Home again. Hopefully normal blog service will resume shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a little something from my travels…
It was a very intense trip, challenging on many levels. It’s given me a whole lot to think about, but for now I need to focus on unpacking and getting my life back in order here in Hobart.
Meanwhile, how have you been?
This is going to be a far shorter post than I want it to be. I want to do my research and give you the numbers but I don’t have the time. I leave the country in just a few days, and writing for the blog has kept falling off my “must get done” list. I’m sorry. I’m not going to do these guys justice, and I’m going to fall silent again. Life is short and I’m busy living it, but I have so much I want to say. So, on with it!
I’ve written before about unusual and heirloom vegetables and the importance of maintaining a diversity of seed to enable us to grow crops that best suit our local conditions, that provide the quality or yield of food we seek and provide a rich genetic pool to draw on into the future. Crop diversity helps us to make best use of the land and resources we have, and to adapt to changing conditions as the climate shifts. Protecting plant diversity is important work, and seed banks around the world are contributing to it. It’s not only plant diversity that matters though: if we’re going to feed and clothe ourselves as best as we can, agricultural animal diversity matters just as much. Rare breed beasties need loving too.
Farming systems have become industrialised and standardised across much of the world. Just like crops, the animal breeds most commonly grown are those that give the greatest yield per unit cost, with little consideration given to animal health and welfare, suitability for conditions, environmental impacts, disease resistance or even quality of flavour. Much like supermarket tomatoes, many farmers are growing flavourless meat. For instance, a modern meat chicken takes as little as 30 days to raise from egg to plate1. From nothing to roast dinner in a month? That’s crazy selective breeding for yield and little else.
You may shrug and think that a pig-is-a-pig-is-a-pig, but as such farming practices spread and traditional livestock breeds are replaced by the fast-growing, so much genetic heritage, so much biodiversity, is lost. Along with that we’re losing cultural heritage: breeds that are markers of places or peoples, farming practices that are tied deeply to ways of life. All that is gone, left to fading memories, as heritage porkers are replaced by Large Whites2.
That’s the serious side of things – lost diversity, resilience and heritage – but we’re also losing flavour. Industrialised farming doesn’t grow for best taste. The aim is not the highest quality, merely consistency at a low market price. Does taste matter? Not to everyone, not to those on tight budgets, but to you and me? Sure does! One taste of proper free-range piggy ham from a breed grown for taste convinced me enough that I had to try the bacon, then the chorizo, just to be sure… I didn’t know pork could taste so good!
Lucky for me I live somewhere where I can buy free-range raised, rare breed meats. I can do this because where I live there are farmers who are passionate about rearing rare breeds and keeping all that heritage alive. Farmers who put animal welfare, product quality and taste above maximising products and have worked hard to build up enough of a market that they can grow businesses outside the cut-price supermarket paradigm. And yeah, I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can choose to support them: I don’t eat much meat, but what I do eat, I can afford to source from these types of farmers. These farmers, who have become people I know.
Let me introduce you to two of them: Guy and Eliza from Mount Gnomon Farm. These are the folk who awakened me to the true beauty of bacon, grown from their drove of Wessex Saddleback pigs. They are fierce supporters of preserving rare breeds and choose their livestock based on an ethos of preserving rarity, suitability to farm conditions, animal well-being and quality of flavour. They are also truly lovely people, and last year I was lucky enough to visit them on the farm and see their passion in action. It’s a beautiful spot on the edge of the Dial Ranges in northern Tasmania, all green grass, red soil and dramatic sky. I’m very glad I had the chance to visit, to meet my meat and learn about the challenges and rewards of free-range rare-breed farming.
It was an inspiring trip for this sustainable eater, and one that you too can make if you’re going to be in Tasmania this weekend. You see, Guy and Eliza are so dedicated to what they do that this weekend they’re opening up the farm to the public to share their passion and show anyone who wants to know how their meat is raised. This Sunday (March 24th) they’re inviting you to a Rare Day Out at Mount Gnomon Farm.
You can visit the farm, get up close and personal with the animals, see what they’re doing to protect the soils and support on-farm diversity and even sample the very tasty meats their animals become. If you’re interested in heritage breeds or free-range farming, or just getting to know a little bit more about where your food comes from, I highly recommend you go along and check it out, and while you’re there, give Cyril a good scratch for me…
Why won’t I be there? because I’ll be on my way to Peru! Catch you in a month or so and as always, thank you for reading!
 “The first harvest might occur as early as 30-35 days and the last at 55-60 days.” Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc.
 “The Large White has become well established as a major breed in virtually all pig producing countries in the world.” NSW Department of Primary Industries.
“Discipline is remembering what you want, and then acting on it.”
Make yourself time to be wild and free.
Reflect a while on who you are versus who you want to become, then find the path you must travel.
Acknowledging your faults will help you to master them.
I will be at the Hobart Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. If you spot me, come and say hi!
Never stop exploring, even in your own backyard. There is always something new to discover, both within and without.
Find out where that road leads.
No matter how dark it may get, the world remains a beautiful and amazing place
(it’s been a rough news kind of week)
Florentine contested forestry area, Tasmania
Don’t be afraid to let who you really are shine through.
