The gift of Oura Oura

Monday 20 June, 2011

In April 2011, Bob Brown expressed his ongoing belief in Bush Heritage's supporters with a gift unlike any other.

 


It's quiet in the Liffey Valley. The platypus in the river is keeping the morning to itself and the shadows are still long on the ground. Up the hill is nestled a tiny, white cottage, neat and charming below the dramatic, towering columns of Drys Bluff.

A symbol of hope and courage

This is Oura Oura, a little piece of bush just 50km from Launceston, Tasmania. It's also the place where Australia's most formidable environmental advocate, Bob Brown, found a place to call home in 1973, where he first conceived of Bush Heritage Australia 20 years ago, and where he now hopes Bush Heritage supporters will find a symbol of hope and courage not just 20 years from now, but 200.

Two white ponies grazing further up the hill prick their ears with passing curiosity. By the end of the day they'll be featured on the front page of two national newspapers – today is a momentous day for the Australian environmental movement.

Photo of Oura cottage with Dry's Bluff in the backgroundOura Oura Reserve nestles beneath Drys Bluff. Photo: Peter Morris /

Today, Bob Brown hands over the keys to the house and ownership of the 14-hectare property to Bush Heritage, in a remarkable act of generosity and faith, reminiscent of the courage with which he founded the organisation.

But the first problem is ... where are those keys exactly? At nine o'clock, when Bob is due to regale me with stories I can bundle up and take home to the extraordinary swathe of Australians that support Bush Heritage, he's half-way up a tree, searching in vain for the front door keys to the cottage he's called home for nearly 40 years. "I know they're up here somewhere," he says.

A cosy home in the wilderness

Photo of Doug Humann presenting Bob Brown with a fern grown from Liffey Valley stockBush Heritage Australia former CEO Doug Humann thanks Bob Brown with a symbolic gift: a Mother shield fern, grown from a young plant collected at Oura Oura months earlier. Photo: Peter Morris

Bob climbs down and settles into the couch in the front room of the cottage. The couch has been there for years and its comfortable, old-style homeliness, matched by the second-hand crockery and mismatched glasses in the kitchen cupboard, says something about the man who sits so easily in its midst.

This may be Senator Bob Brown, the man that led the campaign to protect the Franklin River, founder of the Tasmanian and Australian Greens parties as well as The Wilderness Society and Bush Heritage Australia, an Australian national treasure and inspiration to many.

But this is also Bob, who sits comfortably on a patchy couch in a woollen cardigan and who yesterday bounded down the paddock to greet visitors personally, hand extended in greeting, smiling and saying "Hi, I'm Bob."

It's easy to see why Bob fell in love with Oura Oura. "The place is just so scenically beautiful, it's quiet but it's got a continual rustle of the river in the background."

"It's full of the sounds of nature. Each morning at the moment, the currawongs are flocking. There are thrushes here in spring, calling and setting up their territories. The white cockies come and go, and the black cockies sit in the wattle tree just outside the window.

The birth of Bush Heritage Australia

Photo of Oura property gate with Dry's Bluff in backgroundLike Bob Brown, Bush Heritage welcomes visitors to Oura Oura. Photo: Peter Morris

Oura Oura is not the only Bush Heritage reserve in the Liffey Valley that holds a special place in Bob Brown's heart. Bob was first inspired to 'go into hock' for a beautiful piece of land down the road which was destined for woodchips.

He could think of no better way to spend the $49 000 cheque he'd just received as a recipient of the first Goldman Environmental Prize, than as a deposit for what is now Liffey River Reserve.

The campaign to raise the remaining $200 000 was the birth of Bush Heritage Australia.

Now, 20 years later, Bob's faith – and that of his supporters – has been rewarded as he marks the success of that fledgling organisation and its followers, with a new gift.

"I've always thought that, while I've loved Oura Oura and it's been an anchor to me, it's never been mine in the sense of property. I've always welcomed people walking through here, the school groups and the trout fishers coming up the river. I love the idea that this is a public place which is going to bring joy to people forever, and so does Paul."

Oura Oura in capable hands

Bob and his partner of 15 years, Paul Thomas, could have done many wonderful things with such a special place. So why leave it to Bush Heritage?

"Because it's logical," says Bob. "It was in this very room and at this very table that I thought about Bush Heritage back in 1990."

"What a wonderful thing – that Bush Heritage has become such a strong, national organisation for the protection of ecosystems and habitats, and that they can take ownership of Oura Oura with such capable hands. I'm very, very, very happy that they are now custodians... It seems a perfect fit."

A milestone for Australian philanthropy

Like the gift of Liffey River Reserve in 1991, Bob and Paul's gift is a great act of generosity. It's also a milestone for how far philanthropy in Australia has come.

"People thought it wouldn't work, that it was too early for philanthropy in Australia culturally, but I thought it would. I'd met a lot of people on the Franklin River campaign, who said 'I couldn't come down to the blockade but I really want to help' – and they just wrote a cheque. It seemed to me that the time was right for Australia."

As his political career made ever greater demands on Bob's time, Oura Oura became a place of respite, where he often slept out under the stars, in the company of the boobook owls.

"It's very relaxing to listen to the sounds of this place. This is the music of millions of years playing here... that's what human ears have heard since the cradle of humanity."

A gift of the spirit

Photo of Oura Cottage and treePhoto: Peter Morris 

Outside, guests are beginning to arrive and I leave Bob to get ready before he goes outside to greet them. There is John Dean, the former owner who built the Drys Bluff walking track in the 1950s; Karen Alexander, a former Bush Heritage president and Louise Sylvan, the current president; long-term supporters; and many neighbours.

Then there's a little girl called Billy. She bounds up to Bob and gives him a hug. Billy lives across the road with her parents. Her joy at being in the bush reminds me of the message Bob left me, for the supporters of Bush Heritage, people he describes as 'good-hearted people who really care'. I asked him why someone should ever dream of supporting Bush Heritage.

"Because it's a gift to your own spirit as a human being," he said. "It's not only your own spirit you're nurturing, it's the spirit of your children and your grandchildren, and people 500 years from now just like us."

"When you think it through, there's nothing better you could do than to protect the places we are essentially born from."

By Bron Willis

 


What kind of gift could you leave behind?

By gifting Oura Oura to Bush Heritage, Bob Brown has made a lasting impact. You too can make a difference, by leaving a gift to Bush Heritage in your Will. Every gift, however large or small, helps us to protect Australia's bush and its creatures. Find out more about leaving a gift to Bush Heritage in your Will.

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