50 Treasures: MRCD (Movement for Responsible Coastal Development) Archive

This treasure is being featured in 50 Treasures Revisited – Celebrating 50 Years of James Cook University, which is on display at the Cairns Museum from 24 June to 28 October 2023. The exhibition is a collaboration between Cairns Museum and JCU Library, featuring 17 of the 50 Treasures from JCU Library Special Collections which most resonate with Far North Queensland.

Our forty-sixth treasure is a fascinating group of items that successfully combine art and environmental activism. From the Library Archives comes the MRCD (Movement for Responsible Coastal Development) Archive. 

Dr. Thomas Bristow answers the question "why is this significant?" 

The Movement for Responsible Coastal Development (MRCD) was the first incorporated environmental organisation in Mission Beach, north Queensland.* Founded in 1990, success first came with a $3k grant from the Department of Environment and Heritage. 

Association newsletters and woodblocks from the MRCD Archive, JCU Library Special Collections. Photograph by Michael Marzik.

Ben Trupperbäumer provided visionary images and symbols communicating the movement’s purpose for the bi-monthly newsletters and annual general reports distributed to all members, councillors, politicians, media outlets, like-minded community groups and scientific bodies. Frontispieces are embellished with naturalistic icons from woodblocks of ebony, gidgee, and sandalwood. Poetic titles articulate the inherent wisdom of the movement, including, ‘Breaking (the) Ice’, ‘Return to the Beginning’, and ‘A Sense of Belonging’. The combination of geophysical image and text provides a spirited and cohesive aesthetic. 

The cover of the fourth MRCD newsletter featuring an image of an artwork (woodcut) by Ben Trupperbäumer, titled Return to the Beginning. Every newsletter cover features a reproduction of a woodcut print.

Readers are witnesses to political engagement processes driven by the fusion of scientific literacy and artistic vision. A glance at any one of the eight newsletters leads the reader to advance notification of workshops and conservation conferences alongside criticism, letters, cartoons, habitat descriptions, science reports, hyper-local journalism (‘village views’) and details of submissions to community groups, government bodies, heritage agencies and political parties. The newsletters provide summaries of community-based contributions to state governance (for example, to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Coastal Protection, the World Heritage Unit, the Department of Lands) and to meetings of minutes with Federal Ministers (as with the December 1990 meeting between MRCD and Bob Brown MP, Federal Minister for Transport and future leader of the Green Party). Often positive and exacting, news items and reports record such successes as the forcing of government to refuse Crown Land lease extensions and the re-inclusion of Crown Land into reserves or environmental parks. MRCD’s rigorous lobbying for bylaws and special zoning areas helped to protect the internationally significant ecosystems of the Wet Tropics bioregion.

The inside cover and first page of the first MRCD newsletter, MRCD Archive, JCU Library Special Collections.

MRCD members were connected to John Büsst and Judith Wright, who are among the most important Australian activists of the twentieth century, renown for protecting Queensland’s coastal communities, and securing UNESCO World Heritage status for reef and rainforest systems. Inspiring artists and scientists alike, this item evidences the ways local groups can engage with Australia’s malleable political mechanisms. 

*MRCD was founded with ten members in April 1990; as many members of Mission Beach Protection Association transferred donations to MRCD and became members. By May 1990 there were more than 200 people committed to arguing for the value of the environment and disseminating relevant news about environmentally responsible coastal development in their locality. In June 1994, MRCD and The Consultative Committee for Cassowary Conservation amalgamated to form C4: The Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation. 

Bronwyn McBurnie (Manager, Special Collections) provides further comment on the MRCD Archive.

 The MRCD Archive is an unusual archive as it brings together both a set of rare print publications documenting environmental activism in north Queensland with intimately connected art and art objects – in this case – a folio of original artist prints and their corresponding woodblocks. 

The generous donor of this archive is senior north Queensland artist, Gerhard Bentrupperbäumer. Born in Bielefeld, West Germany in 1948, he studied art at the Kunsthochschule, Bielefeld between 1968-72. In 1973-74 he joined the German Volunteer Service abroad in Cameroon, West Africa, where he worked on a project to reintroduce traditional arts and crafts into the community. Further overseas experience followed with a period teaching in Kathmandu, where he met his future wife. On moving back to Joan’s home region at Mission Beach in 1979, he commenced exhibiting his artworks under the name Ben Trupperbäumer. 

His donation represents both his art practice and his previous work as a North Queensland environmental activist. There are three connected parts: 

1. Eight newsletters of the MRCD 

 2. Folio of nine woodcut prints originally produced in support of the MRCD and depicted on the newsletters 

3. Nine woodblocks used to make the woodcut prints. 

One of the original artist prints from the Folio with its corresponding woodblock in the foreground.

Trupperbäumer’s long and successful career as a sculptor is evident in this donation. Accomplished in wood carving, he has crafted woodblocks that can be regarded as small sculptures in themselves, beyond their primary function – which was their use in the creation of the woodcut prints. 

Sensitively made, they showcase the skills of the sculptor whilst retaining their connection to the forest from where they came through the retention of their rough and natural bark sides. The woodblocks have been made from various Australian grown timbers including Sandalwood, Ebony and Gidgee.

Various views of the MRCD woodblocks created by Ben Trupperbäumer. Photographs by Michael Marzik.

 Additionally, Trupperbäumer has collaborated with master printmaker Ron McBurnie to produce a new edition of the woodcut prints in 2016 at the Monsoon Publishing studio. The original edition had been sold in aid of raising funds for the MRCD. The new folio, made with the original woodblocks, gives us a complete view of the breadth of the artworks created in support of this past organisation.

Artists - Ben Trupperbäumer and Ron McBurnie in the studio of Monsoon Publishing in Townsville, signing the Print Folio connected to the newsletters of the MRCD.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections unveiled 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University.

JCU Library is fortunate to have collections of unique and rare resources — including artworks — of regional and national significance, describing life in the tropics. We hope you are inspired to explore further by visiting all of our digital treasures and their stories at NQHeritage@JCU.

 Author Biography

Thomas Bristow is an editor, researcher, and writer. He is editor in-chief of the journal 'Philosophy Activism Nature' (PAN) and the environmental humanities series editor at Routledge ('Literature, Media, and Culture'). Thomas holds the positions of Honorary Fellow at University of Western Australia, Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies at University of London, and Roderick Research Fellow at James Cook University. He has written a monograph on poetry in the Anthropocene, co-edited 'The Cultural History of Climate Change' and published over 30 pieces on the relationship between literature and the environment.