There is nothing like travel to give you a heaping dose of perspective.
We in the western developed world, the vast majority of us, anyway, are so damn spoilt.
Here in Australia we write ourselves the narrative of the battler; hard-done-by working class hero, struggling to get ahead. The reality, however, is far, far different. We’re incredibly wealthy. Daily we take for granted riches of which much of the world can only dream, and yet somehow we think we deserve it, that we’ve earnt the good life that has befallen us by the sheer luck of being born on these fortunate shores.
We turn on a tap and we have clean drinking water. How lucky are we? So lucky that we think nothing of using this precious resource to flush our toilets and water our plants. Over 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water[1, 2] and we let it run down the drain then complain about the cost.
Safe, clean water, on demand, at a fraction of the true cost. Want it hot? Turn on another tap and let electricity or gas work it’s wonders. Energy that’s cheap and reliable enough to heat our water 24-7. Energy so cheap that I’m sitting here, running a computer and monitor and listening to the radio while a pot of chickpeas simmers on the stove and a head of garlic roasts in the oven (I’m making humus). Yes, I’ve turned the lights off in the rooms I’m not using and I’m working by a single energy-efficient globe but even then my bills tell me I use an average of 15 KWH per day, which is only a little below the average for my dwelling type and suburb. I can do better (and yes, long, hot showers remain my biggest guilty pleasure. Maybe next year’s promise for World Environment Day…).
We’ve got safe water, ready power, large houses we fill up with stuff (biggest in the world, apparently, and this place feels exorbitantly large after my recent travels) and there’s the access to food and consumer goods. Walk into your kitchen right now and take a good, hard look in your cupboards. How much food is actually in there? How long could you go without really needing to shop? How much diversity of product is there? I have 2 types of rice, 2 types of lentils, 5 types of flour (I’m gluten-sensitive, so it’s somewhat excusable), black quinoa, quinoa flakes and a number of syrups and oils I most never use and don’t really need (lime oil, rosewater, pomegranate molasses and a serious tea collection…) and that’s after considerable down-sizing and being very mindful about what I buy.
It’s easy to indulge in food without even realising. Walk into any supermarket or grocer and look around: there’s so much food and so much choice! With the shelves so richly stocked our trolleys and household pantries look restrained by comparison. We have a culture that encourages food as a recreational pursuit rather than a nutritional need. Food shortages don’t even cross our consciousness for most of us, despite recent record droughts and soaring prices of staples. If we have the money it’s always there, waiting. Easy.
We are so damn lucky. Lucky to have been born in a wealthy country, a place of political stability and prosperity. No wars have torn my country apart. No dictators have drained us of our wealth (though Gina Rinehart may well try), no diseases have ravaged our people or our food production. Although drought, flood and fire take their toll, we’ve thus far been rich enough and agriculturally diverse enough to weather the storms and bitch about the cost of bananas.
And that’s what gets me really. We have this incredible wealth yet we complain about it. We sit here with our hands out, crying poor, asking the Government for more, always more. How can you be a battler with a place just for you and yours to call home, all the safe water you can drink, power whenever you want it and access to all the food you could ever dream of? When you have health care and social security? When education is free for all and retirement is considered a right? Yes, there are some Australians who truly are poor (particularly our indigenous people, who live in a different world to most of us), but for the vast majority of us and our compatriots in the western developed world, we are rich beyond our own comprehension. We have so very much. By accident of birth we find ourselves in the land of plenty.
Is it surprising, then, that others covet our way of life? That when we travel we’re seen as wealthy targets to exploit? You can hardly blame the rest of the world for wanting in on our privileged party. Yet the planet cannot sustain our current levels of consumption. We can’t pull everyone else up to our standard of living. So do we try to keep it all to ourselves, spoilt children who don’t want to share our shiny toys?
Truth is it’s an inherently unsustainable way of life. We can’t maintain it while the rest of the world scrapes by. Sooner or later the rest of the world will come looking for their share as resources run out. We can try to hang on until then, in a final orgy of consumption, or we can start to learn to live with less. I believe it’s time we learnt the difference between wants and needs, asked ourselves some searching questions and reduced our footprints a little. It’s the only fair choice (and as Dr Samuel Alexander writes, it just might also be good for us).
There’s no point feeling guilty about an accident of birth, and not all of us are in a position where living more simply is a viable choice. Most of us can do a little more, however. We can be just that little more mindful about the choices we make and think about the type of future we want to build. That’s what I’m trying to do and y’know, I’m happier for it.
 water.org fact sheet
 WHO water and health program
 Energy Made Easy Australian power consumption benchmark
 ComSec housing data report 2011
 World Bank food crisis data
 ACOSS Australian Poverty Report 2011
 Radical simplicity and the middle class: exploring the lifestyle implications of a great disruption, by Dr. Samuel Alexander
Don’t be afraid to shoot for the sun. After all, it’s the closest star to aim for.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!
South Cape walk, Bruny Island, Tasmania
I’ve been making the most of my sabbatical, but now spring is here. Hello!
Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you can go when the world gets too much, a place to re-charge and reconnect?
