Some reflections and statements of intent at a huge life milestone (retirement!) 

My recent decision to leave teaching with the Education Department has motivated me to reflect on my career, where I hope to go next. After 25 years with the Department of Education and Training, I have retired – or perhaps, re-focussed. During two and a half decades of teaching, I maintained my arts practice, in a range of media including painting, sculpture, ceramics, and later paper-making and fibre arts. Another ongoing commitment has been environmental sustainability and in 2006 I embarked upon a Master of Environmental Education. Around the same time, the proposal to dam the Mary River at Traveston Crossing was announced by the Beattie State Government. I drew upon my academic skills to write a paper, In Defence of Mary, for the International Rivers Symposium held in Brisbane in 2007. This work linked previous arts events in the Mary Valley with the capacity to respond to environmental threats and attracted about 44 attendees to the workshop presentation. I also executed artworks of endangered species which were used to raise funds and send messages to key decision-makers. Fellow artist and no-dam activist Joolie Gibbs and I worked as artists-in residence with the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee in 2015.

After finishing my Masters Degree and teaching aat the Aboriginal School at Cherbourg, I was able to link my teaching work with a 3 year secondment to the Science Sparks and Earth Smart Science programs, which helped schools teach engaging Science and become more environmentally sustainable.

My recent exhibitions have dealt with links between places, locally-significant species and human impacts on ecosystems. The Legendary Bunya Tree (2017) dealt with the loss of culturally significant food trees and told stories of loss and lore. The Fresh and the Salt (2018) at Hervey Bay dealt with the Mary River and Sandy Straits, while Plea for Plankton (2019) at Bundaberg Regional Gallery used works made from Kombucha pellicle to make a statement about marine plastics pollution. The interested local response to Plea for Plankton really showed me how art can raise an issue in a non-threatening way and promote community discussion. I was invited to talk on the radio breakfast show and visit a local school. It stimulated dialogue between schools, communities and natural resource management groups which culminated in children making beeswax wraps as an alternative to gladwrap! I would like to travel the Plea for Plankton exhibition along coastal Queensland galleries and hope that I can find guidance and expertise to make this happen.

I hope to become a more active part of the arts community, attend presentations and meet mentors will help me extend my networks as well as gain new skills and knowledge. It would be wonderful to form partnerships that enable the creation of new works which have environmental and artistic value. I hope to share my own work more widely – and gain skills in provoking community interest and awareness through the arts.

Plant legend Sheeley, Gage, artist and activist Zela Bissett and Joolie Gibbs, Gallery Director, artist
Plant legend Shelley, Gage, artist and activist Zela Bissett and Joolie Gibbs, Gallery Director, artist and wild flower woman!

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Susan Zela Bissett (Zela) is an educator, writer and artist with a lifetime involvement in environmental education and advocacy. Zela was born on Butchulla Country in Maryborough and has worked as an artist, educator, permaculture gardener, studio potter and consultant. She is passionate about sustainable lifestyles, maintaining habitat for wildlife and about unleashing the creativity in all of us.

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