The old cow-cocky was leaning over his fence when I asked, ‘Do you want to sell that piece of land over there on the other side of the road? You know, that bit that hasn’t been cleared yet.’ ‘What do ya want that for?’ he replied and I said, ‘I want to live there, in the forest.’ He tilted his hat back and stared at me and said ‘Ahh mate… ya can’t live in that, its mongrel scrub’. This was 1970 and typical of the attitude from the country folk of that era. Rainforest was nothing but a lot of hard work, clearing the stuff to put cows in and building a house right in the middle of the paddock. Even the word ‘rainforest’ was used very rarely. As a young bloke escaping from the cities of the south in the late 1960s, far north Queensland was just a place at the end of the road map. I knew nothing of the world of the tropics. Cairns was still a part of a bygone age and adaptation to this world was a wonderful journey. Kuranda became home. That old cow-cocky did sell that land.
The forest became my refuge from the hot tropical sun, immersed in an ancient world full of wonderment and discovery. After 40 years of living here in the Wet Tropics I realise how much knowledge I have accumulated through observation and experiment. It started with the offer to accompany a crocodile hunter ’out bush‘, as he used to say – floating the wild uncharted rivers of Cape York in rubber inflatable boats at night with a light on your hat and a rifle in your lap. This bush was a far cry from the wet rainforests of the coastal hinterland, yet the profound wisdom these men acquired about nature, their total respect for the country they were in and their ability to share was to lead me into a continuous process of discovery. In many ways I feel like the last apprentice, as these were the last days of an era that had spanned close to a hundred years when crocodile hunting from the wild was regarded as a reasonable occupation. During the 1970s, after the closure of ‘wild hunting’, finding a job was not so easy. Many of us took our habitation of the rainforest for granted, not fully appreciating the benefits we had gained by trial and error from all our experiences. The wet seasons came and went with a constant sequence of activity – things that bit, things that bloomed, and the things that almost struck you down with wonder. Slowly but surely the knowledge accumulated.
By the early 1980s there was a plan to turn our small Cairns domestic airport into an international gateway to Australia. This proposal offered an exciting opportunity and ushered in a new economy built around international tourism. From the outset the destination was to offer the Great Barrier Reef as the main attraction, but I knew there was more to this part of Australia than what was being proposed and it was just a matter of time before the remnant rainforests also became an attraction in their own right. The notion came to me to start an enterprise by building a small riverboat offering rainforest tours.
From the outset I found very little in the way of reference material to complement my own understanding of this environment. Little did I know there were others out there researching, documenting and building a body of written knowledge to meet the growing demand for well-researched studies. The 1986 publication Tropical Rainforests of North Queensland: Their Conservation Significance, with special mention to Dr Aila Keto, President of the Rainforest Conservation Society of Queensland, was an inspiration, along with her dedication in championing the nomination for World Heritage listing.
Over the past 26 years that little riverboat has undertaken more than 43,000 tours with countless passengers, introducing people young and old from all over the world to a magnificent natural wonder. The dedicated riverboat crew have, over the years, added their own narrative of personal accounts and experiences to the science and have introduced many to the notion that this place is very special. Little did I know, way back then, that we would be a part of the process of bringing understanding to many about this national and international treasure… a place we all now call the Wet Tropics.
Brian is originally from Sydney and migrated to Cairns in 1969. During that year he was fortunate to develop a working relationship with a group of remarkable bushmen who were professional crocodile hunters. The following years enabled him to embark on extraordinary wilderness adventures over much of Cape York Peninsula as one of the last professional crocodile hunters who saw out the end of the era. In 1982, before World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics rainforests, he started one of the region’s first interpretive tropical rainforest tour companies which he continues to operate and manage. His profound knowledge and understanding of the Wet Tropics is based on his personal observations, study, experience and interaction. He has been living in the rainforest of Kuranda for the past thirty eight years.
Steven is a professional photographer who specialises in Australian wilderness. His collection also includes images of environmental destruction and degradation, along with conservation initiatives to preserve and protect our dwindling wilderness. Steven has his own photographic publishing business in Cairns and publishes wilderness posters, postcards, bookmarks, calendars and photographic prints. In 2003 Steven launched a wonderfully elegant and powerful photographic art book about Hinchinbrook Island. In 2004 he worked with the Kuku Yalanji people on a book promoting Aboriginal culture and fire management. During 2005 and 2006 Steven was invited to perform photographic assignments in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea highlighting the development of the Millenium Development Goals.
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