Sunday 24 March 2013

2013 Wildcare Nature Writing Prize Winners

The winners of the 2013 Wildcare Tasmania International Nature Writing Prize were announced on March 23 at The Lark as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Festival.
The overall winner is:
Tanya Massy of Brunswick West, Victoria, for her piece entitled 'The Tree'.
The judges said of Tanya’s work:
This is an essay about how we know the world, and how we learn to care enough to make change. The author addresses the important subject of climate change, arguing that facts and scientific knowledge aren’t enough – that ‘heart’ knowing is equally, if not more, important. The writing is thought-provoking, tender and impassioned, displaying subtlety, humour, deep philosophical insights and deft changes of pace. The central metaphor of a child as a ‘blue-eyed laughing tree’ reminds us of other ways of thinking and being in the world that are vital if we are to survive.
Congratulations to Tanya, who receives $5 000, plus return airfares to Tasmania, a two week residency in a Tasmanian national park, and publication of her essay in both Island and Wildtimes. Tanya wasn’t able to attend the presentation, but is very much looking forward to coming to Tasmania for her wilderness writer’s residency later in 2013.

[Tasmania's Gordon River] 

There are two minor awards. Each of these writers receives $250, and publication in Wildtimes and possibly Island magazine. They are:
Bruce Pascoe of Gipsy Point, Victoria, for 'Birthmark', and
John Bennett of Valla Beach, NSW, for 'How to Begin'.
Of Bruce Pascoe’s piece, ‘Birthmark’, the judges said:
This elegant and at times breathtaking writing responds to ‘a country that has always dreamed itself as one canvas’. Images of desert landscape seen from the air, both physically and astrally, are juxtaposed with insights into Aboriginal dreaming, and responses to particular paintings by Aboriginal artists. The author positions as an observer, a collector of images, insight and meaning. The writing presents a strong message without being didactic. Instead it offers stepping stones of ideas – the essay as dot painting.
Of John Bennett’s piece, ‘How to Begin?’, the judges said:

The title of the essay provides springboard to a reflection on mindfulness: how to begin a new year and new appreciation of this world with a precarious future? The journal form is strung together with quotations from other authors who wrote on parallel dates. The stream of consciousness writing style allows latitude for an erudite, provocative wander through ideas and environments, both intimate and broad-scale. The outcome proves the author’s claim that journal writing ‘becomes an exercise in interesting oneself’.

There are also two commended entries. They are:
Danae Bosler of Richmond, Victoria, for ‘Shack’, and
Noelene J. Kelly of Flemington, Victoria, for 'Geomorphology'.
Of Danae Bosler’s piece the judges said:
This deeply moving rite of passage story is about how we know the world as children and how that shifts as we grow older. Intimate observations are expressed with simplicity and exquisite clarity. The author shares with the reader an intrinsic awareness of nature and natural processes on a remote bush farm. ’Shack’ offers tightly crafted writing about what we lose and what we hold on to – how life changes and transforms. 
Of Noelene Kelly’s work they said:
Survival and decay in the physical world becomes an analogy for human physicality and fragility in this accomplished essay. The strong and evocative writing invokes a vivid sense of place, both in Australia’s Alpine regions and in the domestic context. The author skilfully and effortlessly interweaves connections between human experience and geological time.  The result is authoritative, controlled, intellectual and objective, and at the same time tender, often lyrical.
Many thanks to our judges, Adrienne Eberhard and Dael Alison, whose thoughtful and insightful reading of the entries is hugely appreciated. Special thanks also to our major sponsor, Wildcare Tasmania, who have been with the prize since its inception, ten years ago. 

Thanks too to our other sponsors and helpers, including Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, The Freycinet Experience Walk, The Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, In Graphic Detail, and Island Magazine.
And finally thanks to all of those writers who cared enough about their relationship to nature to enter the prize. As I said on the night:
One small remedy to the overwhelming issues that face our world is to bear witness to the places we share with other life forms. This is one of the reasons for nature writing. Lest we forget where we belong.

Sunday 17 March 2013


It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. - Rainer Maria Rilke

[Sphagnum and pencil pines fringe a typical highland lake] 

The water feels cool, but what water doesn’t, unless it’s bathwater? Thunder clouds are building, and we won’t have long to linger at the lake. As I stand in the shallows, the “boys” offer rough encouragement from their warm, dry bank.

