Simon Harris is the co-creator of takayna Trail Run. He shares his experience of fighting to save the Tarkine and gives us the juicy details on the next forest he’s working on saving, the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW.
I’ve just returned from Tasmania. I was down there working and running in an event called ‘takayna Trail Ultra‘, a running event to protect the majestic Tarkine Rainforest.
takayna/Tarkine in North West Tasmania is the largest area of Gondwanan cool-temperate rainforest in Australia and is a wild place like no other.
Read more: 12 Things to do on Tassie’s West Coast
It provides habitat for over 60 rare, threatened, and endangered species of flora and fauna, and is considered to be one of the world’s great archaeological regions.
takayna is one of Australia’s richest Aboriginal cultural landscapes, including the greatest number, diversity, and density of Aboriginal hut sites in Australia.
Extensive scatters of stone artefacts, huge middens containing shells and bones of marsupials and seals, rock shelters, human burial grounds and petroglyphs of geometric forms all add to the rich Aboriginal cultural heritage of takayna.
Yet it is still under threat from logging and mining.
Back in 2019, I co-created takayna ultra, a new ultramarathon, with the hope to draw attention and raise significant funds for the Bob Brown Foundation, the organisation fighting the real fight to protect takayna.
The idea came about after I watched Patagonia’s ‘takayna’, a film about the deforestation of the Tarkine and how trail running could save this majestic wild place.
This film hit me hard.
I knew I needed to change and do something about it!
Come race day, I was riding in a minibus with 15 other quiet and anxious runners to get to the start line located deep in the takayna forest. We had no idea what lay ahead! Which was probably a good thing.
Race Director, Majell Backhausen, spent many months finding and creating a new route for the event that very few people had seen, let alone run. He definitely wanted us to suffer!
And suffer we did. 120 runners united through adversity all had a story to tell about their experiences sloshing through the frequent waist deep ‘puddles’ along the course.
My experience was one of heavy muddy legs, scratched hands and moving through the boggy trails of the forest. I passed people with strain on their faces, but most managed a smile that helped me keep moving forward.
Surrounded by towering eucalypts, falling leatherwood flowers and fragrant sassafras forest, the beauty of wild takayna was the real hero of the day, leaving all of us with a lasting impression of why protecting these rainforests is so vital.
At one of my lowest points I heard a strange voice and noticed a camera peeking out of a bush. It was Bob Brown himself with some beautiful words of encouragement.
Those words carried me through to the end where I was met at a makeshift finish line with the faces that I was so desperate to see (and a long-awaited beer).
As a collective, this year we raised almost $200,000 and over $600,000 from the three events over the last two years. This has been the single highest earning fundraising endeavour for the Bob Brown Foundation.
One team, the awesome Surfers for Climate, raised almost $27,000 from just a small group!
On Sunday, with tired legs but a smiling face, I hiked up the nearby majestic Mt Murchison to host the first ever PEAK OUT.
Inspired by the paddle out movement in the surfing world, this endeavour gathered the runners to call for action on native forest logging, surrounded by the very landscape we are fighting to protect.
It was amazing to have such a great turnout and to get to know the runners a little better as we scrambled up the rocky trails, unfurled banners, and made our voices heard from the mountaintop.
Then later that day, I visited the Foundation’s blockade camp at Pieman River, only kilometres from where we were staying in Tullah.
Back in February 2020, the Foundation occupied this coupe and forced the retreat of the logging machines, but once again the loggers threaten to return and now the coupe is reoccupied to defend the rainforests and wildlife.
The blockades take a big human effort to operate. They’re predominantly run by young people who stay at the site 24/7.
These are the real heroes of the fight to save the Tarkine. They dedicate a huge amount of time, risk life and limb, and often get arrested trying to save the Tarkine!
Read more: 8 Things You Can do to Save The Tarkine
My time here is always heavy and emotional but fuels me to do more to protect the rainforest.
Seeing the stark contrast between the forest and the lifeless acres of felled trees is one I wish we all could experience – it’s nothing short of criminal!
At 5am on Monday morning, I went along with a group of takayna trail runners and we joined the Pieman River Blockade forest defenders in an action at the Riley Creek Mine Site.
Operated by Venture Minerals, this strip mine is extracting iron ore from the mineral-rich soils of takayna.
Standing in front of the entry to the mine, our 20 strong group chanted ‘No new mines’, protect takayna as contractors arrived on site to commence work for the day.
Despite our surly faces in the photos, the morning was one of singalongs, snacks, and friendship. When the police arrived at 9am and asked us to move on, we politely obliged and vacated the mine site, our point made.
The weekend was a tiring yet magical one – how lucky I feel to have celebrated takayna. I won’t forget that magical forest, the sunrise glittering through the trees on race day, the dawn chorus, and of course those starlit skies.
But for me, this experience was all about the people I met and shared it with.
During the awards night after the race, I addressed and shared with the crowd of tired yet elated runners and shared that they were my kind of people – a community that runs to protect a wild place!
For Wild Places
In the three years I’ve volunteered for this event I’ve seen the power and motivation that outdoor sports people have when they unite to protect the environment. The outdoor sports community are natural allies of the environment and I’m so excited to harness this.
This experience led me to co-create ‘For Wild Places‘ – a community of trail runners dedicated to protecting the places of environmental significance. We’re doing this through unique wild events such as camps, workshops, and trail races.
The next event I’m working on is the Pilliga Ultra, an event to raise awareness and funds to protect the beautiful Pilliga Forest, North West NSW from coal seam gas mining.
I was lucky enough to visit the Pilliga Forest in North West NSW recently, where a few of us were scouting the area to find trails for The Pilliga Ultra, an event to support The Wilderness Society’s campaign to protect the Pilliga Forest and its communities from damaging fossil fuel extraction.
We had an absolute ball running over breathtaking rocky outcrops whilst taking in the stunning views, and rare eucalypt woodlands.
We found two beautiful routes, 20km and 50km long. They’re both super technical yet diverse – trust me, I have the cuts and bruises to prove it!
The best part of the trip was getting to meet some of the community members affected by the potential coal seam gas plants.
I gained a deeper understanding of how we as trail runners can make a huge difference to a community and a magical forest.
The threat to the Pilliga Forest is a national matter. Beyond a refuge for flora and fauna and home to a vibrant local community, this land has cared for the Indigenous custodians, the Gamilaroi people, for millennia, as they have cared for the land.
The forest also helps feeds clean water into the Great Artesian Basin — providing life-giving irrigation for much of inland Australia.
The Pilliga Ultra is happening this July 31st and it’s not too late to enter!
Feature photo by Tim Cooper