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  • Constantina Alexander

John James Audubon


I sooooo love Abe Books. It is a place on the internet where I find all kinds of books from the most excellent Australian Womens Weekly cookbooks for just a few pounds to copies of books I had when younger and really want to read again. I am always surprised to find what I am looking for and the fabulous condition most of the books are in.


This week I took delivery of a large ex library book in perfect condition called The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Opening the pages revealed a completely unmarked and probably hardly borrowed book with that musty smell of an aged tome. Monsieur Audubon, a refugee from the French Revolution had set himself up in the US and, where other settlers were on a killing spree of all and any wildlife, he found such joy in it he wanted to represent it in the most natural state as possible. His marvellous life's work was painted onto elephant folio sized paper ie a totally huge size, and each image is stunning in both technique and naturalism. He insisted he would not, under any circumstances, represent wildlife by painting stuffed birds, which was the method of his day.



A number of his images were of birds that were hunted to extinction within years of his painting them, so his work is a record whilst they existed. Today, species are going extinct at an alarming rate and we seem, as always, to place economies first and environment somewhere much further down the line. Wouldn't it be something if the news was presented in a different way, a way where we turned things upside down. For instance, we could have reports on humanitarian crises first and the impact this has on those who are suffering; then the shocking tragedies our young people are going through in society today regarding mental health and violence; then something on the worsening state of the environment and what people are doing to put this right or to salvage something from our past misdemeanours and then somewhere, as an afterthought, a little line or two on the shenanigans going on in our government.


Maybe then, if the news were oriented this way round people would feel they needed to act and do something to help. As it is, we have political news item after political news item and that just leaves us feeling powerless and disenchanted and disenfranchised. It is as if we are idiots who are waiting for government to sort itself out so we can carry on living our lives unperturbed because they are the ones who are supoosed to sort everything out. We put this massive burden on a few key people and expect them to deliver even when the problems are too vast and too complex. When they inevitably fail, we lambast them.

During the World War there was a slogan "Your Country Needs You!" I think this is as relevant now as it was then, but now substitute 'world' for 'country'. Our world needs us to act. It does not have to be anything big- even a shift of attitude from 'government blaming' to what can I do today that would make a small difference? A small effort carried out with the right attitude can grow and it has the added benefit of making us happier as individuals. We owe this to our young people, if not anyone else.


If we fail to shift our collective consciousness it'll all end in tears and quite likely exctinctions will increase, personal freedom will be curtailed and we shall all be obliterated by the rising tide of global madness that is going on.


And all this is because I found a wonderful book.