 75 artists, bands and music industry figures inducted since 1988, only one is a female musician: Jill Birt, keyboard player with The Triffids from 1983–1989*. Apart from 10 female vocalists**, the Hall of Fame inductees are men and all-male bands.
Just some of the notable female musicians missing from the Hall of Fame are multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and screenwriter-composer Johanna Pigott, best known for co-writing Dragon’s Rain and John Farnham’s Age of Reason. When Age of Reason topped the Australian charts in July 1988, Pigott became the first Australian woman to have written a number 1 hit.
Drummer Lindy Morrison played with seminal indie rock band The Go Betweens from 1980 to 1989. She’s also a social activist who has made a significant contribution to recording musicians’ rights through her involvement in the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia. In 2013 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services as a performer and advocate. She’s a Lifetime Honorary Member of the Music Council of Australia, and won the 2014 Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music.
Award-winning rock-pop guitarist-songwriter-singer Deborah Conway was a founding member of 1980s band Do-Ré-Mi, which had a hit with the song Man Overboard. Conway had a top 20 hit single with It’s Only the Beginning, and won the 1992 ARIA for Best Female Artist. She organised and performed on the Broad Festivals from 2005 to 2008 show-casing contemporary Australian female artists, and continues to perform, write and record.
Adelaide performer Sister Janet Mead soared to international stardom in 1974 with her rock-gospel recording of The Lord’s Prayer. A surprise hit, it reached number 3 on the Australian singles chart and number 4 on the US Billboard Top 100, as well as earning her a Grammy Award nomination and an Australian Yamaha Golden Gospel Award. Sister Mead was a classically trained pianist and an acoustic guitarist who believed that ‘rock masses’ were a powerful way to make Catholicism more accessible to her students. She recorded three albums of rock-gospel music and was performing and working as a musical director into the 2000s. Arguably, she was as much of a pioneer on the Australian Christian-gospel music scene as influential guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe was on the US crossover blues-rock-gospel scene.

It’s the same throughout all the other mainstream music awards, with no sign of change despite the recent wave of outstanding female musicians to rock our stages.
Of the 28 times the ARIA Album Of The Year has been awarded, only two solo female musicians have won in this category: Kasey Chambers and Missy Higgins. Even when you include line-ups with female instrumentalists, there have been only two winners—Baby Animals (Suze DeMarchi, guitar) and Angus & Julia Stone (Julia, guitar and trumpet).
The Best Group ARIA has only twice been won by a band that includes a female musician—The Black Sorrows in 1990, featuring Jen Anderson on violin, and Sheppard in 2014, featuring sisters Amy and Emma Sheppard on harmonica and bass, respectively.
The APRA-AMCOS Art Music Awards 2015 finalists’ list included just three women among 32 men in seven of the major categories, while the prestigious $30,000 Australian Music Prize has never been awarded to a solo female musician in its 11-year history.
This pattern was repeated across the nominees for the 2014 Carlton Dry Independent Music Awards: just 15 of the 130 musicians nominated in the indie band / artist categories were women. Of the 155 artists nominated for The Age Music Victoria Genre Awards in 2014, only 11 were female instrumentalists.

It’s a baffling phenomenon that can’t be explained away by a lack of talent, ability, ambition or worthiness. From speaking with a number of accomplished and respected local female musicians, the reasons are complex, culturally entrenched, and rarely discussed.
In a music career spanning more than 20 years, nine albums, numerous film soundtracks and international performances, acclaimed blues and roots vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kerri Simpson has seen some positive developments.
‘There has been enormous change in some areas of the industry; in some genres women are evenly represented and those playing in bands are no longer the rarity they were in the seventies,’ she says.
In other areas, however, she says it’s as lopsided as ever.
‘Much remains as it was decades ago. For example, there are still very few women in studio or live music production,’ Simpson laments.‘It saddens me that my teenage daughter, who plays guitar, bass, drums, sings and composes, experiences exactly the same kind of bullying and humiliation from boys as I did when I was doing my first gigs.’
Rachel By The Stream is a Melbourne-based Electronic Dance Music (EDM) composer, musician and singer, who performed at the prestigious UK Glastonbury Festival in 2013. She sees the lack of representation of women at EDM festivals as a major challenge.
‘Open an EDM festival program and 95% of the artists are male… page after page of male faces staring at you,’ Rachel says.
Folk songwriter-guitarist Helen Begley sees more women than ever participating on stages around the country. However, her experiences show that no matter how accomplished women musicians are, once they’re on stage with men they often retreat.
‘Recently, I shared the stage with two fellas who are songwriters and guitarists. We took it in turns to do a song each. As we got into the gig, the dynamic began to shift and I found myself giving ground… I stopped taking my turn, I deferred to them, I began to believe that I had nothing to contribute that would stand up beside their soul-driven blues songs.
‘I’ve noticed this dynamic time and time again; women retreating from the musical space and blokes claiming the vacated territory. Once women have disappeared, it is quite a battle to reclaim that space.’
To hear classically-trained jazz-blues guitarist Jen Hawley in action, with her sublime feel and nuanced solos, you’d never guess she was once lacking in confidence. However, when she first started playing in bands, she felt she didn’t measure up against her male peers.
‘People used to say, ‘you’re only here to pick up guys’,’ she says. In the 1990s she started going to jazz and blues jam sessions to challenge her playing and stage skills. ‘I found it terrifying,’ she says. ‘The guys would play songs in a tempo or key that I couldn’t keep up with. I soon stopped going along.’
Running her own music school, Hawley finds that girls tend to hang back and play alone, whereas the boys tend to practise their scales and share ideas, chords and music at rehearsals.
‘The fact that so few women play instruments on stage makes it harder for girls to come up through the industry,’ says Hawley. ‘You don’t often see women guitarists shredding or going up beyond the third fret. What’s lacking for a lot of girls is the confidence and resilience to keep playing, and to step up and take solos.’

