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WILDERNESS AND THE HUMAN SOUL


What do wild places mean for the human soul? What of our nature is unlocked when we return to the rhythms of the natural world? How has this changed over time? How are we reshaping this relationship now?

(The following is a lightly-edited transcript of 'Wilderness and the Human Soul', a featured session of the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival, 15th September 2017, Hobart - with Bob Brown, James Dryburgh, Heather Rose and Pete Hay and accompanying performances by singers Jodi Haines, Judith Reid and Kartanya Maynard).

2017 Writers and Readers Festival









PETE HAY
Pete HayThe Scottish Calvinist John Muir who washed up in America and became the world’s first great publicist for wilderness used to argue that God is made manifest – he was a Calvinist, remember – God is made manifest on earth through wilderness. He said – these are his own words - ‘wilderness is full of God’s thoughts’. ‘It is the window,’ - it’s pretty directional isn’t it? - ‘it is the window through which we can see into the soul of the universe.’

I’m going to ask my panelists – they are putty in my hands! – I’m going to ask them in what ways engagement with wilderness has impacted upon their own writing. I’ll start with the Rose between two thorns. Heather.


HEATHER ROSE
I don’t think I’d be a writer if I hadn’t fallen in love with the beauty of the Tasmanian landscape. I think, as a child, the sense of wonder I had was because we lived in such a beautiful place. That was very much fostered by my grandfather in teaching me to look at the world like that. My emotional connection with nature was such a powerful part of what I sensed. I knew I wanted to be a writer, from my earliest days, and I would try and write long before I even had English. But when I tried to express what I wanted to say, what really touched me was a sense of connection with nature. That was borne out in the first adult novel I ever read - The Old Man and the Sea - when I was six. I’ll never forget the picture of the final scene – (spoiler!) – of the skeleton of the marlin. And I remember feeling this incredible sense of loss for Santiago, and feeling that writing wasn’t just about people and things that happen to them, but about what they felt; and what they felt as a response to the environment that they lived in.


James Dryburgh, Heather Rose, Bob Brown

James Dryburgh, Heather Rose, Bob Brown


JAMES DRYBURGH
For me, there are three layers to it, past present and future. Like you, Heather, I was hugely influenced in growing up with a connection to nature. It was also a connection with friends and friendship, I was lucky enough to have friendships that evolved around childhood pursuits - jumping off rocks into the sea, going off into the bush, all of that. Now, in the present, there are different feelings. One of them is longing, because I’m at that stage in my life where I have a mortgage and a fulltime job and a couple of little kids and I often feel this sense of longing and loss that I’m not able to be in nature as much as I’d like to be. And then the other layer of course is future, those feelings of what nature will mean to my children, and to myself. What will be left and so on. I feel in those three layers a strong sense of nature, and of memory within nature as well.

BOB BROWN
As a little child, at the edge of my memory on the Great Divide in New South Wales in springtime is this image of bringing home my mother - with my twin sister – a bunch of flowers we’d picked in the bush and her saying, ‘Well, they’re beautiful, I’ll put them in a vase - but they’d be more beautiful and have lasted much longer and smelt much sweeter if you’d left them where they were.’ That thought has never left me.

And when it came to going down the Franklin River with Paul Smith in 1976 and spending two weeks in total isolation from other human beings, just seeing the canyons and the waterfalls and the sea eagles gliding up and the platypuses coming up underneath, 3000 year old Huon pine trees, I echo the sentiment that Muir had. I’ve got a Calvinistic background as well. It’s the experience out there of thinking about yourself. HG Thoreau earlier on talked about the companion you meet when you go out there, who’s this generous, immortal, all-wise encouraging companion. You respond to the wilds; we’re evolved, formed by the wilds, both body and mind, that’s a scientific as well as an aesthetic fact, and there’s nowhere better to find ourselves than out there.

When it comes to writing, I don’t think I wrote anything substantial before the Franklin campaign. I was a doctor; here I was, finding this enormous human resource for relaxation which didn’t need medicines, that was about to be destroyed - presumably to provide electricity for another tranquillizer factory. And it didn’t add up - and it still doesn’t add up - that we’re destroying wilderness at the greatest rate in human history when we know we need it more than ever because it feeds our soul.

