To the CCRRS workforce, past, present and to come,
this work is respectfully dedicated.
List of Abbreviations
The Traditional Owners
The Inhabitants: Non-Furry
The Inhabitants: Furry
A Note on the Author
By the Same Author
List of Abbreviations
|ADB||Australian Dictionary of Biography|
|APNI||Australian Plant Name Index (on line)|
|BMAD||Bell Miner Associated Dieback|
|CCRRS||Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme|
|CSIRO||Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation|
|DNB||Dictionary of National Biography|
|IATSIS||Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies|
|IPNI||International Plant Name Index (on line)|
|ISN||Illustrated Sydney News|
|MLA||Member of the Legislative Assembly (lower house of state parliament)|
|MLC||Member of the Legislative Council (upper house of state parliament)|
|MM||Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser|
|NLA||National Library of Australia|
|QSA||Queensland State Archives|
|QPWS||Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service|
|USDA||United States Department of Agriculture|
|WIRES||NSW Wildlife Rescue and Information Service Inc.|
This is the story of an extraordinary stroke of luck. You could call it ‘life-changing’, if only every woman’s life were not an inexorable series of changes to which she has to adapt as well as she can. What happened at Cave Creek in December 2001 is that life grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. I went there as a lamb to the slaughter, without the faintest inkling that my life was about to be taken over by a forest. Some of my friends tell me now that they saw it coming. Had I not quit London in 1984 and removed to rural Essex? Was not the first thing I did there to plant a wood? Was I not prouder of my English wood (which is all the wrong trees and in quite the wrong place) than anything else I had ever done? They may not have been surprised when I bought land at Cave Creek, but I was.
Great strokes of luck are usually disastrous. People who win millions on the lottery tell us that their lives have been ruined: their friends have turned into spongers; their families are dissatisfied; tradesmen, lawyers, bankers and accountants have swindled them and too much of the money was frittered away before they could secure their future. I was sixty-two when the forest became my responsibility, with no idea of how long I might be able to go on earning a living by my pen and my tongue. Our culture is not sympathetic to old women, and I was definitely an old woman, with a creaky knee and shockingly arthritic feet. Everyone else my age was buying a unit on the Sunshine Coast. What did I think I was doing buying sixty hectares of steep rocky country most of it impenetrable scrub?
As will become evident, I didn’t think. I followed a series of signs and portents that led beyond thought, to find myself in a realm that was unimaginably vast and ancient. My horizons flew away, my notion of time expanded and deepened, and my self disappeared. I hadn’t been the centre of my world since menopause shook me free of vanity and self-consciousness; once I became the servant of the forest I was just one more organism in its biomass, the sister of its mosses and fungi, its mites and worms. I would be its interface with the world of humans, arguing its case for as long as I could, doing my best to protect it from exploitation and desecration. For ten years I could call it ‘my’ forest, because I had bought the freehold, but that was only for convenience. To be sure the signs I put all along the unfenced boundary said that any person found removing anything whatsoever from the property would be prosecuted, but that was not because I would consider myself to have been robbed, but because the forest would have been plundered. I never thought of the forest as mine.
I would walk down the creek, gazing up at the Bangalow Palms and Rose Apples that soared into the sky, and say to myself over and over again, ‘Who could own this?’ The Azure Kingfisher perched on a trembling frond to scan the creek for fish had more right to it than I. The Long-finned Eel nosing under the rocks, the White-browed Scrubwren washing itself in a rock pool, the Bladder Cicada living its one glorious day of airborne life, all were co-owners with me. It was only a matter of time before the forest would be given back to itself, and a fund accumulated for its management. So I gave the place a name that referred to the project rather than the property, Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme, CCRRS for short. Perhaps one day I shall earn the place’s true, historic, Aboriginal name, but for now CCRRS it is.
How did I know on that bright December day in 2001 that the forest at Cave Creek could be rehabilitated? I thought I knew the answer to that question until I tried to answer it. On my first visit I couldn’t even guess at the rainforest on the upper slopes. What I could see was acres of exotic pasture grass with cattle dribbling into it and as many acres of soft weed. Maybe it was the entrance to the national park, with its Macadamias carrying strings of unripe nuts, Black Beans dangling their giant pea pods and watervines hanging in huge swags over the road, that told me louder than words what I should have found in the perched valley beneath. I didn’t know then how much of that exuberant vegetation was exotic weed species. I do now. Now I know that the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is short of everything it needs to carry out its job of conservation, and that what funds it does have are exhausted by the cost of maintaining the infrastructure that is meant to protect the tourists from themselves. Governments having failed, the restoration of the most biodiverse rainforest outside the wet tropics will have to be done by dedicated individuals.
That day I saw a pasture bounded not by forest but by impenetrable curtains of tangled Lantana canes. I had no idea how to remove them, but I knew they could be removed. The other thing I knew was that it was my responsibility to remove them. Why? Because I could. I had money, enough to get started at least. Once I got started I wouldn’t have money for anything else, but that didn’t scare me. I didn’t need anything nearly as much as I needed to heal some part of the fabulous country where I was born. Everywhere I had ever travelled across its vast expanse I had seen devastation, denuded hills, eroded slopes, weeds from all over the world, feral animals, open-cut mines as big as cities, salt rivers, salt earth, abandoned townships, whole beaches made of beer cans. Give me just a chance to clean something up, sort something out, make it right, I thought, and I will take it. I wasn’t doing it out of altruism; I didn’t think I was saving the world. I was in search of heart’s ease and this was my chance to find it. I didn’t know it until a bird showed me, as you shall see if you read on. I needed a sign and the bird was it.
The bird was an ambassador from the realm of biodiversity, which is every Earthling’s birthright. Biodiversity is our real heritage as the ostentation of extinct aristocracies is not. We have inherited a planet that is richer and more various than could ever have been imagined. Every day brings discoveries of new riches, coral reefs in the darkest depths of arctic seas, crustaceans living in boiling sulphuric water, thousands of species in thousands of genera, some older than history and some brand-new. Biodiversity is the name we give to the extravagant elaboration of this our planet, to the continuing creativity of evolution. Every one of the millions of life forms on Earth is an Earthling like us, closer to us than any yet to be discovered life form in a distant solar system. The tiny snail negotiating the edge of that lettuce leaf is my cousin; it and I share most of our genes. Its survival and the survival of its kind depend on me. I could pick the little creature off the leaf and crush it under my boot, or I could leave it for a hungry thrush, or I could bless it unaware, as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner blessed the snakes of the Sargasso Sea: