In the lead up to International Women’s Day, Bee caught up with six inspiring souls, to find out what it means to be a woman of the outdoors in 2021…
As I contemplated writing this piece, I was struck by that toe-wrenching, time-stopping thought. The realisation that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the resilience, strength, and determination of all those before me.
As I came out of the daydream and refocused on the coffee in front of me, I was left with this;
Gratitude for those that have been.
Gratitude for those that are.
And, damn grateful for those that are to come.
This sentiment encompasses how I feel for everyone who walks the wild path and identifies themselves as a feminine spirit.
Our liberties have been and are still tested. But it’s thanks to those that have come before us, who put up the good fight, that we have the freedoms we do now – and it’s up to us to ensure these freedoms continue and our spaces become even more inclusive.
I’m thrilled to share snippets from chats with six wild women who march to the beat of their own drums and, in their own amazing way, are active protectors of feminine freedom – particularly in the outdoors.
Brooke Nolan – @giveintoadventure
A down-to-earth master of words and adventure (whatever the form), Brooke is one of our most valued contributors!
BS: Describe your adventure journey in three words.
BN: Started at 30 (it’s never too late!).
What’s been the most challenging adventure you’ve been on?
Last year, I was part of an all-female group that completed a 250km cross-country traverse across Finnmark Plateau in the Arctic Circle. It took 14 days, we camped in temperatures down to -25°C, skied through hectic winds, faced days of complete white-out, and pulled 50kg pulks (sleds).
Where are you planning to go next?
Nowhere! Every big adventure I’ve planned recently (like kayaking down the Murray and completing a snowshoe traverse of the Australian Alps) has been cancelled last-minute due to COVID restrictions. Instead, I’ve put together a list of 30 microadventures in NSW which I’m hoping will give me the same sense of excitement and motivation as a bigger challenge.
Of your personality traits which are you most proud?
‘Maybe this sounds counterintuitive, but I’m proud of the fact that I’m not very competitive. I don’t care how fast I hike, how high I climb, or how I compare to others. I like challenging myself and growing my confidence, but for me, that’s always an internal thing and not about being better than the other people around me.’
What advice do you have for budding storytellers who want to write about their adventures?
Put yourself out there consistently and stick with it. Also, I’m a big fan of writing for others (that’s why I joined the Explorer Project) rather than writing for my own blogs. That way you can be part of something bigger and also get external feedback on your writing.
Any tips for developing your own writing style and voice?
Write how you talk and don’t try to be something you’re not. There are publications out there for every tone – serious and contemplative or funny and derisive – so there’ll always be opportunities. Oh, and leave in the odd inappropriate joke, because if you’re lucky you’ll get an Editor like Tim who shares your same warped sense of humour!
Jo Lee – @womenuprisingaus
Jo is the founder of Womxn Uprising, who challenges the laws of gravity when climbing, and the status quo in the streets.
BS: When did you fall in love with climbing?
JL: The one-sided love relationship started way back in 2006, when a friend brought me to Camp5 (the biggest climbing gym in Malaysia) for a boulder. I was so hooked that I spent the next few months going to the gym seven days a week, even if it was just to stare at the walls when it got too painful to climb!
Where’s your favourite place to climb and why?
Spain. The food, the people, the culture and the amount of climbing available for climbers of all levels.
Can you recommend an at-home practice to improve your climbing skills?
A pull-up bar is really versatile, you can practice setting up climbing anchors and even some rescue skills while hanging off it. All you need is a rope, and some hardware rated for climbing. I spent most of the lockdown running live virtual workshops which were great fun! You can still find these on our Vimeo.
What was the inspiration for the Womxn Uprising Virtual Climbing Festival?
Community. In the lead-up to the festival, we had regular Friday night drinks as a means to provide mental support to folks who were also in lockdown – the festival was a great way to bring women together to share their experiences and varied climbing skills with everyone else.
Do you have any tips for encouraging diversity in adventure?
‘Support people-of-colour in the outdoors, ask your POC friend out for a hike, a climb or a surf. All recreation takes place on stolen lands, it has to be constantly remembered, acknowledged and reparations paid as our role of settlers on Country.’
There’s no ‘right way’ to adventure. People of different ethnicities celebrate and enjoy being in the outdoors differently than your average white outdoorsy type folks.
Be aware that everyone’s comfort zone is different. People-of-colour, queer, trans, non-binary folks, and people with adaptive abilities may have other emotional, cultural, and social barriers to overcome just by taking up space ‘adventuring’.
If you could give your 20-year-old self any advice what would it be?
Speak up against racism. In all my travels abroad and at home, the amount of racial microaggression and gaslighting I’ve experienced affected my self-worth and I’ve constantly questioned my skills and abilities as a climber. Now a decade later, I am unapologetic about who I am and what I stand for when it comes to racial justice.
Molly O’Neil – @mollyoneill
Molly is a Parks Ranger with a serious flair for words and the ability to make any surf a good one!
BS: Describe how being in the bush makes you feel in three words.
MO: Calm, grateful, inspired.
Did you always dreamed of being a ranger?
Anyone that knows me knows how much I’ve always blabbered on about being a ranger! I can remember surfing Noosa before and after school when the pressure was increasing about making decisions about uni and life after high school.
Seeing the rangers and people who work for National Parks doing their thing, I realised I pretty much knew what I wanted my life to look like. I did lots of science-heavy subjects at school and enrolled in an Environmental Science degree at Southern Cross Uni, and started the journey!
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I like knowing that the work I’m doing is going towards lots of people having the opportunity to have a really lovely experience in nature – for people to enjoy the beauty of what we have here.
Where do you see yourself when you’re wrinkly?
