My love of the rainforests of the Wet Tropics has changed over time like most relationships do. As a young teacher I escaped into the bush for a quiet time away from people. It then became a place of friendships and adventure seeking. Later it became an area to defend in a number of ways and this strained some of my most precious friendships. Lately it has become the source of my income. My interest in natural history was fostered by my elders since childhood.
I first came to the Atherton Tableland in December of 1976, a young teacher out to make my mark on the world, or at least those unfortunate enough to come under my influence. Because I invested so much emotional energy in my students, I needed space and quiet to rejuvenate. The state forests of the Tablelands became the place where I sought this solitude. I would drive into the forest, park the vehicle and wander off, usually only a short distance, and sit by myself. Occasionally I would take on more of a walk. Once I became geographically embarrassed in rugged terrain, ran out of daylight and found the track, but not my car. This was my first experience of the rainforest at night. It disturbed me how uncomfortable I felt. It was nothing like the forests of my youth.
Through joining a basketball team I met Tony Irvine, an outstanding rainforest ecologist. I was drawn to him by his personal integrity and became fascinated with the forests he loved so much. When the Society for Growing Australian Plants formed a branch I became heavily involved. This meant exploratory trips to find plants – rare plants, lost plants and ones new to science. This was a social exercise and not the solitary one of previous excursions. It also took me further afield and I began to lead field trips. The rainforests became something to share.
The year leading up to the World Heritage listing was a difficult one as friends on either side of the argument told the truth in dubious ways to win the day. Much to my sadness, one friendship held since childhood has never fully recovered. But, if that was all I had to pay for the protection of our forests to reach this level, I have been lucky. What will it take to secure their future from exotics and continuing threatening processes?
In 2002 I set up my tourist business, sharing my love of the Wet Tropics. While I specialise in nocturnal mammals and birds, it is great to be able to share and learn more of the fascinating rainforest biota. The relationships of plants and animals and the strange things they get up to fascinate my guests.
The reminders of our ancient past are all around us, from the primitive plants without phloem to primitive flowering plants for which the area is famous, and little hypsi, the extant kangaroo with the most primitive features. Psilotum sends poorly differentiated rhizome branches into the air, packed with chlorophyll but without phloem to transport the sugars produced. This tiny flat fork-fern has three lobed homosporous sporangia, so like the Cooksonia fossils I collected from the Devonian rocks of southern Australia. (See, I cannot help teaching about this wonderful environment. I could bend your ear for half an hour about the wonders of this little beauty which grows with its fungal symbiont).
One of the great joys of a guide is to show guests things which they have sought to find for some time. On a bird watching tour at the Curtain Fig an elderly American lady asked if there was any chance of seeing a platypus. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘but we must go now’. Approaching the river bank, a platypus popped up below us and stayed treading water, less than two metres from our feet. I suggested she use her binoculars and her husband told her to take a picture. No response. I turned to find she was crying. As a three and a half year old her father had read to her about the platypus and she had asked to be taken to see one. The fantasy had remained but, like all fantasies, remained tucked well back in her mind and did not surface even when planning an Australian trip. Its realisation caused a flood of childhood memories.
The Wet Tropics is a place I go to commune with people, but I still sneak off alone.
Alan is a wildlife guide and educator. He grew up in rural and remote Queensland and travelled away from home for high school and teachers’ college. Teaching in schools from the far south to the far north of Queensland provided him with access to a variety of extracurricular wildlife activities. He met his wife, Maria, while planting trees. Alan is active in local and national conservation efforts.
Countless numbers of Mike’s photographs have been reproduced in a wide variety of publications, bringing Wet Tropics wildlife and landscapes to prominence. In 2006 Mike commenced publishing a series of his own books about the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The first won the Queensland Multimedia Awards and the second was taken up as a high school text, which for Mike is his greatest personal achievement. He now looks forward to producing more books to further showcase the beauty and natural history of this very special corner of the Australian continent.
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