I grew up with a love of the bush and wild places and inevitably graduated towards a profession that would get me into the bush. Forestry was the best career offering. It had the added advantage that in those days Queensland national parks were managed under the Forestry Act and I was able to get a State Scholarship to complete the five year university course that was necessary for graduation in that profession. In return, I was bonded to work for the Queensland Forestry Department.
During my student years I was required to undertake field work in forestry camps throughout Queensland. This took place during university holidays as well as the whole of my third year. When it came to work in north Queensland, I looked forward to the experience with a strange mixture of exultation and dread. It was a fabled world of wondrous wildlife, great forests and scenic splendour, but there were also tales of horror and hardship from students returning from work in survey camps.
My first experience was with the Atherton Forest Research Centre in November 1959 on a project to find ways to control the stinging tree which took over snigging tracks and logged areas and made access virtually impossible. The only expertise required from me was to sharpen and swing a brushhook to bring tall stinging trees to the ground so that when they regrew they could be more easily sprayed with a range of herbicides subject to trial. With no protective clothing I was stung on an almost daily basis and was in agony for weeks at a time. There were sleepless nights and vomiting and a bleeding nose from stinging hairs floating in the air. My sufferings elicited no sympathy from researchers or supervisors.
Then came the ‘winter of my discontent’ – several months in a flimsy canvas and timber hut in a clearing at the end of a logging road in the shadow of Mount Lewis. The job was to help find a route for the road further into the mountains. For three months I don’t remember seeing the sun. I remember constant rain and fog, my body constantly covered in leeches, and cold, cold winds. A bath at the end of the day was a dip in a freezing hole in the nearby creek.
Then came summer again and a flying survey camp south of Ingham. For five days a week everything we needed was carried on our backs as we brushed endless exploratory survey lines through dense lawyer vine. The heat and humidity were intense and water hard to find. Countless ticks and mites had replaced the countless leeches of Mount Lewis.
My first experiences of the Wet Tropics left me convinced of three things – I never wanted to see the place again, my interest in the bush was dying and I was definitely in the wrong job.
Today, those bad memories have been long replaced by more positive ones. I now look on those early days as part of a range of experiences that have left me tolerant of physical hardship. After my student days, my work in the region was much more on my own terms and I had the time and inclination to look more closely at my surroundings. Under the influence of my friend and mentor, rainforest ecologist Geoff Tracey of CSIRO, I developed an interest in the botany and ecology of the rainforest – an interest that grew the more I saw and the more I learnt. Beyond that, the landscape itself began to penetrate my being and, even when far away from it, my dreams and conscious hours were haunted by memories of wild landscapes – of mountains that hugged the coastline and dominated cloud-draped horizons, of the roar of waterfalls and the power of rushing waters. There is now no other place I would rather be.
Peter was born in Brisbane in April 1940. In a career with the Queensland Forestry Department he worked in north Queensland intermittently from 1960 to 1975. In 1979, two years after joining the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, he took up residence in Cairns. After retiring from the service in 1997 he has, together with his son, David, spent a large part of his time working with the Wet Tropics Management Authority to produce vegetation maps of the Wet Tropics bioregion, a task now completed. He is currently working as a land manager with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Kerry is a documentary photographer who has worked in northern Australia for many years. His major body of work has a strong focus on the Cape York Peninsula region where he has photographed the landscapes and documented the lives of local people. Kerry has extensively photographed the landscapes of the Wet Tropics and recently documented the final year of growing tobacco in north Queensland. He is currently photographing for a book on the Mitchell River.
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