PH
I’m glad you started with a little anecdote, because I want to ask about the nature of the epiphanous moment, which many people come away from immersion in wilderness and claim to have had: a road-to-Damascus type moment. I want to ask whether in your own personal cases there has been such a moment within your engagement with wilderness which has thrown a switch in your essential being and recast you as a human being, turned you into something other than you were before.

BB
Two things, and I write about this in the Peter Dombrovkis book Wild Rivers, being up in the lake on the headwaters of the Franklin River. It was a very cold, forbidding day and suddenly – there must have been a gap in the clouds but the sunbeams burst through on to the snow on the mountains behind. And it struck me that I was seeing something that nobody had ever seen before, nobody would see in the future, nobody else would ever experience. Being out in the bush or on the oceans is full of such moments where you find something exhilarating that’s very special from whatever point you might be sitting at.

On the other hand, to walk out of a forest into a clearfell that’s just been firebombed is to wrench our beings like nothing else can. To see destruction of wild country on a planet which doesn’t need the product from that, but does need the wilderness, is the inverse. It’s a very big test as to whether you can stay sane and centred and ambitious to protect what’s left after that sort of experience. There’s 158 coupes in the Tarkine wilderness lined up for logging and fire bombing in next three years, what do we do about that?

PH
There can actually be no greater indignity visited upon the land than a clearfell, can there?

BB
Well the aim is to eradicate every living species - animal, bird, butterfly, tree - so it won’t compete. So yes, it is we beings who are created by the biosphere, destroying it. It’s only our intelligence that will allow us to get past this period, but at the moment our intelligence seems to have a fatal gliche. I think collectively we can do better than that. It’s incredible that most people vote for that, for example; it's a social tick for clearfelling to happen … otherwise it wouldn’t occur.

HR
I mentioned my grandfather before, and one of the things that he did for me - such a gift - is that he’d take me out rowing and we’d put a line in for flathead. We’d be out there at dawn, often before the light hit. And the light would come in across the sea – down on the Tasman Peninsula, at Nubeena – and he’d say to me – See the light? See the clouds, the trees, the water? That’s what beauty is!

And now that I’m a parent of three grown-up children, it was such a privilege when they were little to teach them about beauty because I think that’s one of the things we can take for granted if we’re not careful. The fact that my grandfather taught me about beauty - light on water, light on gum trees, snow on a mountain range, the quality of a cloudscape or any of those wonders that can seem so everyday - was an epiphany. I think it was that experience that drew me, much later, into Native American spirituality. That’s why I describe myself - if I have to be an ‘-ist’ - as a pantheist; because I do find the sacred in nature. Because the essence of beauty is somehow fused with a sense of my soul being reflected in the wonder of the universe that is at work on this planet.

JD
I've had a lot of experiences within nature allowing me to connect strongly to it, but I think the biggest was probably in 2010 when my oldest friend died kayaking in California. I was in Ecuador at the time, long-term, so I was away from all our mutual friends which meant dealing with all that loss, that grief, very internally rather than having that communal mourning you often go through. It was a really powerful experience for me, I don’t know if it was because he died in a natural river or because of the place where I happened to be, but my mind kept coming back to the natural world.

Someone said to me at the time, I recommend you take solace in nature; and the next night I had a dream wherein I was writing the words, ‘take time to sit with nature, let your family of millions surround you’. I'd have never come up with that when I was awake: I love that line! It made me constantly think, those first few months, of what our connection to nature is. And why we seem to search for it when we go through some of the most human of experiences possible like losing someone you’re close to. When you think about the common phrases we use such as ‘ashes to ashes’, ‘earth to earth’, ‘dust to dust’, they're all phrases about the connection we have with the natural world. Something like death strips you of all your human apparatus, progress, the masks we wear to hide our true biological selves, cuts you right down to the intelligent animal in amongst the natural world. That was probably the most epiphanous moment for me, I think.

PH
Anyone who has not read James’ essay on that experience should do so, that is one of the great pieces of Tasmanian writing.

Having given him the plug, I’m now going to say that I think we could make too much of this. What happens to a person of awareness and the appropriate sensibility who goes into the wild country, has a profound engagement with the wild country, and then leaves? Goes back to the job, the power bills and parking fines and school fees - and no matter how profound that experience seems at the time, it quickly becomes marginal.

I think one of the problems we may have in the times within which we live is that none of these experiences stick sufficiently well for enough people to get the large change in mindset that we need on the social scale … what do you think about that?


BB
What about the fifty-storey towers lined up in hundreds in Shanghai where people never get to experience what we call bush? A friend of mine, Peter Jones, took some students from that city out in a bus to the Styx Valley a year or two ago and they wouldn’t get out, they were so frightened. If that’s the way it is, what hope is there of protecting what is left?

There's this essential thing in all of us that says nature is a salve to the soul. You might go back to town, pay your bills and so on, but what’s the difference? I suppose the difference between a wilderness experience and, say, going to the theatre is that the theatre experience is one that can be replicated. But with wilderness, it can’t be replicated. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And it is the greatest source of inspiration and elevation of the spirit that exists, simply because we’re made from it. We hand loved ones, in devotion, a bunch of flowers: not a chainsaw. That, in one thought, is why the wilds are so important to us - including the ocean wilds - and we’re destroying them at the greatest rate in history.

Because it’s priceless. This age of materialism is simply a rorting and seems to want to leave nothing wild at all. There's a bit of fear involved in that, but until we get back to valuing other things than dollars, valuing uplift and inspiration and wonder - and even the question about what we’re doing here, where we’re coming from, where we’re going to - we’ll see much more of that rampage. Eight billion mammals marauding the planet and currently using 160% of its natural living resources, everything’s going backwards. And yet what’s the answer to that? We vote for people to put their foot on the accelerator and give us more growth. That’s the question that really hovers over why it’s important to us, and has to to be taken into account with a very different measure to dollars and cents.

JD
Well Pete as we said earlier, we’re not going to answer all your questions tonight cos we don’t know the answers. This is a constant see-saw for me between despair and hope. I think there are some trends where people are pushing back against urban environment and trying to re-green it – which is obviously different to wilderness - but it’s a recognition that we need it, that we value it. I think in some quarters there is a stronger recognition of those values.

HR
I think what I instantly go to is interconnectedness, and one thing that became very evident to me spending four years involved in Native American ceremony in North America is that everything is connected. And we – as Bob said – are rampaging mammals. There’s eight billion and counting, every moment; and yet we rely entirely on this infrastructure that has been gifted to us. Even the people in Shanghai need the light! I know for Tasmanians who are used to a lot of sunshine that when it gets overcast for any length of time it gets a bit depressing.

But we’re so interconnected. As a child, we had a shack down at Nubeena, as I mentioned, and the shore was packed with middens. The whole shore opposite the wharf is midden country, and I always grew up feeling I was living on someone else’s home. All we can do is tell stories to each other, connect with each other and share what is sacred to each other. If we can do that in the wider field then it’s very hard for us to deny that although we might be humans it does not make us superior. It just means we’re part of an ecology and of a time passage.

PH
Do we have the right language for the things that we’re talking about, do you think?

BB
I think we do, I think we’re absolutely using some of it tonight. But economic language is overriding everything, television has become the high priest of economics at night to tell us whether to feel good or to feel bad. There’s never anybody who comes on and talks about the ecological state of play. We’ve got the language, but it’s simply subordinated to rampart materialism and the price of dollars being put on everything. It’s very short-sighted, it will pull us up. Have we the intelligence to go back to revaluing beauty, wildness, love, the things that are priceless? There are moves to doing this - measuring happiness instead of dollars in pockets - but I wouldn’t bet on it because the people who’ve got the dollars have got the power, and they purchase democracies and purchase governments and purchase more destruction of the globe. So … I feel the language is there, and I feel very motivated by it – but I think we might be a minority.

JD
It’s interesting that Shanghai was the example, I was listening the other night to the environmental lawyers James Thornton and Martin Goodman who’ve just released the book, Client Earth, and I found it a really interesting discussion, they were placing quite a lot of hope in China. It is the big global power that is actually able to make a decision and then mobilise quickly to make pretty radical changes. So … who knows!

PH
Well I’m going to stay with this.... I think there are individuals who need the wilderness experience, it's the experience that we need to take us as people to another level of emotional and spiritual maturity. But the vast majority of the earth’s population are going to go through their entire lives without a wilderness experience. What can we do about that? The obvious answer is an answer that will destroy wilderness. How do we get around this?

HR
I want everybody to have a real-world experience of wilderness – there’s no question about that – but it would destroy our wilderness, we can’t have four billion people coming to the Tarkine. It just won’t work.

I know this is going to sound funny, but I have a friend in Seattle who’s into virtual reality with the company HTC, the world’s leaders in virtual reality. Her vision is to bring education to the world through virtual reality. Now, you can’t smell in virtual reality yet – but no doubt they’ll put a chip in it so we can soon enough. You would have to have some extraordinary technology to map the Tarkine, for example, as a virtual reality experience. A game. But maybe that’s a way for all the people who will never come here to begin to understand what wilderness means and why it’s so important.

Actually, gaming – having three children who have been avid gamers – gaming is full of imagination. They’ve learnt story telling from it, role playing from it, they’ve learnt all sorts of things about history … and future generations may yet learn a lot about the environment from games.

PH
But do you think that can serve as an exact equivalent….

HR
No. Not for a minute, no no no. But for those people living in their fifty-storey buildings in Shanghai, it might be the only insight they have. Oh I can’t believe it. My children would be so happy to hear me saying this. I’ve been a great advocate of them not playing games, let me tell you - but when you think about games like 'Halo' – games where worlds are threatened - it at least gives them a start to consciousness about the threatened world. They don’t get that anywhere else. Partly that’s due to economics. We have a flawed economic model. We’re trained to aspire to growth but growth at any cost comes at a huge cost to the environment.

JD
I think, especially if you’re talking about wilderness, it’s shifting definitions depending on the context. I’m guilty of having the privilege of growing up in Tasmania. I was born in Scotland, and I’ve gone back there quite a bit over the years and the way they talk about wilderness… I think, you’re joking, that’s not wilderness: it’s just a paddock, and a hill. With a house on it!

It’s different, but it's still important. And I guess – in the most extreme case, in a huge urban city - that the large parks become the closest things to wilderness. And you need context here, you have to try and bring as much of nature back into human life as you can; if big parks and trees along the streets are the best you can do for this point of time, for this place, then you do the best you can do. But we’re fortunate in many parts of the world, and Tasmania is one of those where we have something extremely precious and rare and that makes it, to me, all the more important – given so much of it’s already gone - that we don’t lose any more.

HR
You’ve reminded me James … I wrote a story recently for QANTAS Magazine … about a time years ago when I went to Scotland and planted trees above Loch Ness. And in those days, when you came from Inverness and hit the top of the loch, the moors were completely bare because they'd all been stripped a hundred years ago for ship-building.

So I went on a tree planting mission … got roped in, went and planted trees out on the peat bogs. It’s the hardest physical labour job I’ve ever done! But we planted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trees.

Twenty years later, I went back, thinking I was going to find my little forest. I got to the top of the loch, and there were trees and trees and trees. It wasn’t just me planting trees, it wasn’t just our little team, I don’t know how many humans it took to make those forests come back but it was one of the most touching things that I have ever seen. I realised then that we as humans have the ability to make green spaces wherever we are. And I would much prefer that to virtual reality. I would much prefer if we could see that in Shanghai. If we saw vast green spaces flourishing across China and completely transforming their air quality.

BB
I think most people don’t want to go into wild, cold, wet, leach-ridden ditches. There’s a spectrum of people who don’t want to leave city limits. But in the middle is a big range and Tasmania has got the full spectrum, and we’ve got to - if we’re smart - protect the true wilderness as wilderness. Everybody can work for the grand vista, see ocean beaches … everybody can enjoy a waterfall or forest vista, enjoy snow capped mountains from roadsides and windows from all over Tasmania … all we’ve got to do is use that infrastructure to show more people the same thing, but without invading the wild.

But I’m reminded of the Indian experiment and the national park where there was this rare rhinoceros and it was decided nobody would be allowed to go in there, and they fenced it. They went in a couple of years later and found most of the rhinoceros dead, because the people who were going to exploit the situation got over the fence – found ways of getting in there while good people stayed out - and created havoc.

So we’re going to have to be guardians of wild places, but for me, putting seven double-story bungalows along the South Coast Track is no longer wilderness in the sense that it is now. We have to make decisions about whether we’re going to keep doing that. The plans for more eco-lodges at Frenchmans Cap in the Walls of Jerusalem … Federation Peak … On and on it goes, there is no limit to this if people can make money out of it and of course you’ve got a natural monopoly if the government gives it to you. I haven’t seen any signs of the revolution of people saying, no we’ve got to keep this fantastic, unique resource we have in Tasmania. Instead, it’s being serially eroded. And when Heather Sculthorpe from the Aboriginal Centre said the other day – it wasn’t reported - at the prospect of re-opening tracks on the Tarkine Coast, and in fact for the first time ever opening them to licensed vehicles between the Pieman and Interview Rivers, full of Aboriginal sites… said, we will do the only thing we can and we’ll go down there, I immediately said yes I will be right there with you….

At some stage we have to make a stand, and I see little sign of that stand being made at the moment, but I think it’s coming and I think it’s going to make people wake up when it does.


James Dryburgh, Heather Rose, Bob Brown

Heather Rose, Bob Brown


PH
I want to know whether you have faith in the future; do you think wilderness will persist? I mean, the challenges to wilderness seem to be overwhelmingly difficult to combat … the fragmentation so we don’t have continual habitation, continuous mechanisms for species to recruit…. We have commodification of wilderness, we have increasing population pressures on the outskirts of wilderness areas and increasing pressure to get access to resources within wilderness areas. Can we hold it? In two or three hundred years, will there still be wilderness as we know it now?

BB
Well I think the answer to that, on current predictions, is no. The yen to make money out of public property by people who lobby weak governments and get their way is prepossessing, it’s overriding everything at the moment. It really does depend on how much the public wants to make a stand against it. There’s little sign of that at the moment. If you look at history, we are post-catastrophe rather than pre-catastrophre. And the real question is whether we’ve got the common sense and the leverage and the intelligence in this wealthiest society ever to exist on the face of the planet - Australia - to make a stand. We’ve something of inestimable, priceless value, which is the wild country here in this island, and on the north island as well, and the omens are not good.

However, all the polls show the people want it protected. They don’t want the tracks re-opened on the Tarkine Coast. But the lobbyists, the people who want to make money out of I, have more of a grip on the politicians, on the mass of people who think that’s not a good idea. We’ve just got to become more active, and at what point we will – and whether that will happen in the next three hundred years - is the challenge. Because as the song of the seventies said, we won’t value it until we lose it. I tend to hope, and think, that the collective intelligence will out before that happens. And of course, there are great campaigners in Tasmania, and elsewhere in Australia. I feel a resurgence of this coming along, but the power of the vested interests – and I know, having been a politician: have an empty seat next to you, and a lobbyist will be sitting there within two seconds – the power of the vested interests is corrupting democracy, it’s not giving us what we all commonly - through good-hearted people - want to see into the future. It’s up to us as to whether we say oh well, we can’t do anything about that - when we can do a hell of a lot about it.

HR
My eldest son was only a few weeks old when I heard Peter Garrett speak in Melbourne on nuclear disarmament. It so inspired me, because I was holding the future in my arms. I personally don’t want to go to my grave with my children thinking I didn’t fight for something better for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and all those people who will come beyond me that I will never meet. But it takes something to do that. I want Bob to live to a thousand, but he’s not going to … so we all have to step into the breach.

PH
Well he might….

HR
Well he might ... and he might be able to make it happen....

BB
I’ve written to Mother Nature and She says, no exceptions!


'I've written to Mother Nature and She says, no exceptions!'


PH
I agree that if you are an activist, you should never ask the question: what is the likelihood of me getting a result from taking this action? You do it because it’s the right thing to do.

JD
Yes, I agree with Bob and Heather. I do sense that the collective consciousness is moving painfully slowly but in the right direction. I’m an optimist who pretends he’s a pessimist to protect my emotions from being hurt.

I recently judged an essay competition from grade five school children right up to year twelve, and the wisdom and intelligence in those essays, the understanding of the importance of our relationship with the environment was so powerful it made me think, why isn’t the country run by children???

But it is a question, as Bob said, about consciousness. At what point do people’s voting patterns, politicians, corporations, and the media catch up with that consciousness? I really feel that in Australia at the moment, the government is at least ten years behind the public consciousness. You only have to look at the Adani mine, and marriage equality; it’s clear that the public has progressed and gone somewhere that the power base hasn’t caught up with. You can argue that – maybe not a majority, but a good amount - of corporations and companies are a decade ahead of our government and our parliament in terms of the importance of our relationship with the environment. So it’s at what point do these things begin to merge where the decision makers are in line with how far society’s progressed.

PH
The very concept of wilderness has been contested for a good thirty years now. It’s argued from within the indigenous community, and sections of the old Left that this is essentially a racist term invented by white Western adventurers positing land where there are no people when in fact it’s been, not a visited place, but home to indigenous people for long long time. What do we think of this, is the term ‘wilderness’ irrepairably tainted?

BB
I know that people keep recreating the term, but it never did mean free of people. It always did take account of the fact that the world was wilderness pre the Agricultural Revolution; twelve, fifteen thousand years ago the whole lot of it was wilderness with a couple of million people living in it. But there’s been recent constructs that’s said, oh this is a terra nullius concept. It never has been for me, but it’s been redefined by people who want to argue that it shouldn’t be a place where we live on its terms, rather than it bends to ourselves. And the very fact that the government here has been toying with the idea of taking wilderness out of the term - Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area - the only world heritage area out of over a thousand in the world that’s got that word in it, shows the power of that word, still, with people. People know what it means. Even the biblical terms, you know … you go out into the wilderness to expunge your sins, or be tempted or whatever. To look into yourself. It’s always been a place reported on, spoken about, giving inspiration to people. Antarctica’s an exception of course, a great wilderness but uninhabited for obvious reasons. I’m not too much fussed about that argument, I think if people were to argue it's being seen as a place where people can’t go, then wouldn’t industry – the logging industry, the mining industry and the invasive tourist industry - want to talk about this as a term that's preventing progress? It’s in their interest to denature it by arguing that it’s not a valid concept. But it is.

JD
I think you've hit the nail on the head. To me, wilderness is somewhere where nature is dominant. On its terms. It doesn't mean it's anti-human, that there's no human activity there. You're pretty much on its terms, not your own.

I also think there are two sides to it. It's an affectionate term for a lot us, but historically it’s a place of fear and that relates again to the point that it's on nature's terms, not our own. It's just a recognition that it’s in control.

HR
And as a result of that, in native American culture that I experienced, it isn't wilderness - it's just that some places are very sacred. Some places have a very special meaning, and what happens out there - of course - is that you get a sense of your own insignificance. And that's the thing human beings don't like to experience - especially politicians and corporate CEO's, they don't want to sense their own insignificance. When nature dominates, it teaches us humility, and that's one of the things that as human beings we seem to shy away from so intensely because it makes us feel fragile, makes us feel vulnerable, and any of us who've spent a night out in the bush on a bad night knows how vulnerable we can feel.

PH
I want to talk about that, but to do this I have to identify myself as a damaged human being because I go into the wild country and I don't experience a lyrical joy. What I experience is grief because I identify the absences, the once-wases that aren't there now. I wonder how it is for you three people, what is your visceral reaction when you go into the bush? Is it one of relief that you're away from the hurly-burly, do you have that lyrical joy? Or like me do you basically experience a sadness?