It’ll be fine once you’re up to your nethers! … Get it over with you big girl’s blouse! … C’mon - just dive. You’ll be right.

I dive, and am pleasantly surprised. We’re three days into a four day walk. It’s been hot and surprisingly humid. For the last couple of hours we’ve been off-track, sweating as we tackled a little more scoparia than we’d planned. So we’re ready for a swim. But this is the Walls of Jerusalem in the Tasmanian highlands. Swimming and highland lakes do not normally go together. Shivering, perfunctory ablutions are the more usual form.

How different this is. After my dive I retrieve a Croc that’s floated free, and turn to tell the unbelievers just how good it is. They’re slow to, but they eventually join me, including Libby – our campsite neighbour and a first-time Walls walker  who has tagged along to gain some off-track experience from "seasoned" walkers.

The sphagnum edged, pine fringed lake is narrow and long, perhaps a kilometre long. And it’s deep. A couple of metres off the shore I can’t reach the bottom, despite an exploratory plunge. It’s cold down there too, but on the surface there are delightful wedges of warm.

Lightning flashes somewhere, and a few seconds later thunder rumbles, reverberating around the dolerite walls and lake-filled valleys. The sky to the north-west, the weather quarter, is darkening. Bruised looking clouds are rolling this way. Someone suggests it might not be good to be caught in the water if lightning strikes come any closer. We nod, and keep swimming.

It feels right to linger at this particular lake, given our reasons for being here. We’ve come in search of the Solitary Hut, a legendary structure each of us had known something about, but none of us had ever seen. Given that I started coming here before the hut was built, and that I’d been to The Walls maybe eight times, it’s overdue.

[Solitary Hut, Walls of Jerusalem National Park] 

For Jeff, there’s a personal connection with the hut’s builder (we’ll call him “Doug”). Jeff used to weight train with Doug during the late 1970s, and had known about the hut for years. He and his brothers had even come looking once, but had failed to find it.

That may sound unlikely, but we soon confirm just how cryptic the hut is. Jim is leading as we sidle up the eastern edge of the lake. We have the hut’s location marked on a map, and entered into a GPS. There is a faint track – more a pad really – and Jim turns to tell me he thinks he’s lost the track. Before he can finish his sentence, he is laughing. As he’s turned around, there is the hut, just three metres away.

[The well-disguised Solitary Hut] 

It is a simple A-frame affair, clad in grey-green roofing metal, with a rock foundation. Jeff goes inside, at first unsure whether this is the hut Doug built. But he finds a hand-built chin-up bar just inside the door, and smiles broadly. Doug used to pride himself on his chin-up prowess.

Jeff tells us a bit about the man who built the hut. In the early 1980s Doug’s life had taken some difficult turns, including a marriage breakdown. A keen bushwalker, he had sought out a remote location to retreat to. He wanted his mind to become as strong as his body. Over a period of just six weeks in 1983, he had built this simple, isolated bush hut, carrying in everything that he needed. Between January 1984 and July 1985 he spent the bulk of his time living in what he called “Solitary Hut”.

Because it was, and is, an illegal structure, he has chosen to remain anonymous, refering to himself as “Solitary Man”. Although he was usually solitary, he did bring visitors up to the hut, and also shared it with possums that were so friendly they would sit on his lap. We read in the hut’s logbook that Doug continues to come here regularly, and that he has remarried and had a daughter.

[The "Boys" at Solitary Hut: photo by Libby] 

After spending time looking around the hut, most of us leave to find a good swimming spot. But Jeff stays to get more of a feel for how his old weight-training buddy must have felt living here. While we’re swimming further down the lake, Jeff plunges in just below the hut site, and communes with the memory of his friend for a while longer.

* * *

Crocs may not be sartorially elegant, but during our swim Jim and I find a new use for them. They are wonderfully buoyant, and keep our feet up as we float on our backs. I lie there for some time, my head half-submerged, looking towards the still bright sky. When I close my eyes, the world turns silent and tangerine, the bright light penetrating my eye lids as the water fills my ears.

It is a blissful, solitary moment.

