White Beech by Germaine Greer

It’s not uncommon to see an elderly lady’s garden blossom; under her retired hand she waters the agapanthus and whispers to her watsonias, verbenas or honeysuckles. Instead, at 74, Germaine Greer is on all fours ripping them to shreds.

White Beech is a monument to the years Greer spent searching for a patch of Australia that could be returned to the native ecosystems destroyed by the greed and folly of Europeans. Buying land on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, she spent millions founding the Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme (CCRRS) in an attempt to conserve a living museum that, in no less ambitious terms, ‘might even survive global warming’.

Gmelina leichhardtii, commonly known as white beech around the globe, holds one of the book’s many anecdotes, but its endangerment typifies the specialness of Cave Creek. How Greer arrived here is a tale unto itself and she recounts her journey across the continent to find this ‘Gondwanan refugium’. Her sister Jane is a botanist and for the most part is there on the phone, in the kitchen or in the car – very much part of the conversation that drives the book. It’s an endearing bond between women and friends that Greer captures amid all the Latin and science.

While the acerbic dame may have softened over the years, Greer’s intolerance for bad grammar, mistakes and lazy thinking continues to shine like a scythe. She discovers botanical mazes that weave around stories of Traditional Owners, explorers, pioneers, industry, academia, pests, insects, plagues and disease. By steering us through the anatomy of a rainforest and the sheer emotion that plant and animal kingdoms induce, she leaves us determined and dogged: an exquisite call to arms.

Luke May is a freelance reviewer.