Michele Furlong-Olsen - Save our Koalas


Michele Furlong-Olsen’s entry for the 2022 QCC Art Competition is a striking example of the human capacity to advocate for the helpless and silent. Her art piece is an articulate image. It captures the threats to koalas in Southeast Queensland by showcasing them in different panels, using different artistic styles, both abstract and realistic: the land clearing that destroys habitat, the climate related bush fires that increasingly kill or strand koalas in unsuitable locations as they seek safety, and the urbanization of coastal regions. A careful examination of the image, which foregrounds a koala clinging precariously to a set of traffic lights, reveals that the red light is pulsing its message: stop, stop, stop! There is a balance that needs to be struck, Michele suggests, between nature, “development and overdevelopment”.

Even when koalas were not under as much threat as they are now, they were difficult to spot, sleeping their days away in the treetops. Michele recalls her younger self “looking and looking and looking”. Ultimately though, she has only seen them in captivity. Some of her best memories of getting close to nature have occurred in National Parks. As a wheelchair user since childhood, Michele doesn’t take access to these for granted either and experiences a “feeling of wonderment, [that is] such a blessing” whenever she is able to get into the forest. With an aging population, she points out, the issue of accessibility is increasingly important, and it also matters for parents with strollers and younger children. She feels strongly that catering to differently abled bodies is an important feature because nature brings joy and healing, it “grounds us” in a way that other activities may not. This is something that should therefore be available to everyone. “Once you build it,” she says, “they will come”. 

The other important reason for increasing accessibility in National Parks is because conservation is premised on understanding. By building special memories of days shared with other creatures, or with other people in new and vibrant landscapes, people come to appreciate nature. An association is forged, and Michele believes that “once you feel connected, you’re more likely to want to preserve it.” In this way, the “treadmill of development and infrastructure” can then be slowed down or approached differently with fresh values.