HR
Both for me - I must say - depending on the place. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the beauty, and it's so palpable. And then other places ... I just recently walked along the foreshore of the eastern shore. There's a she-oak forest over there, and you can see the curves in the ground where the Aboriginal people lived. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s ghosted, it's resonant with ghosts and songs and stories. This landscape is like that for me, I see that, I hear that. I live on Kingston Beach, and I can't even walk the beach every day without seeing it as it must have once looked ... without all the houses. So yes, both is true, I'm deeply touched by the beauty - and I'm very aware that I’m just a tiny life in a long continuum.

JD
Yes, it's definitely both for me as well, the highest of highs and lowest of lows in a way. Recently I felt that strongly, spending some time up in Balfour in the Tarkine because you've got that amazingly powerful landscape, you've got that ghostly feeling of the indigenous people who spent so long there. It's a powerful place that’s a ghost town, where you see ... there used to be a town here, there used to be people; and now you see a forest taking over and it gives you some strong feeling about the strength of nature. But you also get a sense of the fragility of the natural world and of humanity at the same time, for me it’s one extreme to the other. I guess that’s life.

BB
I can't go anywhere in the Tasmanian bush without the feeling that people lived here, were dearly loved, their whole existence was in this place and destroyed in a trice - just in a very rapid time - or removed off that land. Mind you, I’m also much aware that more than forty thousand years ago, for a time going right back as Tasmania drifted behind mainland Australia away from Antarctica and split off from Gondwanaland, it was just a natural place devoid of human beings. But there were a lot of creatures that we’ve sent to extinction already in the short time that modern, acquisitive material society's been on these shores. Lamenting that is not good enough.

I get great experiences from being out there; I was on the Tarkine Coast this week with some Aboriginal people and some bureaucrats, it's a phenomenal experience just to be there. And to look after it, to be campaigning to give the land back to Aboriginal people in Tasmania is a special ambition. Not popular … just not popular with Tasmanians! But it’s a great ambition, and I think if we can achieve that with that piece of Tasmania in the future, at least some sort of compensation in our own hearts will grow out of that. It's what we’ve got left of the wild world - which formed our ears, formed our skulls, formed our limbs, formed our bodies, formed this thing we call the soul, and we lose it at a loss to all of those who come after us. We're the guardians of it, it's up to us to keep it because it is a phenomenal place for inspiration, adventure, and uplifting the spirit like no other contrivance. No technical contrivance can quite do it like that, it can be emulated but can't quite do it in the way that the wild country does, and sings to our soul. That’s got to be worth fighting for.

PH
You have homework. When you leave here tonight, come stand out on Murray Street and try to imagine the exact spot where you were standing three hundred years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Brown ... Heather Rose ... and last but not least, James Dryburgh.


BB, JD, HR
... and Pete Hay.



BOB BROWN is an activist, author, photographer and former leader of the Australian Greens. He led the campaign to save the Franklin River in the 1980s and has served in the Tasmanian Parliament and the Senate. He retired from Parliament in 2012 to establish the Bob Brown Foundation.

JAMES DRYBURGH writes provocative essays about important things and has been published widely. His books are Essays from Near and Far (Walleah Press, 2014) and The Balfour Correspondent (Bob Brown Foundation, 2017). jamesdryburgh.com

PETE HAY is a Tasmanian poet, scholar and activist whose published works include Main Currents in Western Environmental Thought, Vandiemonian Essays, a co-authored photoessay with text, created with photographer Matthew Newton, and four books of poetry, most recently Physick (Shoestring Press, 2016).

HEATHER ROSE is an award-winning Australian author who has written seven novels for adults and children. Her latest novel, The Museum of Modern Love (2016), is inspired by the life and work of the artist Marina Abramovic, and was awarded the 2017 Stella Prize, the 2017 Christina Stead Prize and the Margaret Scott Prize (2017 Tasmanian Premier's Literary Awards).