Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Passionate Pedestrian

It was a bizarre way to find out mainstream opinion on the activity we call bushwalking. I’d been involved in the production of a very brief promo for our national ABC television network. It was a series depicting people engaged in a particular activity, who then faced the camera and traced the ABC logo in the air.



The logo of Australia's ABC 

One of our bushwalking mates worked for the ABC at the time, and he took on the job of filming and producing the promo. It was shot in the Pine Valley/Labyrinth area, and included some lovely footage of wilderness landscapes, plus walkers brushing past bushes and boots crunching through ice.

The final scene had us gathering around a map outside Pine Valley Hut. At the appropriate moment we looked up, traced the ABC logo in the air, and chanted the eternal cry of the bushwalker: “How far now?”

It went to air over the succeeding couple of months, but then suddenly disappeared from our screens. When we asked our mate what had happened, he laughed and told us that Sydney had pulled the promo. The reason? What it depicted, according to ABC management, was too much of “a minority activity”. We were all quite miffed, but that turned to incredulous mirth when it was replaced by a promo with a yodelling, transvestite ice skater tracing the logo.

You learn to live with condescension when you’re Tasmanian. There’s many a metaphorical pat on the head – and not a few references to your second head – when mainland Australians hear you’re from the “tiny” island state.

But if wanting to get out into Tasmania’s wonderfully wild landscape is considered a quaint pastime suited to an eccentric minority, then I'll proudly wear that hat – on both my heads. Because bushwalking is certainly one of the things that brought me here in 1980.


Why we walk! A perfect spring day on the Acropolis, near Lake St Clair 

And as a bushwalker new to Tasmania, it was natural enough that I would seek out others to walk with. What surprised me at the time was that the bushwalking groups all seemed to cater for hard-core walkers, or those who aspired to be. A youngish new father, I wondered where those with children, or walkers who were less experienced or less ambitious, might find people to walk with.

And then I had one of those good ideas that comes along only a few times in your life (in my case, at least!) Why not start a group myself? It fitted in with my new job of organising school programs and outdoor activities. And although I’d never have put it this way back then, there also seemed to be an obvious market for a family-friendly bushwalking group in the north of Tassie.

Of course I would need local expertise, which I soon found in the shape of two experienced, passionate and generous Launceston walkers. And so, back in 1981, Boots’n’All was born. There are not many things you can look back on with a satisfying glow thirty years after you’ve helped get them started. In my case I would happily put having three children at the top of that list, but for most of us the list is short. Time so often dissolves our best efforts at making our mark.


The next generation on an early Boots'n'All walk (photo by KDM)
Boots’n’All allowed me to combine, at times, two pursuits I have always held dear: parenting and bushwalking. Slipping on a backpack as part of my work seemed privilege enough. But being able to put my young child in a carry pack lifted the privilege to a completely new level.

Those early walks carrying our first daughter – and later our other  two children – were moments to savour. Instead of a mute lump of shelter, clothing and food, my back was loaded with a sentient, giggling, chattering and completely delightful small person. I forgave her the odd grizzle or grasp of my beard, just as she forgave me the odd stumble. Together with the rest of the group we were out there, experiencing the world first-hand, as only walkers can.


Daughter No. 1 gets some walking experience with her eccentrically-hatted father in the early 1980s (photo by KDM) 
Thirty years later, living among so many children who suffer from what educator Richard Louv has dubbed nature deficit disorder, the idea of getting children and their parents out into the bush seems more urgent than ever.  So I will keep bushwalking, especially now that I've got grandchildren to initiate into this "eccentric" marvel. I'll leave it to someone else to show them how to ice skate.








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