I do, and I’m lucky that my very special place is practically on my doorstep. It’s one of the reasons I love Hobart so much and am loath to consider leaving. My happy place is Mt. Wellington, the dolerite peak that makes this little city so unmistakable. Hobart folds itself around the Mountain’s flanks, seeking shelter from the westerly gales that batter this latitude and drinking from the many creeks and rivulets that drip their way down the slopes and run through the gullies. The Mountain’s unmistakable silhouette can be seen from most every part of this little city, watching over the lives below.
Wellington is special, and not just because it’s an ecological treasure-trove (A Gondwanaland remnant, with wet and dry sclerophyll forest, temperate rainforest, stunted alpine woodlands and alpine heath-lands, it’s incredibly diverse). There’s a power to the place; a deep, quiet presence that sinks into you and reminds you that the world is so much bigger and older than your little griefs and anxieties.
I like nothing better than to lose myself in solitude for hours on one of the many trails that criss-cross the Mountain’s peaks and valleys. After a year of walking on the Mountain most weekends there are still dozens of new trails awaiting exploration, plus old favourites to re-visit and experience in different seasons. In autumn the rainforest is full of fungi in a riot of shapes and colours. In winter the summit may be dusted in snow and the woodlands wreathed in mists. In spring tiny wildflowers sprout unexpectedly from rocky crevasses, tiny jewels in a harsh landscape. In summer the views stretch out forever and every inch of Mountain hums with life… There are hidden waterfalls, arresting outlooks, vast alpine plains and craggy peaks to climb.
Wellington is the wilderness on my doorstep, and it calls to my soul. Every hour spent walking the slopes is time well spent, restoring my spirit and reminding me why these wild places matter. That’s what is so important about preserving pockets of wilderness: these spaces nourish us and help to keep us connected to the ecosystems we rely on. Wild places teach us how to be alone, how to reach the sacred inside ourselves and how to reconnect with our environments. My Mountain, it is love.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to get away from it all? Does the wilderness call you, or are you refreshed by city life or the sea instead? What makes a place truly special to you?
…and if you ever want a walk on my Mountain, you only have to ask.
Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania.
My greatest ambition is to just be a good man. To be better than I was yesterday. To do no harm. To give more than I take. To never strive for perfection but to try to live and love more perfectly. Being a good man to my family, my friends and to my community is the greatest ambition I can dream of.
Balance is an essential quality of living sustainably: prioritising activities and accepting limitations to reach your goals and avoid the pitfalls of over-commitment, burn-out and apathy. Balance is critical in managing our time, resources and health, maintaining momentum and juggling competing demands. It’s so damn important, and I’ve been so bad at it.
I may have the best of intentions, but I over-promise and under-deliver. I take on too many commitments, throwing myself into activities without allocating time to rest, relax and nourish myself. I lose sight of the big picture, expending too much energy on small stuff or prioritising things that really could wait. Depressingly, I still get sucked into the time-wasting void of the internet. I say yes too readily and I never, ever get enough sleep.
It’s a familiar pattern: procrastinate and fall behind then go into manic over-drive, or over-estimate what I can do in a given amount of time and run around like a mad thing trying to keep my promises until eventually the mind or body cracks under the pressure and I succumb to sickness or anxiety. It’s the habit of a lifetime but it has become a problem: it’s clearly unsustainable.
Experience and expert advice has taught me that I need structure and routine to help me find balance, though routine doesn’t come easily to me. The last six months have seen the routine I worked so hard to establish disintegrate completely due to housemate dramas, injuries, illness and a period of rapid change and uncertainty. It hasn’t been good for me!
Now I’m living on my own and starting to settle into the Cottage it’s time to work on establishing new routines and seeking that elusive balance.
I’ve been pushing so hard to get this place set up and the House of the Gumtrees ready for final inspection (not helped by my housework-shy and occasionally stupid ex-housemate) I haven’t been setting aside time for me, winding up tired, cranky and no fun to be around. After having a minor meltdown last week over a dodgy oven I realised I was long over-due for a break to re-charge and relax. Despite my seemingly endless to-do list I took some time out last weekend to look after myself, heading out to Mt. Field National Park with a good friend for some quality time in the forest.
It was just what I needed, helping me to clear my head and re-evaluate my priorities. I still have just as much to get done, but now I have a much better idea of how to do it. And the best part? We were lucky enough to find a protected pocket of fagus up there, still blazing with colour. *happy face*
Of course I’m going to keep struggling with balance. It’s going to take me a long time and a lot of conscious effort to learn to walk that fine line between effectiveness and burn-out, but establishing a basic routine and prioritising sleep and forest time is a positive first step. I have no doubt I’ll mess it up many more times, but the important thing is to keep learning and working towards finding that blissful state of equilibrium.
If I’m to build the life I want to live I need to find balance.
How do you maintain balance in your life?
Slowly but surely the house move is happening. I have the keys to the Cottage, half of my possessions are boxed up, I’ve eaten my way through everything perishable in the kitchen and I’ve sold, donated or made gifts of a raft of unnecessary possessions (though in the process of packing I keep finding yet more things I’m happy to live without and will be re-homing once moved). I’m excited about the Cottage and looking forward to turning it into my cozy, sustainable home and finally getting started on that garden. Yet I find myself procrastinating, time and again, drifting off in day-dreams of where I’d rather be…
You see, it’s Fagus season here in Tassie: that special time of year when the only deciduous plant on our ancient island – the Tanglefoot Beech (Nothofagus gunnii) – turns the slopes of Mt. Field and Cradle Mountain golden with its firey foliage.
