It’s amazing the perspective you get from up high.
Today the Madlands tour team joined up with some AYCC Hobart volunteers and trekked into the Florentine forest in southern Tasmania to visit my friend Miranda Gibson.
But this wasn’t your normal kind of house visit. Miranda has spent the last seven months living in a tree, 60 metres above ground. It’s an incredibly brave and committed thing to do, and it’s part of a campaign against logging Tasmania’s high conservation value native forests.
Isaac, Fred and I had spent the past two weeks kicking goals and holding events on the Queensland leg of the tour (Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Toowoomba, Ipswich, Brisbane). So after a lot of driving on Queensland roads, I was looking forward to getting into some lush forest. I was also excited about reuniting with Kat and Jacqui, who along with Isaac and I had comprised the NSW arm of the tour.
I didn’t have to wait long to remember just how stunning Tasmania is. As we flew over bright blue ocean and thick green forests, the sun came out from behind the clouds.
After a quick interview and photo with the Launceston Examiner, the team and I headed south of Hobart to have a cup of tea with Bob Brown and his partner Paul. After a chat about the Australian environment movement and hearing some inspiring stories from the Franklin campaign, we drove back to Hobart for dinner at the cheerfully named ‘Magic Curry’ with some of the AYCC Hobart crew.
We stayed the night with Margie, a friend of a friend – who also happens to be a record-breaking Antarctic explorer. We woke up bright and early (very early) and she loaded us up with muesli bars and waterproof jackets.
Some background, in case you haven’t heard about what’s happening in Tassie right now. After decades of campaigning and blockading to protect Tasmania’s forests, the Government and industry might reach a deal with environmentalists to protect certain areas of Tasmania this weekend. The so-called ‘forest peace’ negotiations have been dragging on for months, with the deadline extended several times already – but the new deadline is this Monday, and everyone trying to save the forests has been working as hard as they can to raise the odds of getting a good deal for the precious ecosystems here.
There are many good reasons to want to protect Tasmania’s forests, apart from the fact that they’re home to an amazing array of plant and animal life. As someone mostly focused on climate change, I’m very aware that one of the major causes of climate change is deforestation. Trees store carbon; when we cut them down they release that carbon. If we’re going to solve climate change we have to stop pumping out carbon pollution by burning fossil fuels, but we also have to stop chopping down trees.
I first met Miranda when we were both involved in student activism through our campus environment collectives – me in Sydney, and Miranda in Brisbane. We were both part of the Australian Student Environment Network. Incredibly likeable and cheerful, I’d always respected Miranda for her gentleness and patience. You could tell even after just spending a few minutes with her that she would be a good person to have in any group. She was always so supportive and caring – I never heard a nasty word escape her lips!
Seven months ago, when I heard about Miranda’s decision to live in a tree until the forests were protected, I thought it was such a powerful and brave thing to do. I also knew how difficult would be, especially during the Tasmanian winter. So the least we could do while in Tassie was to show our support by making the three hour journey out to see her.
Ankle-deep in mud and squelching through the forest floor this morning, I was glad we’d brought along some members of AYCC Hobart. We walked through small trees, then bigger trees, then tree ferns and tall native grasses, and finally came out on a wide track. You could see clear-cut hills in one direction, and thick forest in the other.
After a bit of a scramble at the end, we emerged at Miranda’s tree. There was a pro-logging camper near the bottom, who had arrived two days ago to get some media attention for his point of view. I’d been concerned to see whether or not he’d be causing trouble for Miranda, but he was polite enough to shake all our hands as we walked past and I didn’t sense much tension. He’d even agreed to be hoisted up to meet Miranda!
Jacqui and Fred went up first, and then it was my turn. Those of you who know me will remember I’m not a massive fan of heights, but I try to live my life according to Eleanor Roosevelt’s words – “do one thing each day that scares you”.
Plus, Miranda had been up there for seven month, which really puts things in perspective. So I just stared at the tree trunk, refused to look down, and tried to keep the visions of me flipping upside down in my harness 60 metres above ground out of my mind.
Sooner than expected, I was scrambling on to Miranda’s platform and giving her a hug. Even thought it had been years since I’d seen her last, she looked just the same, with her gentle smile and cheeky brown eyes. I had a deadline to be back in Hobart, so sadly I couldn’t stay long but I recorded a quick video for Miranda’s blog and had a quick chat. Her home was very simple – a mattress under a bright blue tarpaulin to provide some shelter – but it was truly a million dollar view.
There’s something very special about seeing the world from up high. In fact, when I was up on the platform I was so impressed with how beautiful the view was that I forgot to be scared of how high up we were! Looking across the forests, feeling the mist touch my face and the back of my neck, hearing the birdsong and smelling the bark and the leaves, I felt (for the first time in a while) re-connected to nature.
As I was coming down the tree, I wasn’t scared of falling anymore. I just felt happy, and privileged to be able to have had this experience. And determined to help save these forests, and others like them.
I have so much respect for Miranda, and for all the people working to protect forests across the world. There’s something so special about these wild places that I can’t put into words – or at least not in a quick blog post – but once you go there, you know with every part of your being how important they are.
Thank you Miranda for your courage in your work to protect our precious planet. Find out more here: http://observertree.org/