Wild Nature: Walking Australia’s South East Forests

John Blay

Wild Nature: Walking Australia's South East Forests
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Wild Nature: Walking Australia’s South East Forests

John Blay

An epic journey of discovery into the heart of a vast and contested Australian wilderness.

In Wild Nature John Blay laces up his walking boots and goes bush to explore Australia’s rugged southeast forests - stretching from Canberra to the coast and on to Wilsons Promontory - in a great circle from his home in Bermagui. In this compelling book, the bestselling author of On Track charts the forests' natural history, their Indigenous history and the first European incursions, the forest wars, the establishment of the South East Forests National Park, and the threats that continue to face their existence, including devastating bushfires.

Along the way Blay asks the big questions. What do we really know about these wild forests? How did the forests come to be the way they are? What is the importance of wild nature to our civilisation?

‘This is a beautiful and enchanting book. John Blay is a superb walking companion - a naturalist, historian and philosopher whose writing glows with wit, wisdom and wonder. I savoured every word and relished every step. Wild Nature is a journal of meditation, observation and exploration, and a delicate natural and human history of the south east forests. What is nature, and how do we value it today? How did we save these special places and how might we lose them? Pick up this book and set foot in another world, a wild one nested within our own.’ - Tom Griffiths

Review

This year of staying at home has made me ravenous for the wild places I can’t visit, and John Blay’s new book is a balm for this frustrated urge. Blay is a naturalist, best known for his exploration and recording of the Bundian Way, an ancient Indigenous route running from the Snowy Mountains to the coast. In Wild Nature, Blay sets out to walk as much of the south-eastern forests as possible, opening himself up to whatever experiences might come and recording them in his gently compelling style.

Blay’s writing has a quality very much like a long and satisfying walk. He describes the trails he takes with a steady rhythm, noting plants and changes in the landscape with an expert’s eye. Sudden, rich encounters flit across the page like rosellas hiding in a grove of tree waratahs in full bloom, or the dingo that steals his hat somewhere along the Genoa river. He writes with candour about frustrations and setbacks – a wrong turn, or a push through wiregrass so thick it shreds his trousers to ribbons – but these are outweighed by what Blay calls ‘wild ecstasies’, moments when wilderness rewards the quiet observer with connection and epiphany. Bushwalkers will recognise this feeling and adore this book.

It’s impossible to read about these places without thinking of the catastrophic bushfires that tore through while Blay was finishing off the book, and his writing provides important context for the history of forest management. Wild Nature is a social and political history of the forests, their traditional owners, foresters, conservationists, politicians and scientists: a whirlwind of interests and conflicts. He argues against oversimplification of the debate: it’s never just left vs. right, or greenies vs. jobs. Our forests are complicated places that demand accordingly nuanced management, and Blay is an excellent guide to navigating this complexity.


Ele Jenkins works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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