The Nothofagus genus is a relic of Australia’s Gondwanan past: an ancient plant family once common across Australia, Antarctica and South America. Of the three species left in Australia, two are found in Tasmania: the majestic evergreen myrtle beech (N. cunninghamii) and the incredible endemic tanglefoot. While myrtle beech forests are still quite widespread, both in Tasmania and on the south-eastern Australian mainland, the tanglefoot is not only found on two rugged Tasmanian mountaintops: Mt. Field, near Hobart, and Cradle Mountain in the island’s north-eastern highlands.
It’s an incredibly slow-growing plant, highly sensitive to fire and other disturbances and notoriously difficult to propagate: not exactly a prime candidate for survival in our rapidly changing modern world! There’s no arguing, however, that our Tassie Fagus is really rather special.
Both the Cradle Mountain and Mt. Field Fagus forests are protected national parks, and around this time each year hundreds of keen bushwalkers and nature photographers like me trek around these mountains, lugging heavy lenses and tripods, to witness and document the beauty of this fascinating plant. Except this year I’m not joining them: I’m moving house instead.
Thus I dawdle in my labours, lost in wistful longings for misty mountainsides, painfully early mornings and the unforgettable sight of Cradle Mountain – one of my favourite places in the world – draped in that golden autumn coat of fagus.
Next year, I promise!
I’ve just returned from a short trip up to the southern Gold Coast to spend the Easter break with my family. It’s a trip I make about once a year to hug my parents, play with my niece and spend some quality time with the kind of old friends who have become family.
I missed out on a window seat this trip, so instead of spending the flight more-or-less glued to the window, watching the landscape unfolding below, I got to thinking about my travels in the context of sustainability
Travel: it broadens the mind, feeds the soul and strengthens the bonds of family and friendship. What’s not to love about it? Well, environmentally-speaking not a lot!
Air travel is the single biggest contributor to my carbon footprint. This trip alone generated roughly 306 kg of CO2 (source: International Civil Aviation Organisation carbon offset calculator). I also make one or two trips to Melbourne each year to catch up with friends and to dip my toe back into the rushing current of modern life: a much-needed perspective check when you live in a beautiful but isolated backwater like Tasmania. That’s around 172 kg CO2 per trip.
This year I’m also heading off overseas for the first time in 6 years. I’m heading off to South America for a few weeks to experience new cultures and explore remarkable environments like Machu Picchu and the Atacama Desert. Getting there and back again? A whopping 1 994 kg of CO2!
For flights booked so far this year I’m clocking up a total of 2 563 kg of CO2 (and that’s without any business travel).
My annual carbon footprint without flights comes in at around 5 tonnes (source: CarbonFootprint.com), so my flights add another 50% to my impact, bumping it up to 7.6 tonnes CO2 p.a. – that’s not a good number. So flying is definitely bad from the carbon emissions perspective, putting a big black mark in the environmental component of my sustainability score. Does that mean I shouldn’t fly? What about all the benefits of my travels?
Living a sustainable life means making choices that also look after my mental and physical health, build strong social networks and interpersonal relationships and live a life that inspires, challenges and enriches me. Travel provides an excellent way to meet many of my personal objectives. My social and personal benefits of travel include:
- Maintaining family relationships
- Building and strengthening my friendships and support networks
- Growing my awareness and understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things
- Inspiring personal change and global thinking
- Learning from others and from the experiences travel provides
- Developing a greater appreciation of the world, its environments and cultures
These are all good things, for sure, but are they enough to balance out the environmental costs? Are there other ways I could gain the benefits of travel without the CO2 emissions? I really don’t know.
What I do know is that I enjoy travel and everything it brings, and that means I’m probably going to find ways to justify keeping on flying, but perhaps I can travel a little smarter…
Better ways to travel:
- Flying less often (and making more use of Skype)
- Choosing closer destinations and non-stop flights
- Travelling by bus or train where possible and reasonably practical
- Paying extra for airline carbon offsets – does this accomplish anything? Perhaps a blog topic for another day!
- Tying overseas trips to environmental or social volunteer work
How do you reconcile your ideals with your impacts? What are your ideas for managing the impacts of travel?
Rafting the Franklin River was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to date. Physically challenging, stunningly beautiful and incredibly remote, the trip is something I will never forget: days on the dark, tannin-stained waters and nights in the ancient and undisturbed forest.
The Franklin is a true wild river, harsh, astonishing and breath-taking. I highly recommend the trip, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
For those with rafting and wilderness experience it’s possible to go alone, but be prepared for a very difficult river (people die on the Franklin) and invest in a decent trip guide. For the rest of us I recommend one of the commercial operators.
I went on the 7 day tour with Water by Nature, a Hobart-based small operator employing guides who know the river backwards.
Both Water by Nature and Rafting Tasmania have solid reputations with the Hobart rafting community.
