Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Yes, it's semantics, but the fuzzy notion that wilderness is a place beyond human influence has surfaced once more:

"A STUDY has identified 40 per cent of Australia - 3 million square kilometres - as the largest intact wilderness on Earth, ranking in quality with the Amazon forest, Antarctica and the Sahara desert. "Few Australians realise the extent and quality of their own wilderness," said Barry Traill, a wildlife ecologist who co-authored the study identifying 12 regions of Australia that "remain almost completely untouched by humans". "As the world's last great wilderness areas disappear under pressure from human impact, to have a continent with this much remaining wilderness intact is unusual and globally significant," Dr Traill said.

Nothing against the good Dr Baz, but, given the very point of this story was to promote the idea of 5,000 indigenous rangers being employed to look after the country, his choice of words is unfortunate. The truth is that Australia's 'wilderness' has been altered, cherished and cared for by indigenous people for 60,000+ years. To talk about a land "untouched by humans' has echoes of the the dodgy 'Terra Nullius' argument. Nevertheless, Dr Traill is on the right track with his general point - that we have big chunks of country where nature prevails and that we should get stuck into lending nature a hand.

While on the always-prickly subject of defining wilderness, the often-prickly British author Jonathan Raban, now self-exiled in Seattle, appealed to my inner-outlaw with this comment in a recent Granta interview:

It always seems to me odd to call a place a wilderness when every wilderness area in the US bristles with rules and regulations as to how you can behave, what you’re allowed to do, and is patrolled by armed rangers enforcing the small print. They’re parks, of course, not wildernesses at all. A wilderness that’s truly wild is beyond human rule . . .

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


The natural assets of our deep north have been boosted by the purchase of Marion Downs Station by Perth-based Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). (See story) Together with neighbouring Mornington Station - which AWC snapped up in 2001 - this means a hefty 6,700 sq km of the central Kimberly is now under their umbrella - an area nearly three times the size of the ACT. This is easily the biggest conservation news in the region for many years. It also puts the spotlight on the remote heartland of the Kimberley plateau, an area under-represented in the regions's potpourri of parks and reserves. Rising costs - particularly fuel prices - have made many Kimberley cattle properties marginal operations. Yet it seems those who have called for World Heritage listing and a National Park of Kakadu-proportions in the region will have to be content with the intervention of private outfits like AWC. As discussed in a previous story, the era of new National Parks on a grand scale appears to be over.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


What happens when a company dumps 22,800 bags of mining waste in a Wilderness Sanctuary? Hefty fines? Criminal proceedings? A ban on further operations?
How about none of the above.
That's the scenario with mining company Marathon Resources and the mess it created drilling into Mt Gee in Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. After several months of ballyhoo, the SA government has asked for the waste to be cleaned up and . . . well, actually, that's all they've asked. To catch up with the saga see Bill Doyle's blog and Greens MP, Mike Parnell's site.

The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary - including Mawson Plateau - is some of Australia's greatest arid high country. The place is a geological wonderland and a biodiversity stronghold. Even allowing commercial mineral exploration in the heart of these ranges is bizarre enough. But to contemplate full-scale mining here would be a crime against nature - and commonsense. Even Liberal Party hardnut Nick Minchin agrees with that - see story and this one.
(The top pic above shows Arkaroola, looking southwest across Mt Painter; the shot above looks due west towards Freeling Heights.)

Monday, August 4, 2008


Another sortie to what is fast becoming a second home. (The 'becoming' would go even faster if the ferry fares weren't so steep. ) From Island Beach we made pilgrimages to the south coast and Cape Willoughby (see pic of the nearby 'zawn' with its fetching granite cliffs).

As always KI impressed, and not for any single highlight, but the way the experience builds as you gad about the island. Winter here is very special, although the impact of the big January bushfires was plain to see in Flinders Chase where the mallee scrub is only now beginning to reshoot. Squeezed in a quick look at the snappy new Southern Ocean Lodge at Hanson Bay. The place was empty when we arrived, which rather highlighted the scale of the lodge's 'great room.' It's a striking piece of architecture with views along the bay's craggy shoreline. This is a resort with a difference: remote, wind-lashed, highly styled and ultra-exclusive. It takes a while to get your head around what's going on here and it prompted a loud discussion later that night on the merits or otherwise of such places. Suffice to say, I feel a story coming on.