In a little house on some land not too far from the beach with my family, a dog and my friends nearby, listening to good music, eating good food and just having a fat old time!
What’s your earliest memory of surfing?
‘Tea Tree Bay on my Dad’s old mal when I was about 12 years old. I can remember trying really hard before that but never really getting it, but something magical happened on that day and since then I’ve always appreciated fun, happy, little waves on a heavy old mal.’
Where’s your favourite nature hideaway?
A few weeks ago I found myself camping on the banks of the Nymboida River at Platypus Flat campground and it was so beautiful! Not too far from Dorrigo but far enough away to feel at peace.
BS: Describe how being in the ocean makes you feel in three words.
MN: Free, connected, wild.
What’s your earliest memory of being in nature?
I grew up close to the beach in Sweden, my parents always used to take me for a walk in the afternoon to my favorite little stretch of beach. This piece of nature has stuck with me for as long as I can remember. It’s the cutest forest that connects with the ocean and I spent so much time there growing up, I remember feeling safe but wild there. This particular beach keeps coming into my dreams as a grown-up, so it must be a core memory.
Where’s the wildest place you’ve surfed?
Uluwatu, Bali, in 2011 with my best friend Diva. It didn’t look big from the top, but while we were surfing it picked up so much that we burst into panic laughter. I ended up on my own, getting washed around the cliff all the way to Padang Padang. I didn’t know where I was at the time and had to climb the cliff and get a lift back to Uluwatu.
What advice do you have for people who want to get into surfing?
Don’t be scared of asking your fellow surfers for advice and remember that everyone was a beginner once!
What’s the most exciting thing about running Atmosea?
‘The community and the connection made with other women who share similar interests and passions. It’s so inspiring being around so many beautiful women supporting each other. It’s also pretty cool seeing girls surfing all over the world wearing Atmosea.’
Caitlin Weatherstone – @lifewildau
Caitlin’s a scientist, business owner, and advocate for Mother Earth who loves a trail or two!
BS: Describe how being in nature makes you feel in three words.
CW: Myself, connected, wild
What’s the craziest adventure you’ve been on?
Life is one big, crazy adventure! Two recent ones that stand out would be hiking NT’s Larapinta Trail solo in the off-season (AKA hot af) which I wrote about for We Are Explorers, and starting my new business Life Wild during the pandemic when my science work dried up, with no money and no idea what I was doing!
What’s your favourite wild food and why?
Ah, there’s so many! Maybe my old faithful – the Davidson plum. They’re native to Australian subtropical and tropical rainforests on the East Coast and a real treat to find on a hike. They’re so sour, a beautiful purpley red colour and they’re a cassowary’s favourite food too (one of my favourite animals)!
What’s your trick to balancing work, passion projects, Life Wild, and general life?
It took me a while (and too much stress) to realise that I can’t do ALL the things, every day. But if I can have a weekly balance then I’m pretty happy. Smash out some solid computer work, meetings, and podcast listening for a few days, catch up with friends, play in the ocean, go for a forest wander, and leave some time for creative projects. Oh, and a nap.
What gets you most excited about science?
My career as a Wildlife Ecologist and Environmental Educator has taken me to some very wild and remote places all over Australia.
‘I’ve been fortunate to be involved in searching for some very elusive and rare creatures including northern bettongs in QLD’s wet tropics, northern quolls in WA’s Pilbara, and even ‘extinct’ thylacines on QLD’s Cape York!‘
If you could give your 20 year old self any advice what would it be?
My brain would say ‘save some money’, but my heart would say ‘go hiking overseas more, the world is about to shut down!’.
When and where is your next adventure?
I just got back from K’gari (Fraser Island) so I’m going to attempt to get the sand out of my gear, do a wash, repack, and then head to Glenreagh NSW next week to finish my Nature Connection Teacher Training Course which I’ve been doing for the last 12 months! Then off to Alice Springs for a month to run a hiking trip!
Jess Leitmanis – @jessleitmanis
Artist and activist, Jess makes art out of marine debris rope, and can usually be found at golden hour gliding across a few of the ocean’s heartbeats.
BS: Describe how being in the ocean makes you feel in three words?
JL: In awe, humbled, alive.
What was your most recent adventure?
I went to sea with Schmidt Ocean Institute as an Artist-At-Sea and didn’t see land for 30 days. It was an incredible experience to learn from the scientists and crew aboard the ship. We mapped the ocean floor in the northern Tasman Sea.
I learned so much about unique formations in the sea floor, ocean currents, tectonic plates, whilst also studying seabirds and conducting micro-plastic sampling. The time away really reinforced my awareness of the interconnected nature of all things and Earth’s processes.
How has nature influenced the person you are today?
Growing up on the coast taught me to be attuned to nature. I get psyched on all the macro and micro details — weather patterns, weird critters, plants, land formations. Nature reminds me that I’m just one little fraction of a complex and superb planet.
What’s the most rewarding part of working with recycled materials?
Visiting remote coastlines and salvaging debris, thereby preventing plastic dust entering the food chain via photodegradation, is a big win.
‘I love challenging our perceptions of materials and enjoy using art to reflect upon how we approach design in the bigger picture. Exciting things happen when we design with accountability to the future.’
What message are you trying to communicate through your work?
I’m interested in humankind’s relationship with the natural world, and what this reflects about us as a collective society — but I wouldn’t say I’m sending a specific message, I’m just inviting people to engage with the artwork, and they’ll find their own individual connection to it. That’s the beauty of art.
Where do you see yourself when you’re wrinkly?
Probably performing a contemporary interpretive dance in a seaweed tutu for the opening ceremony of the 2080 Olympics alongside a live contemporary disco ensemble.