If you’d rather enjoy the Franklin from the safety of your sofa there’s wealth of information about the River online, including the battle to save the Franklin from being dammed, along with some spectacular photos.
Day 5:Now where was I? Ah yes, camped at Coruscades and enjoying an early morning on the river. Slowly the rest of the camp stirred and people joined me out on the rocks, watching the sunlight slowly slide it’s way down into the deep gorge. Brett, our trip leader and normally the first one up, remained steadfastly in bed, putting off the day ahead as long as possible. At loose ends, the rest of us read books, wandered about, went back to sleep or settled down on a convenient boulder to soak up some sun.
Eventually Brett found the motivation to get up and we packed all the gear and carried it a couple of hundred metres downstream down a pretty winding path, to wait while Brett and fellow guide Jim brought the rafts down through the tricky section at the top of Coruscades rapids. We then loaded up the rafts and finally paddled out around midday to see what the last day of 2011 would bring us down the River.
Not far downstream the River brought us to the Faucet, one of the most fun rapids of the trip (and not just because no portage was required!). Pure rushing water joy!
The Faucet behind us, we hit the major portages of the day and worked out why Brett had been so reluctant to get out of bed: Sidewinder, Thunder-rush and the Cauldron. The waters were tricky and we unloaded and re-loaded the raft many times. As the day wore on I wore down, feeling sicker and sicker as my choice of left-overs for breakfast decided to disagree with me. There’s no room for resting on the River, however, so we all just got on with it and eventually my guts ceased grumbling and I made the most of our last proper day on the water.
Once past the portages of the Great Ravine the river opened out, giving us a gentle paddle through the forested green slopes, spotted with the white blooms of flowering leatherwood trees and the red shoots of fresh summer growth from the myrtles. We saw a family of endangered Tasmanian white-bellied sea eagles watching the world drift by from a branch over the water, a pair of wedge-tail eagles circling their territory high above and a party of great cormorants startled several times by our appearance up-river. They were happily added to our wildlife tally for the trip, including two platypus sightings, some devil scats and suspected quoll tracks. We paddled in companionable quiet, stopping here and there to explore a creek joining the river, cool off with a quick drink or just to admire the view until we made our unhurried way to camp at Rafter’s Basin, around 8 pm.
Once camped we settled ourselves down to see the New Year in, making quick work of what little booze had survived this far down the trip. Young Sam begged iPods from those who had them and a set of portable speakers from Jim and declared himself DJ for the night, doing a decent job of mixing classics, decent indie tunes and the odd dance track. We chatted, sang along and got to know each other a little better as the clock ticked towards twelve.
Those of us over thirty were much amused when Sam boasted about being into the dance music scene and reminisced about our own misspent youths and the days of acid house (the Scottish half-brothers having been in the UK when the “scene” first kicked off. At one point I demanded that Sam back up his raver claim by showing us some Melbourne shuffle moves. He responded by busting out the most ridiculous running man I’ve ever seen. My laughter and derision was met with a challenge and so I found myself drunk, in thongs, in the middle of the wilderness pulling out some dance moves I haven’t used in a very long time. I felt utterly ridiculous, but by popular consensus I was deemed winner of the dance off, and I believe I drank to that.
Not long after the clock finally struck twelve – though it felt totally irrelevant out there in the forest – and we made our slightly-swaying ways up to bed.
Day 6:The next day was a rest day. Our camp location was only a little way upstream of where we’d be leaving the river at Mt. McCall, so we had a full day to relax, explore and enjoy the serenity. I had planned to make the most of it, hiking up the creek that ran through camp or perhaps taking a kayak out for a paddle. Instead I spend a lazy day reading, scribbling notes about our journey into my little notebook (without which these entries would not exist) and doing my laundry. You know you’re getting older when the thought of clean, dry clothes is more appealing than another day of adventure!
So I hung around camp, listening to the guides chatter and learning more about life on the River. At one point Brett and Jim mentioned they had one spare berth for the rest of the journey, and did I want to take it? Sorely tempted though I was I demurred: I had Es to accompany and was starting to fantasize about a proper shower and a night in my own bed. Instead I took my final bath in the river, luxuriating in the warmth of sun-heated rocks on my skin, in sharp contrast to the chill of the water. For one long, blissful moment I was free and wild, one with the cool, dark waters, the vaulting sky and the timeless glory of it all.
The sun set on our very last evening with a brilliant blaze of colour, but by then I wasn’t really up for soaking in the splendour of our surrounds. As evening fell so did my spirits as I discovered that something I had eaten was disagreeing with me quite violently. Oh dear. I believe I mentioned the toilet arrangements down-river back on Day 1, and I can tell you that having a severe case of the runs under those conditions is an extremely unpleasant experience. I have spent way too much time contemplating the quality and robustness of freezer bags under strenuous conditions. Still, I got to spend a lot of time that evening in contemplation, gazing at a sky so astonishingly full of stars.
Day 7:After my dramatic night this day was never going to be stellar: I was tired, tender, under-slept and horribly de-hydrated, but there was no time to sit around feeling sorry for myself – we had a long day ahead of us, going home. Despite an early wake-up we talk too much over breakfast and get onto the water a little late. We’re not going far, just a few hundred metres upstream to where all of us except N are leaving the river and a new party of punters are coming down for the last 3 days down-river to the junction with the Gordon. Brett is uncharacteristically cranky with the delay (turns out if we’re late for the pick-up) and rushes us down the River.