Sunday 3 March 2013

These are the Days

A Mount Olympus Walk: Part 3

“These are the days that make the moments feel like years.”– (Ross Hamilton of Wolfstone)

[Lake Oenone from "Paris Ridge", Mt Olympus] 

Best laid plans. We would be up early, before the march flies, to tackle the steepest part of the climb before the hottest part of the day.

It is a still and clear morning. Tick. We have slept well and feel refreshed. Tick. I pull back the tent flap and there is the mountain, high, clear and beckoning above our home lake. Tick. However one member of our party feels very comfortable remaining horizontal inside the tent. Cross.

So it is not a lightning fast start to our summit day. And we do not beat the heat up the rocky, steep, tree-less and east-facing slope. C’est la vie! At least we are only carrying day packs. Our backs rejoice in that, and our steps feel light as we ease our way up slope, carefully avoiding a fagus mini-forest. It glows a vivid green, contrasting with the demure green of pencil pines. That contrast will be starker in a few months, when the fagus colours up.

The ridge we’ve started climbing looks morainal. Either side of it glacial ice would have moved during the long ice ages that shaped this whole landscape. On our side of the ridge Lake Oenone fills the resulting hollow. On the other side, still out of our view, lies its twin, Lake Helen.

In Greek myth Oenone was a beautiful nymph, secretly married to Paris, the Prince of Troy. Paris, like us, had abandoned Oenone to go to a lonely mountain top. After many intrigues he ended up in Troy where he courted the fair Helen, only to die from a poison arrow wound.

Hopeful of a better end to our story, we continue to ascend “Paris Ridge” towards our own lonely mountain top. On our right the beautiful Lake Helen soon comes into view, scintillating in the mid-morning sunlight, while on our left Lake Oenone recedes slowly. Tim takes some time to photograph the lake, given it bears the same name as his wife. In this heat, I’m more than happy to pause for a water break.

[On the bouldery ascent, Mt Olympus] 
We’ve been off track for two days now, but this ridge is the only obvious route towards the true summit of Mt Olympus. There are clear signs of footfall everywhere, and we have no difficulty reaching the rocky base of the final climb. Here large dolerite boulders lie about like playthings of the gods.

Soon we are leaping and scrambling a little, getting our arms involved as well as our legs. We are earning our altitude gain. As we stop to draw breath we debate the “right” way to the top. If there is such a way, we seem to be close to it. Just near the top of what we hope to be the final climbing gully, we find some pink tape. If we’ve gone the wrong way, we’re not the only ones.

We break out on top in clear and perfect sunshine, sweating and breathless, but elated. Of course it’s not the final top, but reaching that will be easy. We stop, drink, and look around. The views are stunning. Here on the eastern side of the escarpment we look over leeawulena/Lake St Clair to the Traveller Range, and down on Mt Ida. To the north we see Narcissus Bay and beyond that the route of the Overland Track, which winds around the bluffs and peaks of the Du Cane Range, past Cathedral Mountain, and more than 60km onwards to the just-visible Cradle Mountain.

[Summit views from Mt Olympus] 

As we wander towards the humble, lightly-cairned summit of Olympus, we start to also see the mountains to the west and south. Far and near there’s Frenchmans Cap, the West Coast ranges; the Eldon Range and Mt Rufus. Tim and I were on top of Rufus a couple of summers ago, that time with our wives. Even alone on a mountaintop, you carry others with you.

Olympus is no peaky mountain, rather a remarkably flat and quite massive plateau. As we stand scanning the rumpled horizon, it’s as though we’re on the bridge of a giant ship sailing through mountainous seas. So many of the peaks I can see and name have stories for me, three decade’s worth and more. I feel a profound joy in having had their company for so long.

This northern part of the mountain has long, shallow tiers. They are lightly clothed in low, dense vegetation of the sort that can resist heavy snow and scouring winds, as well as high heat and burning sun. One of the most successful communities seems to be the cushion plants. 

[Cushion plant: between a rock and a wet place]

Despite their name they are not soft to the touch, although they have wonderfully rounded edges. Between these mounds there are shallow pools of water. We linger beside one of particular beauty and enjoy lunch.

[Close-up of cushion plant flowering] 

Of course there are march flies in this ointment, and it is almost unbearably hot. But this is one of those mountain days you hope for and work for. These are the days that make late starts, sweaty climbs and muscle aches seem trivial. This is why we walk.