Back Home… Exploring for Protection
A takayna/Tarkine Wilderness BioBlitz
It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night. I’m prone in my tent, where the mix of last nights and this mornings rain has left the floor and lower ceiling sodden, absorbing and sharing the moisture of the rainforest floor wonderfully. My sleeping bag is twisted, and damp. My pulse beats loudly in my ears. It beats against my makeshift pillow, a trusty down jacket stuffed into a thermal shirt. Beyond the beat drifts in the finest mist of rain, struggling through the dense, ancient rainforest canopy and finally settling on my cheap, portable, thin walled home. It’s a soothing rain, almost dreamy.
The day wraps up and my eyes droop heavily to this pitta-patta, a few currawongs touch base with each other across an otherwise quiet canopy. They call a few rapid ‘good nights’ and one of ‘surprise’, a different call separate from their usual chatter. A call I hadn’t heard before. Today we put in a solid, lengthy days hiking. Pushing through and across a land dense and scarred by forestry, by fire, and by wind. The vegetation became thicker and thicker with confused regrowth. The ground undulating and torn by machinery. Further we pushed, deeper into takayna.
We established our camp on the slopes of a ridgeline that’s wonderfully remote. It’s one of the few, if only, times I would get close to using the word pristine. With a human-changed climate, pristine no longer exists. But a slip, trip, fall or bite – and our only option out is emergency helicopter. That, or being hauled for hours through the density, which is not ideal. We scattered our tents through the forest, beneath ginormous trees that allow such little light in that hardly a plant can grow beneath them. This is old forest. Very, very old.
From above, the ridge line is an array of different greens. Some glossy, some matte. A total canopy carpet. Survival of the fittest is always at play. Here, every species around us is competing within a crammed forest. Those that can survive the longest – damp, dark loving species like the myrtle beech – grow slowly and gnarly, twisting through time for hundreds of years.
In the morning, the sun fights through cloud and wins but for a moment. We’re setting ourselves up for another day in the forest with a cold musli and lukewarm cuppa. Today we’ll be surveying and documenting whatever species we find – animal, plant or fungi. I’m balancing tea on one knee and book on the other, getting my eye in by scouring through pages of identification books, flipping from tree to shrub to orchid.
Traversing the Bertha ridgeline from north to south, we hug the eastern flank to avoid the dense fire instigated wall of life dense with batwing ferns and stink bush. The vegetation, although consistently rainforest, changes frequently, as the plants adjust to the lay of the ridgeline. We bio blitzed the whole ridge.
In one moment I’m photographing ferns cloaking a tree whose crown towers forty metres above. Next moment, I’ve discovered two tiny jet black beetles under the leaf litter. Moments later, a minute mantis fly (scientific name Calomantispa venusta for those taking notes) with wicked black and yellow forearms and antennae. Then, calling out to a mate, having found another special shaped fungi breaking down a fallen giant log. Find. Document. Repeat.
After a while, the groups rate of discovering new species drops off. Naturally, considering we’re bound to one form of vegetation. Everything has its limits. It’s at this stage I get to concentrate on my presence in this fantastic forest. A place where not many – if any – humans have traversed given it’s remoteness, and the preferable travel routes at lower altitudes where river and creek flow. I’m thinking about the future, and what it holds for this place…
One way I like to connect with new places is by finding commonalities – through similar species, shared climates, and familiar communities of plants, animals, and fungi. Here, a fern grows on the drier flanks of the ridgeline, and also grows at my favourite beach two hundred kilometres away as the cockie flies. How are they surviving in two totally different regions? What role in their surroundings are they creating that makes them the species best suited to grow there? Likewise is by finding new (to me) species, and trying to ID them and interpret where they sit in the ecosystem; again, all about what role do they play in the whole.
Another way is through experience, principally through hiking. My emotions and behaviours within a place are altered, or adjusted by, my surrounds. How this goes down solo is different from with a group. Not better or worse, just different. There’s plenty of laughs and reflection time either way, and I prefer both. In takayna, I felt extremely comfortable with my surroundings, owing much to our capable team. I felt calm. As opposed to other hikes, there was a defined task to locate and document species – to continue to build our case that this region deserves protection.
This region deserves world heritage listing, to join the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The fact that areas as internationally significant as this are being clear felled, bulldozed and burnt for wood chips is disgusting. Utterly disgusting. A truely outdated and unacceptable way of interacting with our surroundings. The darker, hidden side to wilderness protection is the actions that destroy it. That’s for another piece.
Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.
If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.
So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.
And I want to hear what you think. What does wilderness mean to you?? Let’s chat below!
Happy summer trails my friends,
During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of this I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point. You can follow my more erratic self on Instagram.
The takanya/Tarkine region of lutruwita/Tasmania – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the tarkiner people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.