Initially it’s an uneventful trip, but then we reach a rapid that Brett needs to line the raft through. He’s rushing and makes a wrong move and suddenly the raft is pinned against a rock and quickly going under. The gear rack carrying our river bags, left unsecured in our hurry to depart (after all we weren’t going far and we’d just need to untie it again) slips off and threatens to escape downstream. There’s much cursing, scrambling and throwing of ropes and eventually we get the raft free and the gear re-stowed, but now Brett’s really in a foul mood.
We hurry on, past the junction with the Andrew River, to the haul-out point at Mt McCall. When the Hydro Electric Commission was set to dam the Franklin, construction started at 2 of the 3 planned sites: the famous Gordon-below-Franklin site and here at Mt. McCall. All that remains at Mt. McCall now is a very steep track running along the old haulage-way and some slowly rusting rails and pulleys, abandoned to the rainforest. The track connects to a rough old road, traversable now by 4-wheel-drive only, and eventually leads out to Lake Burbury and the highway up to Queenstown.
The track is seriously steep, the day fiercely hot (temperatures well above 30oC) and despite being the first off the raft I’m second-last up (with Creepy Wayne bringing up the rear) and am seriously feeling the dehydration when I make it to the top, but there’s no water to be had until Queenstown, an hour and a half away. At least the view from the top is pretty special.
The guides climb up with us to meet the new crew and load up on supplies for the end of the journey. We bid affectionate farewells (Brett having re-gained his composure), climb into the waiting 4-wheel-drives and begin the long drive back into civilisation. Well, something resembling a twisted parody of civilisation, at least: Queenstown is a frontier mining town renown for its environmental degradation and is a serious shock to the system after 6 days and nights in spectacular wilderness. Still, there’s a corner store open and after downing 2 litres of water in a hurry I’m feeling a whole lot better.
(I wish I had photos of the Mr. McCall track or the stunning views over the Wild Rivers National Park as we departed, but I was hot, thirsty and exhausted and my camera was packed away, out of reach.)
The 4-wheel-drives depart and we pile into the mini-bus for the long drive back to Hobart; tired, grumpy and hot but triumphant. We had made it, 7 days in the wilderness on the River, and we had loved most every moment of it. The Franklin River will always hold a special place in our memories.
One week later I was still rafting it’s waters in my sleep.
Ok, so where were we? That’s right, camped on a beach under the stars after a long 3rd day on the river.
Day 4 started slowly, the combined effects of a late finish on Day 3 and the generous sharing of booze that evening. The morning was a little overcast so we all slept in and got into the water late. By then it was another brilliant sunny day and the water level had dropped noticeably overnight: a portent of the hard work to come later in the day.
Our journey started pleasantly, however, with some fun rapids to travail (with much bouncing up and down to get the raft unstuck in places. The guides keep telling me the raft is not a bouncy castle, but it so clearly is!) and a rest stop at the descriptively-named Blush Rock Falls.
By now we’d settled into the routine of rafting, with Brett giving very little instruction. K and N commandeered the front of the raft, with all the pulling, pushing and leaping in and out that entails, while J and I were in the rear on bouncing duty, emergency braking and turning, and real-wheel drive. We’d settled into an easy rhythm, paddling together well and letting the conversation ebb and flow. At times our raft was silent as we all absorbed the treacherous beauty of our surrounds.
Although the River was mostly gentle, a couple of times Brett bade us all to disembark while he wrestled the raft alone through a particularly tricky or dangerous section. We’d clamber out onto the rocks and work our way downstream, paddles in hand, to rejoin him.
Our leisurely morning soon came to an end, however, as the river narrowed and the cliffs rose up on either side and we entered the Great Ravine. Here we encountered reached the first real portage of the trip: the Churn – a rush of white-water that’s not safe to raft through at any water level.
There’s a high portage, up over the top of the cliffs, that would take hours of back-aching effort to carry the gear up and over, but Brett has a better idea: the low portage route – a scurry across a fold in the cliff face, directly above the contorting waters. We all clambered out, forming a chain gang to unload most of the raft’s contents, hauling paddles, eskies and gear bags up the near-vertical cliff to nestle in a little alcove perhaps half a metre wide.
Both rafts unloaded, Brett declared our little cliff eirie to be the perfect place for a picnic lunch: we were all there, the eskies were with us and we were hungry. Thus began the most improbable picnic I’ve ever partaken of.
Lunch eaten, it’s time to extract our rafts from the turbulent clutches of the Churn. We watch Brett and Jim wrest our yellow life-lines from end to end, safe on our perches, before passing the gear back down the rocks and lowering ourselves back on board. The Churn is passed successfully and now it’s short, easy paddle to camp at Coruscades.