Where the music industry fails to even identify sexism as an issue, other arts sectors have responded by introducing women-only awards such as the Stella Prize for female authors and the Portia Geach Memorial Award for fine artists.
Author Clare Wright says winning the 2014 Stella Prize has given her book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, an enormous sales boost but also, importantly, it has elevated the status of women’s writing in Australia and overseas.
‘Since winning, my book automatically started being displayed more prominently in stores, I’ve seen a verifiable increase in sales, and it has received massive media attention,’ Wright says.
While lobbying for an all-female music award is one approach, another might be to shake up existing award categories. For example, the AU Review Music Awards don’t have gender-based categories. Instead they present awards for diverse musical styles, instrumental prowess, live performance and touring success. In their first year, 2014, it was encouraging to see a number of female musicians among the nominees and major winners such as Courtney Barnett, who won three awards including Guitarist of the Year.
However, we still need to advocate for wider change. If the music industry itself doesn’t recognise its gender bias, women instrumentalists will continue to be ignored. The fact that they are largely absent from major awards means that they’re not on our radar, so we don’t buy their music, go to their gigs or vote for them in awards and Top 100 lists. It’s a self-perpetuating problem.
At best, it may slowly resolve itself through broader community efforts to level out the gender imbalance across all industries, or through the new groundswell of women musicians such as Barnett, Clare Bowditch, Mia Dyson and others.
At worst, it will continue to stymie hundreds of talented girls and women in their pursuit of a career in contemporary music, and deny them the opportunity to achieve wider success, for years to come.

Further reading:


* Jill Yates played keyboard for The Triffids, briefly, in 1982.
** Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Nellie Melba, The Seekers (Judith Durham), Olivia Newton John, Renee Geyer, Helen Reddy, Marcia Hines, Little Pattie, Kylie Minogue, Tina Arena.


The Songs They Sang documentary and music soundtrack

Media campaign: The Songs They Sang

It was a great privilege to be part of bringing this extraordinary documentary film and music to Australian audiences. I was involved with publicising a series of screenings held at The Backlot Studios, Southbank, in June 2014.

Producers: Anna Monea and Armadeo Marquez-Perez.

The Songs They Sang: A musical narrative of the Vilna Ghetto

An Australian documentary that commemorates music and stories from the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the Holocaust.
Directed by Rohan Spong, The Songs They Sang tells the true story of musical performances held inside the Jewish Ghetto at Vilna (now Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania) from 1941-1943. It explores the resilience of the people who created and performed the music in the face of systematic persecution and extermination by the Nazis.
The film centres around the stories of Shmerke Kaczerginski and Avrom Sutzkever, who steadfastly continued to compose poems and songs about their experiences of persecution, loss and grief, and organise public performances, despite their horrific circumstances. Their refusal to relinquish their culture brought hope to a people under siege, and offered them brief respite from fear and despair.
Filmed in Israel, France, Lithuania, America and Australia, the documentary features interviews with survivors of the Vilna Ghetto—including Melbourne-based Deborah Zuben—re-enactments of the musical performances by soprano Deborah Kayser and Vilna songs arranged by Joseph Giovinazzo.
It includes harrowing footage of a visit by survivor, Frania Bracorskajc, to Ponar forest, outside Vilna, where her family and friends used to holiday before the war. During the Holocaust, the forest became the site of the massacre of more than 20,000 men, women and children from the Vilna Ghetto.

Holocaust memorial at Ponar forest, Lithuania

Holocaust memorial at Ponar forest, Lithuania

Media coverage for the Southbank screenings was achieved on prime-time national, Victorian, Melbourne metropolitan and local community radio—including Radio National Drive with Rebecca Huntley (The Sound of Lithuania’s Vilna Ghetto) and ABC 774 Melbourne with Richard Stubbs—as well as in key publications that spoke directly to the intended audience, including Australian Jewish News, the Port Phillip and Caulfield Leader, and Bayside Weekly Review.
In addition, copies of the DVD were sent on request to ABC radio, Bayside Weekly Review, Radio Southern FM, Radio SYN, Australian Arts Review, FilmInk magazine, and Arts Hub.
The DVD garnered a three-and-a-half star review from Arts Hub Film Critic, Sarah Ward, as well as glowing reviews from Australian Arts Review and FilmInk, one of the Australian film industry’s most popular publications.
Media information: