Australian Nature Writing

Unlike America and the United Kingdom, and despite the way in which our sense of Australian identity is anchored in our love affair with ‘the bush’, expressed in poetry and art, Australia does not have a well developed literary culture of nature writing.  One Australian writer who stands out is Mark Tredinnick, a member of the Wild Mountain Collective.  His book, The Blue Plateau (UQP 2009) is a memoir to the time he spent in the Blue Mountains.  Walking and camping in numerous places across what is the Blue Mountains National Park, in which is nestled the small urban settlements that make up the City of Blue Mountains, Mark comments on how to engage in nature writing like this, you need to enter into slow time.

The Wild Mountain Collective hopes to encourage more and more of us to enter into this slow time, particularly those of us fortunate enough to actually live here in the Greater Blue Mountains, surrounded by one million hectares of protected wilderness across six national parks, including the Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Gardens of Stone and Kanangra-Boyd National Parks.

If you want to try your hand at creative nature writing and see your essays in print, you can send them into the Wild Mountain Collective and we will publish them here on our blog. Send them by email to the editor: barbara.lepani@gmail.com

Mark Tredinnick (4-5)

The plateau, for all its mass and plunge and drama, is an essay in slowness.  What you feel when you sit and study the scarps, what you taste when you breathe the valleys in is the weight of a longtime’s passing.  Fifty million years the rivers spent carrying the country in; and fifty million years they’ve spent carrying it out again.  For two hundred million years in between, the plateau lay down and slept.

…it is persistence, it is patience, that the canyons of the plateau want to tell you about.  They observe the slowest meditation on the theme of staying put.  Their metric is grave; this is how eternity moves.  You can enter—you can almost enter—deep time in the plateau.

…depending on your mind’s lithology, these scarps could tempt you to plunge, as they sometimes do themselves, straight down into geologic time.  For the valleys seduce.  They can convince you you’re already moving in eternity, so that it would be nothing, really, to leave the edge, to abandon time completely and fall down into all the dreaming.

Perhaps this explains the pull of landscape to the Australian imagination, for this is the world’s most ancient geological landscape and home to the world’s most ancient continuous living human culture—that of Aboriginal Australia. Numerous sites now date their occupation of this land to well over 60,000 years, back into the time of the last ice age and the world of mega fauna.  Yet for the rest of us who call ourselves Australian, our ancestors arrived here much less than a mere 250 years ago.  For the descendants of these early European arrivals, despite all their colonising arrogance, the pull of the land is very strong as the ancient call to their British, Irish and European ancestors has slipped into deeper time.  For the post war arrivals, many of whom have clustered in the cities to pursue cosmopolitanism, the land slowly exerts its magnetism as the ‘escape’ from city life, congestion and the clock-measured life of the industrial ‘slave to work’ with its promise of consumerism, upward mobility, status and prestige.  For the most recent arrivals of all, the pull is yet weak as they dance to the tune of the cultural memes that have arrived with them—competition for wealth and opportunity, particularly for their children, and somewhat of an aside, a cleaner, less polluted environment.  We can only pray that the land too will capture them for it is a harsh task master.

Haunting all of us is the growing reality that we really are in a ‘climate emergency’, where we face the destruction of our greatest inland river system and the mass extinction of many of the animals, birds, fish and native plants that are an intrinsic part of this ancient landscape. They are being obliterated by our dedication to the gods of economic progress and consumerism.  And that with this global warming and mass extinctions comes a threat to the very viability of the ecosystems that are required to sustain human life, even in our high rise apartments in the big cities as we worry about paying for our air conditioning and heating, to enjoy the promised ‘good life’, or we cling desperately to ways of farming that are destroying the land and river systems.

The Nature Writing Prize—The Nature Conservancy Australia

Creative nature writing is our antidote to this, a way we can cast aside the preoccupations of ‘life in the city’ as we enjoy its latest distractions and conversations about the perfect coffee blend.

The Nature Conservancy Nature Writing Prize is a biennial event that was created to promote and celebrate the art of nature writing in Australia, as well as to encourage a greater appreciation of our magnificent landscapes. The Nature Writing Prize attracts a large number of submissions, each exploring the writer’s relationship and interaction with some aspect of the Australian landscape. The winner of the best essay (3,000 – 5,000 words) in the genre of ‘Writing of Place’ received a $5,000 award and is published as an online multimedia essay by Griffith Review – Australia’s leading literary quarterly publication.

https://www.natureaustralia.org.au/get-involved/

The competition’s judges for 2019, Delia Falconer and Tom Griffiths AO, had to choose between many fine essays, ultimately identifying those of the highest literary merit—Jenny Sinclair’s An Orchard For My Father and Sue Castrique’s On the Margins of the Good Swamp

The judges for the 2019 Nature Writing Prize were writers and academics Dr Delia Falconer and Professor Tom Griffiths AO. 

Delia Falconer is the author of two novels (The Service of Clouds and The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers) and Sydney, a personal history of her hometown. Her essays and critical writing have appeared in Australia, France and the US and been anthologised frequently in The Best Australian Essays. She teaches creative non-fiction at the University of Technology Sydney. Her review-essay “The Opposite of Glamour,” about how writers are responding to the Sixth Great Extinction, won the 2018 Walkley-Pascall Prize for arts criticism.

Tom Griffiths AO is a historian whose books and essays have won prizes in history, science, literature, politics and journalism including the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction, the Ernest Scott Prize, the Eureka Science Book Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History.

If you would like to try your hand at nature writing, the Wild Mountain Collective invites you to send your essay to the Editor (barbara.lepani@gmail.com) and we will publish your essay on this blog.