THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to my newsletter.

Dr Bob Brown and I go back a long way—not that he knows that. Not that he even knows who I am. Growing up in Tasmania as I did, I’ve admired and respected Dr Brown—or Bob as he introduces himself—since the early ’80s—as a man, as a politician, as a tireless crusader for the wilderness and the planet, and as a generous human being.

I was a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl when I first heard of him. At that time he was trying to stop the government from damming the World Heritage listed Franklin River in the southwest of Tasmania. The campaign was ultimately successful when the Prime Minister of the time, Bob Hawke, stepped in and prohibited the dam from proceeding.

The popular No Dams car stickers from the time of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam controversy

The popular No Dams car stickers from the time of the Franklin dam controversy.

Bob Brown entered State politics not long after that, and later Federal Parliament as a Senator, and I kept hearing and reading about him. Despite his busy schedule, I saw him in the audience at my husband’s graduation, and again at my graduation— he attended the graduation of the medical students every year.

Whilst a student at the Clinical School and when I worked at the Royal Hobart Hospital, I used to nip out in my lunch hour to hear him speak at the Town Hall around the corner. He talked about the wilderness and encouraged us to visit it. He also encouraged us to write letters to editors, and to protest …

I went on a couple of protests, all peaceful and full of camaraderie. I remember one at Wrest Point Casino, where the ALP were holding their national conference. I went along and held up a banner protesting against logging in the Lemonthyme Valley, another World Heritage listed area, this time in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We were laughed at by the suited politicians, but due to the efforts of more ardent protesters than me, the valley was saved.

Last year, my family and I walked the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair Overland Track. One day, we stopped for a break at a point overlooking a beautiful, green valley.
‘This is the Lemonthyme Valley,’ our guide said. ‘Can you believe they wanted to log it?’
I looked out over the valley below and felt so proud of the small part I’d played in helping to save it.

Lemonthyme

This is what we saw as we walked through ...

This is what we saw as we walked through …

It was an absolute joy to hear Bob speak again after all these years. Firstly, we were given a warm welcome to Nyoongar country by an indigenous elder, who told us we were doing the same thing that the indigenous people had been doing on this land for thousands of years: telling stories. We were also welcomed with a traditional song.

Then Bob came on, looking not a day older than when I’d last seen him in the Town Hall about twenty years’ ago. He spoke in the same laconic manner, with the same honesty, the same integrity, and the same passion for our planet, for the wilderness, and for Tasmania.

My apologies for the quality of the photo.

My apologies for the quality of the photo.

And he’s still optimistic—especially for the youth of today, that they have an innate appreciation and understanding of nature, and that they’ll do things differently to us. I hope he’s right, but I’m not sure …

When I worked as a GP, I remember trying to motivate people to change their lifestyles, encouraging them to give up smoking, exercise, lose weight, before they did irreversible damage to their health. I found it one of the most frustrating jobs as a doctor, because rarely was I successful. People didn’t want to change their habits—not until they had a reason. And the reason often came in the form of a health scare, like a heart attack. Then they gave up smoking, or lost weight, but by that time, the damage was done and couldn’t be undone.

I think it’s the same when it comes to the planet—the Earth will have to have a heart attack before we change our habits, and until then, we’ll keep going as we are, denying the damage we’re causing, and making only token efforts to help our struggling planet. And it is struggling, and it’s letting us know, in the form of warmer temperatures, and more floods and cyclones. The scientists are like the doctors, warning us, ‘Hey, give up before something really bad happens.’ But no one wants to listen because we don’t want to change.

So hearing Bob speak reminded me again of what we, and our children and grandchildren, stand to lose.

There was one surprise for the night—when Bob sat at the Steinway piano and played a song he’d written as a sixteen-year-old. Then over the loudspeakers, he played an orchestrated version with words sung by a soprano. He’s called it his Anthem to the Planet. I managed to sneak a tiny recording before security caught up with me:

Let’s hope he’s right and I’m wrong—that our leaders will take heed, that we’ll listen to the Earth telling us she’s in pain, and that we’ll start looking after our wonderful planet before it’s too late.

Bob Brown Optimism

***

I attended many great sessions at the Perth Writers’ Festival—I took part in a publishing workshop with Donna Ward from Inkerman and Blunt; I saw Hilary Mantel and Liz Gilbert at the Concert Hall; and I had a cosy conversation in the caravan with Janine Vangool (thanks to my friend, Rae Hilhorst). I also saw Favel Parrett and Rohan Wilson talk about their books and my beloved Tasmania, Inga Simpson and Emily Bitto talk writing and the Stella Prize, and Geraldine Wooller and Richard Rossiter discuss writing on topics close to home.

I’ll write about these other sessions soon. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from others who attended the Festival …

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THE SISTERS' SONG

Coming January 2018 (Allen and Unwin)

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