When was your group formed and why?
The Tree Veneration Society (TVS) was formed in 2010 in response the founder, Louise Fowler-Smith’s growing concern for Native and Old Growth Forests and the importance of Trees to Climate Change. Louise had witnessed the protection of trees and forests in parts of India due to a belief system that protected trees through veneration (honouring) due to their perceived sacredness. She went on to research this and conducted Field Research in 17 states of India – resulting in the publication of her book, Sacred Trees of India: Adornment and Adoration as an Alternative to the Commodification of Nature.
She questioned whether people in Australia could change their perception of trees in order to protect them, as sentient beings and as a crucial aspect of our survival with the onslaught of Climate Change.
How many members do you currently have? What are the key skillsets and areas of experience across your group?
We presently have 37 members, with a regular flow of enquires from people wanting to join. The majority of members are artists (visual artists, writers, musicians), many of whom also have degrees in Science, Medicine, Environmental management, Physio therapy, Education, amongst other professions. All members share a concern for the natural environment and a love of trees and forests.
The Tree Veneration Society Inc. has been a member group of NCC since 2019. What are some key collaborative actions you’ve taken with the NCC network?
Founder, Louise Fowler-Smith was originally encouraged to join by her friend, Don White, who was Chairman of the NCC. She has attended annual conferences and many Leader Zoom meetings. TVS has collaborated with the NCC through its Picnic for Nature and rally’s/demonstrations that call for the protection of our Native Forests and Old Growth Forests (eg the recent rally, organised by the Bob Brown Foundation to call for the end of logging in native Forests). TVS members demonstrate whilst wearing costumes that represent our natural world, such as birds.
How are you predominantly involved with NCC now?
Fairly peripherally – mainly as one of the NCC’s many groups.
What projects are you focusing on currently?
The Tree Veneration Society Inc is a transdisciplinary, contemporary eco-arts collective based in Sydney, that is focused on trees, their ecosystems, and human interactions with them. The Society holds a wide range of engaging workshops and exhibitions to promote knowledge and appreciation of trees and the natural environment. TVS recently held a large Tree Festival at the new Woollahra Gallery and Redleaf Gardens (recordings can be viewed here). This included a large multidisciplinary exhibition, a Symposium with speakers from scientific, indigenous and local communities, workshops with a focus on Trees – allowing visitors to ‘get to know’ trees through all the senses, and a performative action that educated visitors about the Significant Trees of this area, with members wearing creative bird and tree costumes while parading around the area.
Called Arboreal Narratives 2023, TVS holds a Tree Festival similar to this every year, with a large event held in 2022 at the Bankstown Art Centre. We are presently trying to organise a similar event next year, potentially with Willoughby Council. TVS has been approached by an increasing number of Councils these days, after hearing about the effectiveness of our Tree Festivals in raising awareness about our natural environment. We have also run our Tree Workshops for Manly and Waverly Councils. TVS is also presently working on a ‘Temple Tree Day’ at the Nan Tien Temple near Wollongong – the largest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere. This was as a result of an invitation from the Nan Tien Temple and will occur on October 7, 2023.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a group in achieving your goals at the moment?
Funding. We have applied for Grants with Create NSW but were unsuccessful – although we did receive a smaller grant from Woollahra Council for our Tree Festival in Woollahra. Also, publicity. We do not have the funds to advertise broadly and rely on social media – which means that we are not reaching many of the people we need to reach (i.e. those who are pro-logging or unaware of the devastation being caused by continued logging).
What are you most excited about at this current time?
I think most of us would say "the destruction of native forests"! We are collectively excited in a negative way - alarmed and dismayed. We get excited in a good way, when we see progress being made. Our TVS vision (web) is "to foster a society that appreciates and protects trees and nature...". We believe art exposure and broad community engagement can be a powerful change agent, but without a massive campaign, it is likely that the process is too slow to counteract the rapid forest destruction and habitat loss that is sanctioned by our political 'leadership'.
Are there any opportunities for collaboration for the NCC network that you’d like to put forward?
We would like to venture beyond Sydney and target areas where logging/mining is still occurring and where people are less aware. We often fear that we are preaching to the converted. In collaboration with member groups who live in these areas, perhaps we could organise a large creative activity/event that draws attention to the importance of trees and forests to us all, including the families of loggers/miners. Our workshops are loved by children and the young at heart. For example, many who have undertaken our Listening to the Trees workshop expressed that they felt the Tree was alive and communicating with them. Similarly, our Looking Closely at Trees with macro lenses and our Tree Creature Workshops, whereby participants make sculptures (tree creatures) with the material that trees and nature produce – are also popular. This combined with our multidisciplinary exhibitions and intelligent symposiums means that we have appeal for all people.
What inspires/moves you to keep doing the work to protect nature?
Necessity. Until there is permanent change, i.e. logging in native forests and koala corridors ceases and when all fossil fuels are left in the ground – untouched, I and our members will continue.
If you'd like to collaborate with Tree Veneration Society, or for more information email [email protected]