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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
Another wonderfully written post – I do so enjoy reading your blog 🙂 And Bob Brown, what an amazing guy! I do agree, I think this Earth with have to have the equivalent of a heart attack, as you say, before we wake up and see what we’re doing to our only home. Such a sad thing.
Small random fact: I’m sure I read somewhere that Bob Brown was the medical intern on duty when Jimi Hendrix was brought into hospital after his fatal overdose. Maybe I’m dreaming this, but if it’s true another facet to a very interesting man.
Thanks Helen! He is an amazing person—courageous, honest, dignified—and one I so admire. I love your interesting anecdote about Jimi Hendrix—I’ll check it out and see if it’s true …
I read that too, Helen. I think you might be right.
Here you go. Bob was working in the department when Jimi’s body was brought in, and he’s included the story in his book too. http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/music/about-that-jimi-hendrix-death-business/story-e6frfn09-1226385575798
Hi Louise, loved reading your response and history regarding Bob Brown. I also attended his talk and found it inspirational – he has been my “pin up boy” for many years! I agree with your view about humanity’s scary ability to ignore the facts, even as Rome is burning, so to speak. Another concerning aspect is that many young people, I believe (and not only young people) also now feel that as single voices their actions cannot make a difference, so they switch off and trust to the authorities or the campaigners to do the right thing. And we are all busy earning money, living our lives and raising our families, and thinking about the daily distractions that are fed to us by the advertisers and the media. That does not feel as uncomfortable, as thinking about the juggernaut of the sum total of various societies’ predation on the planet.
Dr Bryan Stevenson, the closing speaker, who has campaigned for more than thirty years to save death row prisoners from execution and to combat social inequality, advised us to “become proximate”, i.e. move towards, rather than away, from what is unsettling and uncomfortable; to find out more; to take actions, no matter how small, to change the world. He said that every person, whatever age, can make a difference, and sometimes that difference is made by bearing witness to another person’s needs and suffering; that no person is completely “bad”; that we are “all broken”. He advised us to protect our hope, and he should know, from many experiences in taking on the USA justice system. His online TED talk on justice issues is very special.
So nice to hear from you, Helen. Yes, he’s my ‘pin-up boy’ too. You’re right about people worrying that their small action won’t make a difference—and it’s not just young people: I feel like that, too. But if each small person adds their voice to the collective …
You’re right, too, about being busy and having urgent priorities, like raising a family or earning a living, so we can’t make helping the planet a priority. I know I felt like that as a young mum, and I couldn’t do much. I like the idea of ‘becoming proximate’ and I wish I’d seen Dr Stevenson speak—he sounds so inspiring. We can affect things adjacent to us, no matter how small or insignificant it feels, it’s still a step in the right direction and would no doubt have a flow-on effect.
As a young mum, I didn’t have much spare time, and two of the few things I could do were use cloth nappies and carry my re-usable grocery bags with me. Some days, these were the only things I did. Little-by-little, we as a family have been able to do a more—walk or ride, rather than drive; install awnings over the windows, which has so dramatically reduced the temperature inside the house, we’ve only used the air-con twice this summer; keep a bucket under the kitchen and shower taps, and pour the water on the garden; reuse and recycle as much as we can. Even driving the car with the windows down rather than use the air-con—the kids love it! It feels like so little, but at least it’s something.
Again, terrific post Louise re Bob Brown. I would have anointed his feet myself if I wasn’t an inhibited older lady. Yes, all those actions are important and the flow on effect includes what your children have learned and will pass on….and the effects of your blog which we are seeing!
A sense of impotence can develop with the drip feed of distorted reflections we receive from various sources in society, day by day. Bob Brown and Dr Stevenson both inspired me to move towards what can feel uncomfortable, and to practise bravery, by taking small steps to do what feels new or less comfortable, such as sitting down to write to a local MP, or the Federal
Government, or attend a demonstration, which I haven’t done for quite a while. And some actions are simply a matter of a little discipline and habit, just like the preventive attention to health to avoid a health crisis, that you mentioned in your blog.
Such a great writers’ festival. A number of people to whom I mentioned it thought that it was just for writers! so were not keen to attend… I think it should be called the Perth Writers and Readers Festival. I shall pass that thought on to the organisers.
Cheers, I do enjoy your postings!
Firstly, do write to the organisers about renaming it as a ‘readers’ festival, too. It gives us so much food for thought, not just to writers, but for everyone. It’s amazing to sit and listen to intelligent, thoughtful people speak on so many issues, not just books.
Secondly, like you, I tend to worship Bob Brown just a little! I almost genuflected when I approached him! I gushed all over him, which he probably gets tired of, but he also cops a lot of flak from people, too, so maybe I was just righting the balance!
Thirdly, I’ve been inspired to take action, too! I’ve just written a letter to Colin Barnett and John Day, asking them to rethink their decision over the Premier’s Book Awards. I have no doubt they’ll ignore it, but they need to know the effect their decisions have on struggling authors and booksellers.