This trip also served as a kind of a family reunion with my brother Jonathan and his crew on a visit from their home in Kansas City. Despite a recent knee replacement he was busy taking pics on our days out and about - though alas our schedule didn't allow for any penguin spotting. Jonathan's recent book Flipping Brilliant does however showcase his beloved birds and their jaunty life wisdom.
THE FLINDERS IN 3D (June 2008)
A somewhat surreal experience being wedged in a tiny theatre watching Tim Baier's images of Arkaroola in the northern Flinders Ranges. All those bright horizons and vast spaces appearing in a darkened room. Adding to the strangeness was the fact that we the audience were wearing 3D glasses to savour the effect of Tim's dual camera work. As a result the images had a richness of detail and perspective that was startling and a bit unnerving as well. There were some stunning effects with rock textures and wildlife as well as the landscape shots. At times the grander images with a big depth of field made the scenery seem eerily diminished, like something out of toytown or a episode of Gumby. Still, it's early days and there's no denying the incredible solo effort he has put in. For me the story behind the making of the images was almost as fascinating as the pics themselves - another example of how wild country can fire up individuals to do inspired work.

Speaking of Arkaroola, in the first week or so June they had 39mm of rain, the first decent falls for some time. That's some welcome news for the good folk at Arkaroola who have been grappling with the proposed mine at Mt Gee

But for a last minute change of heart 20 years ago, home for us would have been in the Blue Mountains - a bush block at Mt Victoria no less. So there was a bit of emotional freight associated with returning - albeit briefly - to the mountains after a long absence. Old friend David Wagland and family did make Mt Vic - and more recently Wentworth Falls - their home and we paid them a visit. A stroll down to the falls revealed the imposing drama of the cliffs and the valley views beyond. Not hard to fathom what drew us to this neck of the woods so many years ago. Even though we ended up living on the Hawkesbury, all the salient details of the sandstone country still surrounded us. Forget the opera house - for me Sydney as a region is defined by those gritty outcrops of grey and orange rock, angophoras and the sandy creeks crowded with banksia scrub.

DEEP BREATH (May 2008)

Just a few days after finishing a water-related story in which I allude to Tim Winton, up bobs his new surfing novel Breath. For years now Tim has been saving me a lot of strain by punching out the novels I could/should have written, if only I had the talent, dedication, a flowing pony tail and, in this case, the nerve to plunge into wild surf. (As it happens the story I was working on sketches my aversion to thrashing about in cold water.) Anyhow - Breath ripples with Tim's trademark mix of poetic gristle and matey vernacular. By the by, it seems to me there's a doctoral thesis up for grabs for someone who wants to divine acquatic themes in Aus Lit. As well as Tim's extensive coastal ouvre there's Richard Flanagan's, Death of a River Guide, Robert Drewe's The Drowner, Roger MacDonald's Water Man and doubtless many more.
STERN WORDS (April 2008)

It's taken me several decades to get around to doing the walk up Dutchman's Stern just outside Quorn. No sane reason for this delay - apart from a bias for the northern Flinders. Anyway, the walk was excellent. Yes, it's another grunt to a summit but the way the walk unfolds, the varied vegetation and the sense of disclosure the track offers adds up to rewarding encounter. Even though you're close to civilisation - the townships of Quorn and Port Augusta - the place feels remote. This contrasts with Mt Remarkable where the views are dominated by the surrounding farmland. We spent a night up top with a full moon and mild easterly breezes. (This experience triggered an article for Wild - out mid September.) The toddle down off the summit the next morning was a glorious traverse of the sugar gum forest in the amphitheatre of Stony Creek.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

PINK BAY (March 2008)

Over Easter we dropped into Sea Dragon Lodge at Pink Bay (above) near Cape Willoughby on Kangaroo Island. This is a tiny cove on the north east coast of the island with fine views across to the mainland and timbered ravines of Deep Creek. The Lodge is perched above the bay not far from the lighthouse precinct. Steve & Gail Lane bought the place last year and have plans to extend the lodge. It's currently being rented out with the option of having tours and meals included. Apart from the bay and its rocky shoreline, the property also has a big patch of coastal scrub and a health array of woodland birds and other wildlife.
UNDER THE VOLCANO (February 2008)

Two weeks on the go in northern NSW - mostly deep in the forest hinterland between Byron Bay and Tweed Heeds - was a quite a change from my usual arid haunts. And especially on back of three bumper months of rain in the region. These forests are simply wondrous to behold and it was inspiring to meet so many people who have made these places their home and a lifelong committment. (see more about this in my story Early Warning in the July issue of Aus Geo). The fact that there is such a strong bush ethos being forged right on the doorstep of the rampant Gold Coast is one of those confounding ironies that Australia seems to specialise in. Thankfully I could retreat to the forest to ease my addled mind. One of those escapes is the basis of Immersion Therapy, the latest installment of my Wild Life column , in Wild.