Art collective Open Heart Surgery presents 'TOOLANGI' by Minna Leunig

A few good friends and I have recently created 'Open Heart Surgery' (@openheartsurgery___), an arts collective fundraising for environmental and community based projects. Our first event is 'TOOLANGI' – a music and arts event showcasing a diverse range of works from locally based artists, with 100% of the profits going towards the protection of precious old growth forests in Victoria. 



Toolangi State Forest, located in Victoria’s central highlands, is home to many unique species and ecosystems which are currently on the brink of ecological collapse. Along with many of its neighbouring old growth Mountain Ash forests, Toolangi provides vital habitat for threatened species such as the Leadbetter Possum (Victoria's faunal emblem), the Powerful Owl, the Sooty owl and the Greater Glide. These beautiful creatures are now in a critical state of survival. Old growth Mountain Ash forests are the only form of habitat in which the Leadbetter possums can survive, and at the current rate of logging it is predicted that it will be extinct within the next 20 - 40 years. 

The Mountain Ash themselves (the world’s tallest flowering tree) now face an uncertain future. There are just 1.5-3% of Mountain Ash forests left as a result of clear-fell logging practices and major bushfires throughout recent decades. Not only do these forests provide vital habitat, they are crucial resources in the face of climate change, storing more carbon per hectare than any other forest studied in the world. Research shows that the older these forests are, the more carbon the trees sequester.

Thankfully, there are many groups making passionate efforts to prevent these forests from being logged. The Great Forest National Park is gaining more and more support, and if it goes ahead will ensure the protection of many areas of these forests. Recently, a case bought forward by Environmental Justice Australia on behalf of the Friends of the Leadbetter Possum has succeeded in halting Vicforests from logging in 34 areas with a Federal Court order. This is temporary though, with a two day hearing taking place from the 14th of December. 

Funds raised from this event will go directly towards supporting Environmental Justice Australia in their fight to expose the unlawful logging practices of Vicforests. Further funds will be contributed towards the Great Forest National Park.

'TOOLANGI' | 16th October 3.30pm | The Old Bar, 74-76 Johnson St, Fitzroy

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#metoo by Minna Leunig

When I was 12 years old I was followed by a man in his 30’s all the way from Bourke street mall to Southern Cross station (that's about 4 city blocks for those who don't know Melbourne). When I lined up to buy my train ticket home, he stood close behind me and began touching me. Whenever I tried to move forward, he would move forward with me. When I looked around, he winked. I felt frozen with fear, I had no idea what to do. I remember feeling so sick in that moment. My mouth went dry, I felt hot, panicked and completely helpless. I cried for months afterwards, I felt so ashamed. I couldn't understand how he could make me feel so worthless, but that's how I felt. Imagine if it had been worse? 

Since then I have been grabbed, cornered, pushed, yelled at from cars, harassed by taxi drivers, followed down the street by men masturbating and had friends/partners overstep boundaries. I have been made to feel like my body is not my own. I have seen my friends get their drinks spiked and listened to heartbreaking stories about their own experiences of violence/sexual assault/harassment. I can't think of a single woman I know who hasn't experienced this in one way or another. It happens to men too, and I don't mean to discount this - only stress how absolutely commonplace it is in the lives of women, something you just come to expect. 

I have been apprehensive about joining in on the 'me too' campaign for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is quite daunting to speak about such personal matters on such a public platform. One automatically becomes at risk of getting it wrong – expressing things in a way that might exclude or offend. I also didn't want anyone to think I was thoughtlessly 'jumping on the social media bandwagon', or taking space away from those who have experienced more extreme sorts of abuse. In recounting my own experiences, I didn't want to awaken anyones trauma in a way that might be damaging. Additionally, I wasn't sure if any of the things I have decided to mention are generally considered 'traumatic enough' to warrant making a post about, not when others I know of have been through much, much worse (of course I know that comparison in this way is not always helpful – if you feel negatively affected by something then it's real and valid).  However, at the end of the day I strongly believe that bringing these issues to light is desperately important, especially considering the long history of shame and silence that surrounds violence and sexual assault. I want to add to the great myriad of voices that already exist in the hope that the weight of the collective might cause something to shift. 

This is a movement that resonates so powerfully with me, and while it saddens me to witness so many women speak out about their experiences, the sense of solidarity that is emerging is beautiful and overwhelming. Don’t think for a moment that if someone hasn’t shared their own experience of sexual assault/harassment they haven’t experienced it – the reality is simply that many aren't ready or willing to share, and that’s okay. No one should ever feel compelled to disclose what they're not comfortable with. There are things about my past that I have decided not to mention, because I'm just not ready yet.

Men – you can do better. It is your responsibility to actively engage with this and take a stand against it. Talk to that one friend who’s a ‘bit of a creep’, call him out, don’t laugh at sexist jokes to be approved of as ‘one of the boys’, admit mistakes, engage in a conversation about these issues, ask questions, stand up for women when they’re being harassed, listen to them, believe them. Men’s disapproval of this appalling behaviour is sorely needed!

Big love to you all 

Stream of consciousness (writings from Spiegelau) by Minna Leunig

Wandering across bright green meadows, the warmth of the sun on my back. Pink and white wild flowers brush against my bare legs, and from the woods tall dark trees watch down upon me as I make my way through such beauty it doesn't feel real, like a children's storybook from long ago. I've been starved of the freedom to simply BE for so long, and now every fibre of my being is drinking this feeling in. How did I find myself in the midst of such tranquility? Just for a moment I am fooled into thinking that all is well with the world, that everyone on this earth is okay. It seems so odd to think that they are not, that on the contrary there is a great deal of suffering going on, that just a short time ago the very land upon which I walk now was overwhelmed with the pain and sorrow of countless souls, including my grandmothers, all aching in ways unimaginable to me. And yet here I am, healing little by little in the warm sunshine, delightedly basking in my own solitude.

I feel overwhelmed by the passing of time - tears salty on my cheeks, I am a mere spec sitting at the edge of these woods contemplating just how BIG the world is, like a child might - and I'll never be able to fully grasp the true meaning of it. Thinking about all those who have come before me, and all those who are yet to exist. So many lives and stories I will never know of, so many moments of joy and of sadness felt. Perhaps once feelings come to exist they never truly leave the landscape, but instead become a part of it - like leaves falling from trees that gradually, over many thousands of years build up and become the forest floor. Surely the earth must be overflowing with feeling by now?

I am afraid about what comes next, about the inevitable pain I will face in life, about the lack of guarantees. Society fools you into thinking that life can be made orderly, that things are more or less under control. But they're not. This earth is wild and unpredictable, and the universe doesn't owe you anything. We can't control what comes next or when it comes. We make it up as we go along.