I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all more often at Rosemary’s group. Thanks for commenting! x
How odd. If people took a moment to browse the program, or even the blurb preceding the program, it would be immediately clear that PWF is aimed at a broad audience. How much spoonfeeding does one need these days?
I understand what you’re saying, but not everyone knows the PWF isn’t just for writers. I think some people just see ‘Writers’ Festival’, and don’t even read the blurbs. I think, too, they worry they might feel a bit intimidated if they go and they’re not writers. The Margaret River festival is called the ‘Readers and Writers’ Festival’, presumably for that reason. It’s perhaps worth drawing organisers’ attention to, how they might ensure that everyone knows they’re welcome.
Great post, Louise. Thank you. I adore Bob Brown, There I’ve said it! the guy is remarkable. And I share his optimism. I like to think that okay, I can’t fight the big polluters and destroyers, but I can do my little bit for the planet by simple yet important actions like being careful with my use of electricity, the car, curbing flying around in jet planes for non-essential purposes, and most difficult of all in this heat, not using the air-con.Now-a-days I believe in doing my P.B. personal best. And good on you for standing up for the Lemonthyme Valley!
I’m with you, Marlish—I love him, too. I saw him on Friday, and introduced myself, and gushed all over him! And I don’t even feel embarrassed!
I’m glad you’re optimistic and I hope you stay that way. And keep telling me, so it rubs off!
Enjoyed your post, as I always do, Louise, and I’m a Bob Brown fan too.
The list of events you went to at the PWF 2015 is very different from my list. It is almost as if we were at different festivals altogether. I can never work out how I arrive at different places and hear wonderful speakers, and other people have similar experiences without any overlap. I guess that’s the beauty of our festival and the wealth of speakers.
I’m curious to know if your experience will affect your writing?
I read about the sessions others went to, and felt the same, Maureen. There were so many good sessions being run concurrently, and I had to make a choice on the day …
What a great question you’ve asked, about whether the PWF will affect my writing. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I hope it will! The biggest influence, I suspect, will be Liz Gilbert’s talk on ‘fear’, and not letting it be the driver. Her talk really spoke to me, and, dare I say, encouraged me to be bolder. Really, she was just encouraging us to be true to ourselves.
Donna Ward also left me with something to think about, not so much to do with writing, but with self-promotion: Be shameless, she said. And she said it more than once! So there you go, from an industry professional …
What about you? Will any of the sessions affect your writing, do you think?
I was deeply affected by the very first session I attended on fairy tales. I loved listening to Kate Forsyth and Danielle Woods. The chair of the session was Delys Bird, who had an enormous influence on me when I discovered it was possible for a person like me with a nursing/social sciences background to embrace literature. I had not thought about fairy tales (and of archetypes) for a long time. Now I’m impatient to finish and be finished with my current memoir so I can explore some other forms of writing. This is the address of my link to the session. http://maureenhelen.com/fairy-tales-and-modern-novels
I also loved the journalist/authors Ros Thomas and Geraldine Doogue, too, for all sorts of different reasons. Yes, they will influence me almost immediately. I blogged about them at http://maureenhelen.com/media-cycle-how-are-we-affected/
Perhaps I’m a bit of a sponge. The more I think about other sessions, the more I know I’ve absorbed, and the more they’ll influence my work.
I love what Donna Ward said about being shameless about self-promotion. I took you at your word!
Go for it, Maureen! Self-promote with abandon!
One of the things about writers’ festivals is that there’s so much variety—there’d be something for everyone.
Perth Writers’ Festival is like my Christmas. I plan my whole February around it and I was so glad I got to go. The biggest draw card for me was getting to meet Kate Forsyth, who is the kind of engaging writer and speaker I’d love to be in my wildest dreams. Losing my copy of The Starthorn Tree when I moved house was the worst thing that ever happened in my young life (Okay so I had a priviledged childhood…). I was also moved to tears by seeing John Marsden speak, and if I think back I think his books might have started me on the path to writing, but also saved me during a year of bullying and loneliness right before high school. I did manage to work up the courage to get him to sign my book on the Sunday morning. The best thing he said was he thinks it’s important to make sure you take risks and go out and have first hand experiences, so now I’m looking for ways to do that. I think it will make me a better writer.
Love your blog!
Everyone fell in love with John Marsden—I wish I’d seen him. His ‘Tomorrow’ series got so many adolescent kids reading again—all of my kids read them. I’m glad you worked up the courage to ask him to sign your book.
Life experience helps when you’re a writer, that’s true, but unfortunately it takes time to build up years on earth! You’re on the right track, Em. But yes, go out and experience as much of the world as you can, while you can.
Wow Louise what can I say the Writers Festival improves every year, felt so privileged to be able to attend. I am amazed reading all the comments of who attended, who knew we were all in the same room. Great post as always xxx
It does get better and better, doesn’t it, and it’s such a nice thing to have in our fair city. It was lovely to catch up with you, and meet sweet Janine in the (hot) caravan. Thanks for thinking of me!