I came across this book through a very positive review in the Weekend Australian. Its author is ecologist Matthew Colloff, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Fenner School, ANU. Matthew grew up in rural Kent developing a strong allegiance to the natural world, something I immediately related to as it was close to my own experiences growing up in Middle England. He carried this affinity through his 23 years with CSIRO where he spend much time on the complex and highly politicised natural and man-made environments of the Murray Darling Basin. But the book extends far beyond that both geographically, ecologically and conceptually.
How do we as individuals relate to landscapes and nature and how did our early encounters and memories stay with us and colour our views of the natural world? Are there particular holidays, outings, travels and experiences, fishing in a quiet river, listening to the cicadas and sea sounds on a hot afternoon camped in a forest by the beach? Or how do we relate to the interwoven intricacies of bush, parks, suburbs and city? But what of First Nation people whose connection with the landscape stretches back for more than 50,000 years; their sacred and canoe bark trees that have survived in our parks: do we cut them down when they grow old and pose safety risks? And how do the farmers who now occupy their cleared former country cope with and live with the vagaries of drought, floods, bushfires, rising salinity and a warming world.
This book is wide ranging and thoughtful and full of stories and anecdotes, both historical and from his own experiences: like getting bogged alone, far from a main road in mallee country or releasing a captive turtle back into the wild that had been rescued from drought-shrunken pools. The writing style is fluid and readable and hard to put down, but most of all the book is thought provoking and makes you examine your own attitudes, and ponder the future for our country, our biodiversity and the survival of the landscapes that we love.
Matthew Colloff, 330 pages: Thames and Hudson: trade paperback RRP $35
Reviewed by John Martyn