Nonfiction

A Pocket Of Peace In The Australian Bushland

11 June 2019

I’ve found that my anxiety lessens on bushwalks. Standing still, the cool breeze against my skin, able to hear birds, frogs, and the rustle of leaves in the wind. I am able to free myself of societal constraints, prejudice and discrimination. There’s nothing like it; I become emotional. I take photos and try to breathe enough of the wild into my lungs before their next day of heavy heaving, faced with an essay or stress that catches my mind like a bug in a web.

The millennial desire to uproot and live elsewhere is a growing trend among online platforms like Tumblr and Twitter. A search for ‘forest’ on Tumblr will lead you to a range of text posts: “Sorry mother, I’m abandoning society and going to live in the forest again,” or, “all I want to do is dance barefoot in the forest.” These are often supported by references to art and musicians that inspire these feelings, notably songwriter Hozier who almost appears as a tree deity. A brief stalk of Hozier’s Twitter shows he liked a post which says, “In honour of the first day of spring, lie down in the woods & let the dirt turn you into the tree you’ve always wanted.” I feel this.

Forest. Woods. Bush. Regardless of differences in geography and living conditions, the sentiment appears to be universal. When I think of the forest I imagine stereotypically European pine trees with frosted tips. The woods–a cabin and trees that could be out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But the bush? Australian survival in an arena of eucalyptus. Venturing through Colley St. Reserve, or embarking on the 1000 Steps Kokoda Memorial Walking Trail, there’s an incredible calm. As I watch the crimson rosella dance through the trees there seems to be nothing like it. Despite my bad knee and mediocre health, I am completely at peace in the bush, with feelings of restoration and hope.

However, long-term survival poses a problem. In California earlier this year, two sisters, five and eight, survived 44 hours in the woods before being rescued. The terrain was rugged but U.S. Program 4-H had taught them survival skills. In Australia, courses like Bush Lore and Wildcraft Australia exist, but doing these can’t ensure your survival, they just extend your skillset. After several years in Girl Guides, all I can consider are the knots I could tie, kayaks I could use, and how to find shelter and maintain a fire. It might get me by for a little while, but could I live into my old age? Probably not. And whether I could survive anywhere other than the Victorian bush is also up for debate, when I consider how expansive Australia is.

Our state’s prevalence of bushfires is a lingering thought. Friends were evacuated from bushfires in the Bunyip area earlier this year–a situation that brings nothing but panic. Despite the VicEmergency app on my phone, I can’t move past the 15,588ha that were burnt. Despite the ease the bush alludes to, I have to consider the times it leaves me fearful. I have to consider whether I would have the ability to survive within it or defend it if flames were promised. My First Aid certificate wouldn’t be enough–the bush harbours more than my skillset offers.

Despite this I still yearn for the wind brushing through my hair and the smell of eucalyptus–an opportunity to escape the injustices within our ‘civilised’ society. The young Californian girls did not run away, they found themselves lost. But for many of us, it is the act of running that we dream of. When people run away it is often as a result of forms of harm or injustice against them, and political forms of harm are no exception. At the core of these seems to be the existence of fear and the need to rebuild themselves outside of what we know. For each person this is different. When I consider the suffering that goes on in and beyond Australia, the deaths and horrors that millions face, I tighten up. What can one person do to change the world? When I consider all the things my family doesn’t know about me, the ways I suffer, the words I write–I wonder how they would react. I want to run from their opinions before I see them. Each is a tick in the list of anxieties I carry with me at all times. Each anxiety is a product of the world we live in, which doesn’t provide enough for its homeless, its abused, its sick–the list goes on. And at the end of it I feel trapped knowing I can never truly do enough to alleviate the social constraints that may hold another person back.

Shelter, warmth, water and food. The United Nations (UN) lists these as human rights, but when they are not universal human rights in current society or within the bush, does it matter where we run to? I read the UN’s decree, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and consider the bush again. The bush treats everybody the same–perhaps it is cruel in its own way, but it’s not human. It does not subject people to an unmalleable political climate of white supremacy, baby boomer culture, or prejudice for minority groups. The bush just is. When I described this piece to a friend she agreed it was a uniquely millennial feeling, as some people have “made reality shitty and are doing nothing to better it”. We are young, and we have grown tired of fighting for things that should be accessible to all humans, not just the white, rich elite.

In popular dystopian series, The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins depicts the nature of this kind of fight. Retreating into the earthly security of the wilderness can’t save Katniss and her family forever. At 16 she is forced to fight the murderous Capitol, becoming the symbol for a rebellion that nearly costs her, her life. She talks of running away, but she fights to save her family, her people, and their forest–she fights for District 12. The forest is a mental sanctuary worthy of protection, filled with the animals her family must live off. Like Millennial and Gen Z youth, she shares our hope for natural, nourishing spaces of safety away from the political regimes that attempt to diminish our lives and communities.

Similar powers to those in The Hunger Games continue to impede many Australian communities, and have done since colonisation. The number of people who have had their human rights removed or denied is extensive and when political powers continue to dampen voices, the desire to run away lingers. We are anxious about the mistreatment and the fight as our safety continues to be compromised. And thus, we find ourselves looking for those untouched pockets of peace where we can live with equal rights.

When I was younger, I would power up my Nintendo DS to play Animal Crossing: Wild World. Here my problems were resolved with fishing, catching bugs or shaking trees. The only harm that can come to you within the game is from bee stings, but even this is easily cured with medicine. Outside this, you are safe. You are liked, admired and supported by the townsfolk who will send you letters and greet you each day. You have responsibilities, but otherwise you are safe from harm and few economic limitations or political prejudices can hold you back. In this little digital world, I was able to search for ways to make my home my own, grow trees and flowers and live peacefully.

The desire to protect is of course an element of home-making. In the bush, fires act as reminders that this environment may only last so long, and the startling political ignorance regarding climate change offers no resolution to my panic. But the space itself, between the trees and their history, offers me a small space of security and a moment in time where I can just exist without the pressure of society upon me. There’s no way I could live in the bush long-term. I don’t have the experience or enough knowledge of survival and land. Regardless, I continue to look to the land, thinking of the trees I would climb as a child, the plants my friend’s fill their houses with, and how I can breathe on bushwalks.

These are spaces where there is hope and ease which can surpass the anxiety of our political climate. These are memories and feelings I want to protect as I fight against my anxiety and continue to immerse myself in the peace of the wild.


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