'Feet to the fire': How Australia's 'embarrassing' climate record went global

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

A Brisbane artist who had his image projected on Times Square’s largest billboard as part of push to tackle climate change has described the response to the grass roots campaign as “overwhelming”.

James Hillier’s “satirical tourism commercial” showing a smiling woman hugging a koala alongside the slogan “Cuddle a koala: Before we make them extinct” made global headlines last week after it was unveiled in New York City.

Video of the 10-minute event, which also featured a burning kangaroo, was shared thousands of times on social media, with supporters calling the work "brilliant".

James Hillier's work has now been seen by thousands of people around the world after it featured on Times Square's largest billboard. Source: CNN
James Hillier's work has now been seen by thousands of people around the world after it featured on Times Square's largest billboard. Source: CNN

“To see (the campaign) move beyond from what it was initially, and to grow to this just been incredible,” Mr Hillier told Yahoo News.

Prime Minister commits to attend COP26 hours after billboards go live

Mr Hillier's image featured as part of a campaign by Aussie comedian Dan Ilic to “vilify” the federal government’s lack of action to the tackle climate crisis.

Dubbed Jokekeeper, Mr Ilic raised over $150,000 in a viral campaign that will see satirical billboards installed pop up around Australia and overseas ahead of the United Nations COP26 talks in November.

As the world is impacted by climate change, many Australians say they would like the government to do more to tackle the issue. Source: Getty
As the world is impacted by climate change, many Australians say they would like the government to do more to tackle the issue. Source: Getty

Mr Hillier, who goes by the name Nordacious, said he was feeling “frustrated, disheartened and ignored” by the Commonwealth's lack of action to tackle the climate crisis. 

He had previously created a number of images for Mr Ilic's podcast, A Rational Fear, but he never imagined their relationship would lead to a chance to “embarrass” the government on the global stage.

“(It) felt like we were taking a bit of the power back and putting a bit more pressure on the government, holding their feet to the fire, and really creating a powerful spotlight on the issue,” he said.

“A few hours after the billboards went up Scott Morrison confirmed he’s suddenly going to Glasgow, so in the very least I think they pushed him.

“We were on CNN and other news outlets around the world, so that would have just added pressure."

Satirical images tap into Aussie culture's dislike of tall poppies

Ideas for his pictures often come to Mr Hillier as he is watching the news.

He gives himself just 24 hours to complete the sketch and post it to social media, so his idea can contribute to the conversation before the news cycle moves on.

The Times Square koala billboard is not the first Mr Hillier has made which mocks the government, but he also finds time to ridicule rich and powerful businessmen as well.

The billionaire space race and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef have also received Mr Hillier's attention. Source: Brisbane artist Nordacious (James Hillier)
The billionaire space race and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef have also received Mr Hillier's attention. Source: Brisbane artist Nordacious (James Hillier)

Tapping into Australian culture’s general dislike of “tall poppies”, he's produced images poking fun at the billionaire space race between Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, as well as the influence oil, gas and coal companies have over federal politics.

He’s also taken aim at Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who he has depicted smiling as she pours bleach into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

“(The images are) sarcastic and designed to shame these people who are just sitting on their hands as the world burns,” Mr Hillier said.

Horror movies help inspire 'unsettling satire of government 

While Mr Hillier’s images appear at first glance to be bright advertising images, a second glance will reveal the smiling characters he features are usually doing bad things.

This “unsettling” juxtaposition of ideas was inspired by his favourite horror movies.

Prime Minister Morrison has featured in a number of the artist's images. Source: Brisbane artist Nordacious (James Hillier)
Prime Minister Morrison has featured in a number of the artist's images. Source: Brisbane artist Nordacious (James Hillier)

“For me the best kind of horror scenes are ones in which everything seems perfectly normal, but there's one element that is just slightly off,” he said.

“It’s that sort of dynamic that pulls the viewer into something that seems normal or happy or familiar, and then it’s completely flipped on its head.”

Those wishing to see more of Mr Hillier's work can log onto his social media accounts, or take a look outside because there "will definitely” be more billboards appearing around Australia in the lead-up to COP26.

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