Dr Bob Brown in the Liffey Valley, Tasmania. Photo Peter Morris.
Bob Brown made the huge leap of faith that brought the Australian Bush Heritage Fund into being.
In 1990 two blocks of outstanding forest adjacent to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, nestled under the central plateau, were put up for sale. The blocks were marketed as ideal for woodchipping.
Bob used $49,000 awarded to him as recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize as a down payment on the land, borrowing the rest from friends and the bank. The campaign to pay off the remaining $200,000 loan was the birth of The Australian Bush Heritage Fund and that land is now our Liffey River and Dry's Bluff Reserves, parts of which are UN World Heritage Listed!
This was indeed a courageous move. No organisation existed that was dedicated to conserving and managing private land. There was no assurance that the funds could be recouped and the debt paid.
Bob talked about Nature Conservancy in the US and predicted that such a large national organisation dedicated to securing high conservation value private land could and would be created in Australia. People across the land wanted to donate where they could see a result in real terms, and the opportunity to be part of securing our natural heritage in a way that complemented political efforts, he declared.
And so it began. Bob’s scribbled IOUs and grand ideas were converted into the Australian Bush Heritage Fund. Those of us involved on the Board and as staff members in the early years rapidly got to know that Bob would always be a hard taskmaster, forever pushing towards the dream. He was our inaugural President until 1996.
Just when we thought we could pause for breath, because we had enough income to be sure we would pay the debt eventually, Bob urged expansion to employ staff, to make a new purchase, then another, and then to an official presence outside Tasmania.
Bush Heritage is one of Bob’s many babies, now grown into a life of its own. His sheer audacity of thought and action brought this organisation into being.
“I was walking in Tasmania’s Liffey Valley on a sunny day in 1990 when I made a decision that began the journey we now know as Bush Heritage Australia.
Dry's Bluff above Liffey Valley. Photo: Wayne Lawler.
On that day, I was walking high above two beautiful bush blocks that had come up for sale and that logging companies were keen to buy. I thought about what might happen if someone didn’t protect that land. I imagined a scene of grey tree skeletons and burning stumps.
"I walked through a gully dense with rainforest and carpeted by ferns. A small creek bubbled away nearby. I found some hand-worked shards of stone – a reminder of the Aboriginal people who’d been going there for thousands of years, to enjoy the morning sun. I felt a connection with humanity that stretched back to generations past, and forward to generations yet to come.
"I couldn’t stand by and watch that spirit die. With encouragement and support from a group of like-minded friends, I decided to go into debt to buy this natural part of the Australian bush. It was the beginning of something very special."
Bob was President of Bush Heritage until 1996 and a Board Member until 1997.
Bob Brown at Oura Oura, under the magnificent Drys Bluff. Photo courtesy Bob Brown.
In March 2011, the then Senator Bob Brown formally presented his Tasmanian property 'Oura Oura' to Bush Heritage Australia.
The 14-hectare parcel of land is not just environmentally significant, but also played an important role in the history of the Australian conservation movement. Over the years the cottage hosted formative meetings of Bush Heritage Australia, The Wilderness Society, the Tasmanian and Australian Greens, and the Franklin River Campaign.
"This place has been my anchor and my steady point and it was fortunately geographically near the centre of Tasmania. So it did become a central meeting place for 'greenies in beanies'. And that's why I'm so happy that Bush Heritage has taken on the gift and the responsibility.
"Bush Heritage is, effectively, the custodian of private national parks aimed to protect ecological values in perpetuity. It's a fantastic guardian of Australia's natural heritage".