The greatest gift I gained from the coming of World Heritage was the lifting of my fear for the forests and, out of that, some peace.
When the listing laid a protective blanket over parts of the country it became possible to gaze across beautiful patches of forest without being haunted by the sounds of a bulldozer growling and snarling in the background. World Heritage listing was also a reward for the countless people of good heart and good sense who achieved the result through joint effort and a respect for democracy.
Credible science was provided by people such as Dr Aila Keto, Geoff Tracey and Len Webb. Credible leadership came from Senator Bob Brown, John McCabe, Adrian Jeffries and Elizabeth Bourne. After years of work and worry, of shouting and letter writing, of weasel words by politicians in Brisbane and in Paris, finally there came peace and optimism that the exuberance and wonder of the forests could be protected.
Peace is the sound of a little shrike thrush whistling quietly to itself as it pokes about in the understorey. It is the sound of a pair of roosting scrubfowl, wakeful in moonlight, calling time and time again, mutually supportive. Peace is the lovely calling of a white-throated nightjar perched on a tall tree on a still November night. It is the deep ‘waark’ of a barred river frog calling from beside a puddle. Peace is the low, slow ‘whooo’ of a pied imperial pigeon in a calophyllum tree overhanging the beach. It is the repeated resonance of a yellow oriole as it fossicks in a river cherry.
Exuberance is the whooping and yodelling of chowchillas, unseen in the undergrowth but delightfully loud in their proclamations. It is the shouting of male toothbills announcing their availability from October to February, and the sound of rainbow lorikeets mobbing a black bean tree in full bloom.
Wonder is the cushion of moss on a rock, the fuzz of lichen on a tree trunk, the gurgle and splash of a creek which can run all night, all next day, all next week, and on until the next rain replenishes the forest. And all of this is dependent on the trees rising from a mesh of roots into trunks of many colours, textures and shapes which branch out to form an over-arching, sheltering canopy.
Work will always be necessary – the effort needed to live simply, to lighten one’s tread, to grow seedlings with which to begin or to broaden an island of trees. Work is a gentle re-inhabiting of the earth.
Hope is that we will never again grow so poor in spirit as to renew the assault which once brought the bulldozer and the shriek of chainsaws. Hope is that there is place enough, space enough, time enough for all to walk gently in Gaia’s green cathedrals, to take in the scented air that lingers still, since Eden.
And at the end, gratitude that a life nearly spent allowed time to walk amongst trees and to work amongst good people – a life which knew blessings enough to leave without bitterness.
Working in a north Queensland sawmill using logs from a rainforest, Rupert saw waste occurring daily, yet he supposed the Forestry Department was overseeing a sustainable operation. Then, about 1979, Rupert heard the ABC’s Science Show play the soundtrack of Give Trees a Chance, a documentary by Jeni Kendell and Paul Tait on the logging of big trees at Terania Creek. The documentary prompted him to start asking questions of Queensland’s forestry officers. Their answers were so unsatisfactory that he could no longer remain passive. In those days road-making and logging on Windsor Tableland was at its peak, so in 1981 Rupert initiated a picket of loggers on the road to Windsor. Later he joined the 1983 and 1984 blockades on the road to Bloomfield, graduating as a greenie – an epithet he is fond of because the same description is used for the cheerful scaly-breasted lorikeets.
Shane Starr and Liam Wrigley
Shane and Liam are in Grade 7 at Kuranda District State College. They drew their picture to show the flora and fauna that many people outside the Wet Tropics don’t get to experience.
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