Coruscades turns out to be my favourite camp of the trip. Last off the boats, I resigned myself to a poor sleeping spot, caught between snoring boys and a walkway, only to be saved by Jim who told the girls there was another camp area off to one side (we’d missed it on account of a couple of trees fallen across the path. Though actually getting to my new camp involved shuffling under fallen trees then scurrying up a steep, eroded path I found myself with the best spot of all: under the myrtle trees, cradled in moss in my own little private patch of rainforest. Best of all, once the sun set the cliff face in front of me provided a stunning private light show: glow worms! Utter magic. I lay there, entranced by nature’s fairy lights until my eyes would stay open no longer.
I slept the sleep of the utterly exhausted, waking early the next morning to the scolding of a scrub-wren, unhappy to find me asleep in its territory. To appease both the bird and my own curiousity I rose and set about exploring the camp, discovering my fellow travellers all still sound asleep.
Happy for the solo time, I wandered out onto a rock in the river to watch the sun slowly slide down into the dark, quiet waters of the Great Ravine, waiting for the others to wake.
[Part 1 is here]
Day 2: I woke early to a beautiful morning and enjoyed a half-hour or so of quietness to myself before the rest of the camp began to stir. We packed, breakfasted and got back in the rafts, or in my case, the kayak, and set off for our first full day on the Franklin. The morning was uneventful; largely gentle paddling with decreasingly-frequent stops to drag the rafts through shallow sections. I had the hang of my kayak and the trust of the guides so was largely left to my own devices all morning, and derived far too much amusement from watching S, the boy in the other kayak, repeatedly capsize. Yes, I can be a little cruel sometimes.
At lunch time I swapped with J (and Es swapped with the water-logged S) and took my place in a raft with N, W and guide Jim. It was quite different to need to work as a team and respond quickly to Jim’s instructions, and frustrating to be stuck with the consequences when someone in the team wasn’t pulling their weight.
By afternoon tea time we’re dragging the rafts a lot less and Brett makes the call to deflate the “ducks”, so we’re all in the rafts now. Just in time, too, as we soon encounter our first serious obstacle of the trip: a jammed-tight log in a narrow slot that Jim nick-names the Tipper. It’s every-body out and a lot of hard work to lift the loaded rafts up and see-saw them over the top of the log. All the men are heaving (except Wayne – a recurring theme), lifting and pulling the heavy raft with nothing for footing but the same wet log the raft’s on top of and some rather slippery rocks and I start to realise how serious this rafting business really is.
Eventually we get both rafts clear of the Tipper, but it’s only a short stretch of smooth paddling before we hit the first of the dangerous rapids, known to have claimed a few lives: Nasty Notch. We all pile out onto the rocks and the rafts are dragged through and dropped into the downstream side and we glide our way through a glorious afternoon down to the night’s camp: Irenabyss. Rumour has it this was to be the site of the 3rd dam proposed under the Franklin scheme, though I’ve never seen anything official. It’s a pretty little gorge in steep country, nestled under the impressive white-quartz peak of Frenchman’s Cap. A beautiful spot, I’m very glad the river’s still wild and free.
Camp is made under the trees (I claim an isolated spot up on top of the rocks) with hours of daylight to spare, so the more energetic of us cross the river with Jim to try a walk up a ridge that Brett recommends (notably, Brett stays put at camp). The trail to the ridge is steep and very over-grown in places. We’re all in shorts as the afternoon is warm, and pretty soon our shins are scratched up from the unforgiving vegetation. We follow Jim up until the trail peters out and two of our party get bitten by inchmen (luckily not jack-jumpers, which were also about). A group decision is made to turn back, and somehow Jim loses the trail a couple of times on the way back down, so we go cross-country and follow wombat trails until the track appears again and we finally make our way back down to the river, legs scraped and bloody. When we get back to camp Brett just laughs and we all learn a lesson about his sense of humour.
The night is overcast and warm, and after a tasty dinner I flake out quickly, falling into a deep sleep in my mossy grotto (with repaired air mattress) only to wake in confusion several hours later to find Brett shining a torch in my face. It had started raining and tarps had been set up down below. Begrudgingly I woke up enough to gather my things and move down to the tarped area, claiming a small patch of dirt between Espen and Sam and spending the rest of the night dozing off then waking up to the snoring. Boo.
Day 3: The morning crept in grey and damp to find me grumpy and underslept. This was the morning we were supposed to climb up to Frenchman’s Cap: an arduous ascent but one I’d been looking forward to. But with the peak lost to low clouds and a disrupted night’s sleep, no-one could summon the motivation necessary to get up and get going. So the walk was called off, we slept in and a lazy morning was had. We didn’t hit the river until 11 am, but consequently didn’t make camp that evening until it was nearly dark: some time after 8 pm. The rafts were re-shuffled before we left and I was pleased to find myself swapped out of Jim’s raft and into Brett’s, with the rest of the science-nerd introverts on the trip: K, N and J. I’d spend the rest of the trip with them and appreciated the quiet company, intelligent conversation and shared physical effort.
Lead raft: Guided by Brett, owner and operator of Water By Nature, a quiet man with a slightly vicious sense of humour who knows the river backwards. Crewed by me, J (lovely & competent Environmental Engineer from Melbourne) and the Scottish half-brothers (K, an electrical engineer who designs next-generation tanks and APCs for the British military, currently living in Cardiff, and N, qualified marine biologist now making furniture and large metal sculptures, living in Bondi with his wife and baby daughters).
