Aliens in the landscape

PEST PATROL: Goonellabah artist Jill Garsden is keen to educate the community about feral pests in our landscape.
PEST PATROL: Goonellabah artist Jill Garsden is keen to educate the community about feral pests in our landscape.

WHILE wading birds are flying away from waterways invested with toxic weeds, cane toads are laying up to 35,000 eggs in one clutch and spreading fast across the country. With so many introduced species taking over the Australian landscape, one local artist has turned an art project into an educational resource that explores of the impact of weeds and pests on our native species and biodiversity.

Goonellabah's Jill Garsden knew a little about the alien species of plants and animals that were found in our local region, but it wasn't until she tried to delve deeper into the problems caused by them that she discovered just how complex the issues were.

"For some of our rare Australian native animals such as the spotted tailed quoll, the cane toad could spell disaster for their survival," Jill said.

"Quolls are solitary animals that don't learn from each other and have died within minutes of mouthing the toads; goannas, however, have learned to avoid them."

Jill has always been a nature lover, but it wasn't until she retired from teaching that she began to paint and in 2010, she won the Caldera Art Prize with one of her landscape paintings.

In 2011, Jill was awarded the Caldera Art Fellowship, sponsored by the Northern Rivers Catchment Authority and she spent five months creating a series of paintings portraying weeds and pests alongside some of the native fauna affected by them.

Rather than creating an artist's diary to go along with the artworks, Jill decided to create a resource book. As she began to research information for her book, she realised how little information there was out there about the impact of weeds and pests on our native species and biodiversity.

"My aim was to raise public awareness of how alien species impact on native fauna and hopefully motivate better monitoring and control of these introduced species," Jill said.

"Unless we address the problems now, we will have a feral future and no native wildlife left. Australian wildlife is unique and I want to keep it."

The book depicts a series of beautiful paintings, beginning with one called I, Currawong which depicts the pied currawong in a landscape of flowering privet, which is identified as a noxious weed in NSW. Through Jill's research, she discovered that the currawongs loved to eat privet seeds and were proliferating as a species and in turn helping the privet to spread.

"These opportunistic and adaptable birds have utilised what's available in their environment including human settlement and as a result they have taken over in some urban areas and prey on small birds," Jill said.

"The removal of privet and other weeds in the currawongs' diet could be an effective way of helping save our small birds.

"We need to develop a 'big picture' focus, looking not only at the direct impact of the alien species, but also of the indirect effects, those of the proliferation of other native species.

"Far North Coast Weeds are prioritising new feral pests in an attempt to stop them spreading, but they are under-funded and there are so many species that have been here for a long time that are impacting on the Australian landscape and biodiversity."

The book covers alien species such as privet, bitou bush, lantana, the common myna, the cane toad, aquatic weeds and vine weeds.

Jill said if she had time, she would have added camphor laurel as the eighth species to research for the book.

"Camphor laurel is a severe problem and a complex issue too," Jill said.

"Landowners are recommended to remove the seedlings but leave the full grown trees. So many other species depend on camphors and the trees can provide riverbank stability. We need to look at far reaching impacts of the problem before we start to get rid of them all."

If you would like a copy of Jill's book, email her at

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