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Thirty wonderful years

Published 07 Oct 2021 

By Bob Brown

Against the human-made twin disasters of climate change and mass extinction, Bush Heritage Australia is a habitat of hope.

More than a million hectares of Australia’s wild lands, which had faced the degradation overtaking most of Earth’s surface, are now permanently protected and their wildlife secured, because of Bush Heritage - its ecologists, land managers, volunteers and supporters like you and me.

Bush Heritage CEO Heather Campbell and Bob Brown at Oura Oura.
Bush Heritage CEO Heather Campbell and Bob Brown at Oura Oura.. Photo Chris Crerar.

I am not one given to pessimism, but the global news is dismal - we are in a period of environmental catastrophe. Humanity’s over-exploitation of Earth has brought about floods, hurricanes, bushfires and droughts, and the loss of a staggering number of species.

The question hanging over all eight billion of our heads is whether we have the collective common sense to avert the downfall that will come from ‘business as usual’.

Just thirty years ago, harrowed by the impending loss of two large blocks of forest in Tasmania’s beautiful Liffey Valley, I bought the forest rather than let it be woodchipped. Friends helped set up Bush Heritage Australia, to take the hat around and pay the debt of $240,000.

“We almost failed, but thanks to the generosity of people then and ever since, those blocks were saved and our organisation flourished. It is now one of the biggest environmental organisations in the nation.”

After the loss of Lake Pedder in 1973 came a rapid series of environmental wins including the Terania Creek rainforest in northern New South Wales, the Franklin River in Tasmania, the Little Desert in Victoria, Gammon Ranges in South Australia, Kakadu in the Northern Territory, the Daintree wet tropics and Fraser Island in Queensland and, bit by bit, some southwest forests of Western Australia.

Of course, other wins have followed, but Australia’s environmental health and wellbeing is nevertheless going backwards to the point where the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of death and even our iconic Koala is set to be listed as threatened with extinction.

Recent decades have been a relative environmental desert in terms of government action - and government is as good as the voters make it.

The truth that there can only be a healthy economy when there is a secure environment is still widely ignored; we're not good at facing this reality. But, to plagiarise former US President Bill Clinton, ‘it’s the environment, stupid!’.

That’s where Bush Heritage Australia comes in. Here is private enterprise taking the lead.

Bush Heritage has rapidly established an array of privately-owned ‘national parks’ which are safer and more secure from exploitation than those run by governments.

And people love it.

Folks frequently stop me to say how much they like giving or bequesting to Bush Heritage because it actually buys and protects habitat for native wildlife, including forests, woodlands, coasts and deserts. Moreover, it is supporting Aboriginal people to connect to and care for their country.

Bush Heritage is a light on the path to Australia’s future. In keeping that light glowing its own future will involve taking some risks if it is to fulfil its greatest opportunities.

While I wouldn't recommend a lash-out monetary risk like that of 1990-91 which saved those first forests at Liffey, I look forward to Bush Heritage expanding the area it protects in the next 30 years. That's the key to its ongoing success.

Visitors to Liffey enjoy signs and walking tracks.
Visitors to Liffey enjoy signs and walking tracks. Photo Amelia Caddy.

Meanwhile, down at my old home of Oura Oura in the tellerpanger/Liffey Valley, gifted to Bush Heritage in 2011, there are now story boards, tracks and toilets.

Plans are underway to build accommodation for caretakers who will help look after the property as well as the increasing number of folk going there to enjoy a stroll by the river, a photo of the heritage-listed cottage or the more strenuous walk up taytitikitheeker/Drys Bluff towering behind.

It's a gift for the gifters and I love to see the happiness it brings those visitors.

Bush Heritage is people taking action against the tide of environmental loss. Every now and then it is good to take stock and enjoy what we all, together, have achieved in the last 30 wonderful years.