Second raft: Guided by Jim, who’s not worked for Brett for long and runs his own rafting business in Scotland during our winters. Jim is more sociable than Brett and bestows nick-names on us all, except W (a 50 year-old accountant from Brisbane who doesn’t pull his weight in the raft and spends the portages surreptitiously filming us all with his camera strapped to his life-jacket), who becomes Creepy-W by popular consensus. Then there’s N (an amazingly fit 50-something animal behaviouralist from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, born and raised in South Africa, whom Jim spends the rest of the trip on the pull, possibly successfully), S (a 22-going-on-16 year old nouveau-bogan chippyfrom Melbourne with a good heart, a short attention span and a talent for annoyingness. He’s spoilt rotten by his parents, with whom he still lives and who sent him on this $2k trip as a birthday present: in short he’s your friend from high-school’s annoying little brother, magnified) and my friend Es (a 35 year old chef and logistics manager on a mine site in the middle of nowhere, Queensland, and part of my chosen family).
The rafting itself was fairly straight-forward, with no major obstacles to negotiate. The most dramatic event of the day occurred when our raft spun backwards unexpectedly while traversing a rapid, slamming into a very large log downstream. Except the log was higher than the raft edge, so the surface that collected and absorbed the impact was my arse. Yeah, that made me wince a little (and left quite a spectacular bruise right across the left cheek).
Camp was made on a sandy beach, with conversation over cask wine extending late into the evening before we drifted off for another chilly night under a sky full of brilliant stars.
Let’s start with a bit of background, shall we? The Franklin River is a tributary of the Gordon River, and flows through the northern section of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park: a swathe of remote, mountainous forest and dark, tannin-stained rivers largely untouched by Europeans, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Largely untouched: like every other decent-sized river in Tasmania, the Gordon River is dammed, with the headwaters trapped in Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder, released on demand to generate hydro-electricity.
The Franklin is the last true wild river in Tasmania. Un-dammed, untapped, unspoilt. It almost wasn’t so. Three dams were proposed for the Franklin hydro scheme: Gordon below Franklin, Mount McCall and Irenabyss and construction was started at the first two sites. After a protracted battle over many years the Franklin was finally spared thanks to a 4 to 3 High Court ruling. The River was protected and the Australian Green Movement was born. After 7 days exploring the River: worth fighting for.
Day 1 saw us assemble in front of an old Hobart Hotel at 7:30 am, packed, half asleep and ready to go. We’d collected our river bags, wet suits and helmets the afternoon before to give us time to pack properly. Although I wasn’t planning on taking much with me, on packing my river bag it became apparent that my sleeping bag was enormous (it doesn’t compress) and since it was essential to bring I’d have to relinquish anything else that I judged (not entirely correctly) wasn’t absolutely necessary. Thus I found myself travelling very lightly indeed for the next 7 days! We boarded the mini bus and were on our way by 8 am, a disparate band of eight strangers with little to say to each other at this stage, plus our two guides (Brett and Jim). As we made the long drive from Hobart up to the Collingwood River our guides filled us in on the essential information for the trip ahead including that for the next week we would be crapping into plastic freezer bags that would be journeying down the River with us. Delightful!
We took the DSLR with us, safely stowed in a protective case for use at camp only. Espen also brought a little waterproof point and shoot that fit in our life jacket pockets and allowed us to take photos on the river, well, as least when we weren’t madly paddling! You can guess which camera saw the most use…
Three hours out of the city we reached our watery departure point: the Collingwood River – a tributary of the Franklin handily crossed by the Lyell Highway. The bus was unloaded and farewelled, lunch eaten, the rafts inflated and loaded up: we were good to go. As well as the two big yellow rafts, Brett had brought along two inflatable kayaks to lighten the raft loads in the shallow headwaters. When he asked for volunteers to take the kayaks I quickly put my hand up and spent the rest of the day noodling about in my bright orange craft, watching the others push and drag the heavy rafts over every obstacle (of which there were many, given the water level was rather low).
I thoroughly enjoyed having the kayak: a space of my own to enjoy the River in silence. Well, when I could get away from the annoyingly talkative 22-year-old boy who had the other kayak!
We paddled on through the shallow waters to the junction with the Franklin where we stopped for an afternoon tea of chocolate and, disturbingly, a My Little Pony cake, before heading down the Franklin proper for a couple of hours, pulling in late in the evening to the beach at Boulder Brace to make camp.
Camp consisted of staking claim to a section of beach, hanging your life jacket and helmet above and inflating your air mattress below. Exhausted, I was in bed by dark and asleep soon after. I woke a couple of times during the night due to mattress deflation, but even having to blown the damn thing up again wasn’t so bad as it gave me time to appreciate the most amazing sky full of stars. I’d never really slept under the stars before (unless you count a night on my friend’s property when we were teens, within 100 m of her house). It was beautiful, but damn cold! Sleeping bag rating to -5 degrees C my arse! It was about now that I regretted not finding a way to wedge my super-warm fleeces and extra-thick socks into my river bag. A new, warmer, compressible sleeping bag was also added to my mental shopping list.