As part of our focus on World Heritage protection for takayna, the Tarkine rainforest under threat in North-West Tasmania, our writer Ruby had the chance to interview two incredible supporters of the campaign. Time to get inspired, courtesy of Bob Brown and Rick Ridgeway
I ride the elevator in Fraiser Suites, Sydney with Dr Bob Brown and Rick Ridgeway to the second floor, where we take a seat in the golden glow of an empty restaurant. I have never conducted an interview like this before and I’m nervous. I look up at their kind faces and down at my pad of scribbled, nonsensical questions. My motorbike helmet is resting on the floor and my windswept hair does a good job of hiding my anxious tics.
Who Are These Men?
Dr Bob Brown served as the Parliamentary leader of the Greens for 20 years. Previously, he had spent 7 years campaigning to save the Franklin River in Tasmania and, while protesting, was one of the 1500 arrested, spending 19 long days in prison. On the day of his release, he was elected to Parliament. The Franklin River was saved.
While his unwavering commitment to the protection of earth on both political and community stages is something to be admired, he’s also a trained medical doctor and was the first openly gay politician in all of Australia’s history. If you’ve watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” recently, you’ll know that homosexuality was a punishable offence in Tasmania until 1997(!). Bob was certainly deep in politics at this point.
Rick Ridgeway is Patagonia’s Vice President of Public Engagement, but his career title is no match to his extensive mountaineering escapades. Rick was the first American to summit K2, the world’s hardest high-altitude climb and the second highest peak. In the 80s, Rick joined the original Seven Summits expeditions and was the first person to make the coast-to-coast traverse of Borneo. He’s an active conservationist who has dedicated most of this life to writing books and making films about the wild regions that are disappearing at the hand of humanity’s quest for progress. He was the founding chairman of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has now grown to 90 companies, representing over 30% of global footwear and apparel production.
Knowing this and more about Rick and Bob made me nervous — I expected hard, straight-down-the-line kind of characters, worn with the weathering of politics and campaigning. However, here before me sat two great-uncles with wisdom in their eyes. If only there were damper, tea, and a little warm fire.
I open the conversation with music, with the sounds and songs we listen to when we’re out in nature, on top of a mountain or sheltered beneath a cave. What ensues is 15 minutes of conversation between Rick and Bob about bird calls.
Rick: “Through my life I’ve tried to learn to increasingly pay attention, to use all my senses. It’s a hard thing to learn how to do. It’s a discipline that you can never get good enough at. You think you’re kind of getting there, and then you listen a little more intensely only to find there is more that you’ve missed. It’s the sound of birds that actually got me started on a lifelong commitment to paying more attention.”
Bob: “There’s a lot of contention about whether our music comes from the birds. The songbirds of the world came out of Australia and spread to the rest of the planet. Wherever you are in Australia you hear these birds talking to each other and setting their territories. It’s endlessly fascinating to me. In Tasmania, there’s the screech of the peregrine falcon – they fly very fast, they’re the fastest bird on Earth! Or the call of the great yellow-tail black cockatoo… EEERA, EEERA! Albums come and go, but birds are a constant.”
In the echo of the second floor, Bob’s “EEERA” disrupts the murmur of voices. It seems out of place in this concrete jungle. After a short pause, the city keeps moving, and Rick picks up the conversation about diving hummingbirds and their “whoop noise” mating calls. He’d hear them from his studio apartment in southern California as a young boy, and realised that those mating calls were happening all around him, constantly. “That was my first understanding of what awareness is really like. I’ve been a committed listener since then”.
When David Attenborough was asked on Desert Island Discs (a radio programme that began in the 40s) what records he’d take to a desert island, he said that if there weren’t lyrebirds on the island, he’d take a recording of the lyrebird, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. Here was another profoundly connected human being who had recognised that the birdsong was one of the most powerful and moving pieces of music.
It made me question how often, on my own bushwalks, I allow myself to simply sit there and listen. Not just for a moment, or a much-needed breath, but for a good 10, 20, 50 minutes. What birdsongs play throughout the day in the spaces I occupy?
Bob and Rick are touring Australia to promote Patagonia’s recent film takayna, which documents the grave future of the million acres of wild country in Tasmania’s north west, the Tarkine. Naturally, we drifted into conversation about the film, and Bob and Rick shared their knowledge of the 60-million-year history embedded in the soil on the little island. The cleanest air on earth is recorded off the coast of Tassie and several tree species that have spread all over the world were birthed from the heart of Gondwana forest in Tasmania. It’s a tiny slice of temperate rainforest abounding in diversity, and it’s under attack. In fact, according to the film, 90% of it is under mining tenure.
Who is responsible for the Tarkine’s imminent destruction and why does it matter?
It’s not just the mining and logging companies that are scarring the earth, it’s the tourism bodies that are advertising these spaces to you — on your televisions, on your newsfeeds. According to Bob, they are the bigger adversaries. They’re the ones promoting 4WDing and hiking on sacred Indigenous land, with little regard to the damage it’s causing. They’re the only ones with the money to talk about these spaces, so they’re going to talk about them in the context of their best interests.
These committees and organisations cannot be the only people holding the pen. Takayna is trying to take the pen and place it in the rightful hands of Indigenous Australians and Mother Nature. They must write the story of the Tarkine’s future, so that future generations can enjoy the relentless beauty of the area.
Talking about this makes Bob, understandably frustrated, and I ask him about how he manages to control his anger and frustration, especially when faced with national criticism for being “too emotional”. “As if being emotional is a bad thing!” he exclaims, hands raised from the little round table. “Well, cool, cold-hearted, calculating destruction of forests and all the wildlife within them and then firebombing it so that not a single fibre, feather, fur or flower is left alive is, well… you’d have to be devoid of emotion to a degree to permit that. That’s not the human being I want to be, nor is it the human society I want to live in.”
I ask about burnout. About that overwhelming feeling of knowing there is so much to do, and yet so much you feel ill-equipped to handle. Where do we start?
“Don’t do nothing.” Bob says, “It is so easy to be burdened, but you need to maintain optimism.”
Rick encourages me to find employment in values-driven companies. To ask people in power what they’re doing, what positive impact they’re making in society — to “keep pushing”. He tells me we must inform companies when we stop buying their products for environmental reasons. “They need to know that it’s affecting their revenue streams.” Sometimes, we have to talk in their language (money) in order for it to break through.
Bob talks about politics. “Contacting a politician in Sydney is even more impactful than contacting one in Tasmania. Logging and mining industries are so powerful. For a politician in Sydney to get a constituent to call them and say, “I’m concerned about the Tarkine, can I come and see you?” is gold. That’s gold.”
So, what next?
Remember sitting in class at school and listening to the stories of global atrocities and thinking, “If I was alive then, I would have done something”? Well, you’re alive now. What you would have done then is what you would have done now. It’s time to act. It’s time to fight for the protection of our wild spaces. If you’re passionate about the Tarkine, here are 8 things you can do right now to protect it.
Readers, we’re standing on the shoulders of environmental conservationist giants like Bob Brown and Rick Ridgeway. Now it’s our turn to provide strong shoulders for future generations to climb onto.
“Everyone in our democracy has a very powerful role to play. Think laterally about the way you can help.”
– Dr. Bob Brown
We Are Explorers is partnering with Patagonia to raise awareness about the threats to takayna / Tarkine and strengthen the call for it to be given World Heritage Protection. Add your name to the petition.
Here’s what they’re trying to save: