I Thought You Were A Woman.

Someone I have never met told me they thought I was a woman. I’m not. They made this assumption based on my Instagram account.

The person is a friend of a friend and stumbled upon my Instagram account, as people do within the world of social media. They requested to follow, I accepted, and they perused my photos.

The person then messaged me in surprise and told me that she thought I was female.

Why?

Because of the content of my Instagram posts.

Essentially, all of my posts depict nature or books. Once I’ve read a book that I like, I take a photo of the cover and maybe and excerpt from the book and I post it on my account. Actually, I haven’t done this for a while, I think I just forgot.

Otherwise, my Instagram account contains images of nature. When I go hiking, cycling, camping or into nature, I like to take photos of sunsets, beaches, plants, trees, skylines and animals. I’d like to have more photos of animals but they’re hard to capture with a basic smartphone lacking a decent zoom. If I do capture an animal it’s always a bonus.

Almost every one of my posts depicts lakes, rivers, mountains, trees, rocks, sand, sun and surf, because I love nature and try to spend as much time in it as possible. My account contains almost no images of myself.

I don’t like appearing on camera and I’m not vain or beautiful enough to be an Instagram model, so I don’t take many selfies. I do appear in other people’s photos or have friends take photos of me, but I just have no interest in posting them online.

I explained to the woman that I am in fact a man, and we had a good laugh about it. It did make me think, however.

Why would someone think that I was female after seeing photos of books and nature?

Have we been conditioned to think that an interest in or respect for nature is feminine? Can only women appreciate and express an appreciation for nature, and is this linked to a woman’s role as a nurturer and care giver?

If this is the case, does it explain the current state of the world’s climate and the natural environment?

Mother Earth, as we often call it, is in trouble after years and years of human abuse, and this abuse is continuing even though we now know better. We now know that previous practices are harming the planet upon which we rely for our survival but we continue with these practices.

Is this cycle of destruction perpetuated because men still rule the world? Certain organisations, businesses and countries have a woman in the top job, but the system which was created by men is still controlled by men. If a man is not expected to love nature, even via an Instagram account, protecting the environment into the future will be very difficult, because men are still making most of the decisions which determine the state of the planet.

Is it time to give women a turn? Really give them a turn. Not just appoint a few women to the position of national or corporate president, not just vote women onto boards or executive positions, but replace men in large numbers at every level of government, business and other sectors of society. Men had their turn running the world, the planet is in very bad shape, so maybe it’s time they were replaced.

If the men running the world were the starting players on a sporting team, their results suggest it’s time they were taken off and replaced by those who have been waiting their turn on the reserves bench.

Can you love nature and still be a man?

Do we have to change paradigms of masculinity to include respect for nature and pride in publicly expressing a love for the natural world?

Do we need to reach a point at which assumptions cannot be made about someone’s gender because they display images of nature on a social media account?

Walking the Other Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains of NSW is certainly less grand than its famous name sake, but the hike is a rewarding walk through beautiful bush land which ends with a stunning view.

The walk snakes its way along the base of the canyon after descending from either of the two starting points near the mountain town of Blackheath.

Beautiful native vegetation, ancient trees, waterfalls and the river are on display throughout the walk, and native wildlife is slowly returning after the destruction of the most recent bush fires. Lush green plants juxtapose with sandstone cliffs. Slim, pale eucalyptus trees are dotted along the trail and the cliff tops and water falls dance in the sunlight.

Walkers can start from Evans Lookout and complete the walk at the Neates Glen car park, or walk in the opposite direction. Starting at Neates Glen car park rewards hikers with the stunning vista from Evans Lookout at the end of the hike – a great spot for a drink and a well-earned snack.

Whichever direction hikers take, they will start the hike with a staired descent and finish with a hike up some stairs. The steep stairs which bookend the hike explain the advisory on the official NPWS website which recommends 3 – 4 hours to complete the journey. Hikers with a reasonable level of fitness can finish the walk in about 1 hour at a steady pace, even after stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.

Photographers are rewarded on this trail and its worth taking a snack and stopping at the bottom of the trail in one of the rest areas to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife, as well as the peace and quiet on a weekday.

Early in the morning or late afternoon are the best times to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Early mornings in winter can be very cold, but can treat the hiker to mountain mist or sharp, blue skies. Mornings and late afternoons are also the best times to watch the sun bounce off the stunning yellow sandstone cliffs for which the Blue Mountains are famous.

At present, the hike is restricted to the Grand Canyon walk. The cliff top walk from Evans Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout is unfortunately closed due to bush fires, as are the longer and more challenging hikes which branch off the main track. Most long hikes in the region will apparently be closed for the rest of 2020.

The Grand Canyon walk is reachable by train. From Blackheath station it is about a one hour walk to the trail head, either walking back along the highway and turning left at the big brown sign to Evans Lookout, or by walking though suburban streets to Braeside fire trail, then towards the starting point.

I DO…care about the planet.

I DO love you, I DO care about you, and I DO care about the planet. For that reason, I want my wedding to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Why should I make my special day as sustainable as possible?

It’s all about sharing the love. Embrace the love for your partner and those around you, and share that love with the planet. Plus, your marriage will likely create a family, and it is vital to leave a healthy, liveable planet for your children.

How do I make my wedding as sustainable as possible?

The Ring

The materials which comprise a wedding or engagement ring include precious metals, gemstone and diamonds which are often mined destructively and on such a large scale that it inspired the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio – and his failed attempt at a South African accent.

Thankfully, ethical wedding jewellers can be found online. They source recycled or conflict-free diamonds and materials, or even lab grown diamonds. Lab grown diamonds are increasing in popularity as they are equal to mined diamonds and have a much smaller environmental and social impact, as well as being less expensive. You’re not only saving the planet, you’re also saving the world from another Hollywood actor butchering a ‘foreign’ accent.

The Venue

Indoor or outdoor

To narrow down the choice of venue, decide whether you and your better half want to wed indoors or outdoors.

Outdoors

Outdoor venues tend to be more sustainable as they require less lighting and air conditioning. Locations such as vineyards, botanical gardens, lakes, refurbished farm properties and eco-lodges are beautiful locations with stunning backdrops. In the right season, they can be simply blissful. Modern outdoor venues also provide modern conveniences, so you can celebrate in comfort.

What about a barefoot wedding on the beach?

Indoors

Indoor venues can also be green. Choose a venue which catches natural light, and book the right venue in the right season. Search for reception venues which recycle and use energy efficient appliances, solar and biodegradable products.

Hold the ceremony and the reception at the same place, or next door. If you plan to marry in a religious ceremony, host the reception nearby, and if you plan to exchange vows in a civil ceremony, organise both events at the same place.

Transport and Accommodation

Holding the reception and ceremony at the same place can reduce emissions. You could also arrange accommodation at the same place. Destinations such as vineyards are not only spectacular places to tie the knot, but often provide a location for the ceremony plus the reception and accommodation, all at the one site.

Of course, vineyards are expensive and while you may be prepared to bear the cost, some of your guests may not. How about DIY? Host the celebration in a more humble location and do the decoration yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of your imagination and ingenuity.

Ask your guests to car pool. This not only saves on emissions, but allows friends, workmates, relatives and former classmates to mingle on the way to the reception, so that by the time they arrive, everyone is ready to party.

You can also recommend accommodation providers near the venue which have proven environmental credentials.

Flying

Many families and guests fly to weddings, and air travel is the most environmentally destructive form of transport. If you must fly, encourage your guests to offset their carbon emissions. For a few extra dollars, the airline will contribute to a project which benefits the planet, such as tree planting, and neutralise the emissions of the flight.

Catering

Support local

Eating local reduces the carbon footprint of a meal. Look for caterers who source their food from local suppliers. Also ask caterers whether the food waste will be composted after the wedding. You can also plan a menu which uses ingredients that are in season. What’s more, the Farm-to-Table movement has made fresh, locally-sourced ingredients more commonplace, and many of them are organic, which is even more sustainable.

What about the cake?

It is a centrepiece of the reception. How was it made? Can you find a cake made with locally-sourced eggs and diary products?

Why not replace conventional table décor with herb plants in terra cotta pots? Guests can then add basil or cilantro straight to their meals.

Avoid plastic plates and utensils

Disposable plastic plates and utensils are easy, especially if you’re planning a casual, low-budget DIY wedding. They are harmful though. Plastic cutlery and dishes end up in landfill. Instead, use compostable or reusable dishware. Try to avoid plastic straws, as the next time you see them could be in the belly of a turtle.

If you’re hiring a catering company, ask if they can avoid using plastic, disposable items. You could go even further by giving each guest their own glass or cup for the reception, which cuts down on washing and the use of water and detergent. You could also customise the receptacle and they can take it home with them.

Put on a keg

Skip the individual cans and bottles at the bar and serve drinks in a keg, and favour bottles of wine over cute rose cans. This will help to reduce packaging and waste.

Gifts

Traditional Bridal registries were created for a certain time. A time when newlyweds would move into the marital home and thus required new household items. These days, many couples are already living together and have accumulated homewares. This means you can be more creative with your registry.

Request non-tangible gifts.

Register for items such as gift cards or vouchers for experiences, or ask your guests to contribute to the cost of the honeymoon flights, transport, accommodation or restaurants, as these require less harmful packaging.

Fortunately, almost every item you might like to list on your register has an eco-friendly alternative. Search for the origin and materials of the items, and consider alternatives such as organic bedding, cloth shopping bags, reusable bamboo plates and natural kitchen and bath products.

Donate

Do away with tradition, and encourage guests to donate to a charity as their gift to you, and send this money to an environmental organisation.

Flowers

Flowers are synonymous with weddings, but what happens to them after they’ve decorated the venue?

Donate

Various online organisations arrange for flowers to be donated to places such as health care facilities. Encourage guests to take flowers home if possible, or arrange for the flowers to be composted. Plants can be more easily composted if they are sustainably sourced in the first place, so do some research before ordering the flowers.

For decorative flowers which do not end up in landfill, also consider potted plants and succulents. Plants in pots can serve as favours as well as décor. These types of plants will last longer and can provide a reminder of the special day for years to come.

Invitations

When considering invitations, you have a number of choices:

– Eco-conscious stationery

Many brands are now producing beautiful paper products with minimal impact on the environment.

– Plantable paper

This is paper made without harm to trees. It is made with post-consumer materials, and it is embedded with seeds. When planted, the paper composts and the seeds grow.

– Electronic invitations

Embrace the electronic age and send out digital invitations which require no paper. Let’s face it, most guests will text you their confirmation and will use their GPS to find the venue anyway, so go paperless.

The dress

It’s all about the dress, and why not. It’s your day, and you want to shine. So how do you protect the planet while choosing your wedding dress?

Research sustainable wedding attire designers (for the bride and the groom – or both brides and grooms). Maybe ask your maid of honour or groomsman to help do some of the leg work in finding an outfit sourced and created ethically.  Many eco-friendly options exist, using materials such as organic cotton, silk, hemp or even pineapple leaves.

Secondhand or pre-loved dresses are more sustainable. Secondhand conjures up images of poor-quality items sold at charity stores, but this is not the case with wedding dresses. Remember, a wedding dress has only been worn once (hopefully) and most are kept in great condition. Online stores and organisations sell pre-loved dresses, often much cheaper than a new dress, and some donate part of the profits to charities. A friend claims she filled half her wardrobe with clothes from charity stores in wealthy suburbs – it’s amazing what rich people throw away.

Vintage dresses can also be found online, so you can celebrate with a unique look.

Of course, you could always wear your mum’s dress, and this is a popular tradition. Get out the bobby pins and the sewing machine if you have to, and watch your mum beam with immense pride as you walk down the aisle.

Also be sure to check vintage clothing shops and consignment boutiques. Try renting the gown, or fit out the entire wedding party in their own clothes. With a bit of planning (over a glass of wine) you can all put together a great ensemble for the day.

Don’t forget to encourage the groom to get on board with an eco-friendly outfit as well.

Some more handy hints

Reuse

Reuse décor elements throughout the day, as this will save the planet and save money. For example, a ceremony backdrop can become a photo booth backdrop and bouquets can become décor for food stations, the bar or the cake table. The décor can also come home with you. Place locally-grown flowers in glass bottles and use them to decorate your home.

Get rid of balloons, floating lanterns and sparklers. They look pretty, but balloons are very harmful for the land as they are not biodegradable, and they can be consumed by animals.

Sparklers end up in landfill, and while floating lanterns look beautiful, they can be a fire hazard at the wedding itself and as they float away, they could spark a bush fire.

A grand exit.

How will you leave the ceremony? In style of course.

Remember that sparklers, glow sticks and confetti are harmful to the environment, so consider biodegradable confetti or an alternative element for your grand departure.

Favours

You’d love to thank all of your friends and relatives who made your day special. Do so without the footprint. Offer favours such as small plants or seed packets, which can start a small garden. Give them consumable favours, such as coffee beans, chocolate, jams or preserves in reusable jars, or send the guests home with some of the flowers from the wedding day.

Bride or groom?

Are you the bride or the groom? How many people who read this article will be men? In heterosexual relationships, it is a long-standing tradition that women take on more of the planning of a wedding. It is important to involve the groom in creating a sustainable wedding because he makes up one half of the equation, and because his friends and family also need to enter into the spirit of the wedding to make sure it is a special day for both of you.

Be Cheeky

You know that relative you don’t like? The one you’re obliged to invite because they’re a blood relative. You could prevent them from coming. A cheeky friend of mine hosted an outdoor and largely sustainable wedding but cheekily exaggerated some of the eco-friendly elements of the wedding weekend on the invite, hoping that it would deter certain people from attending. It worked. The unpleasant relative was invited so awkward family conflict was averted, and the ‘conservative’ relative declined the invitation.

It’s a lot of work…

Planning an environmentally sustainable wedding may seem like a lot of work – but planning any wedding is a major undertaking. Do your planning and preparation well in advance, involve your bridal party and groomsmen in the organisation of the wedding, then enjoy a wonderful day devoted to a celebration of love.

Image: Adrianna Van Groningren

Cycling the Narrow Neck Trail.

Narrow Neck Trail is a scenic and challenging cycling trail in the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba which offers off-road cyclists a solid workout with some spectacular views.

The trail itself is a shared hiking and cycling fire trail which snakes its way along the Narrow Neck ridge for about 10 kilometres in either direction, and finishes at a lookout point which promises views of the national park, farm land to the west and even to Sydney on a clear day.

Cyclists weave their way in and out of bush land and exposed sections with beautiful views, and share the bush with birds and other native animals, which are slowly returning after the severe 2019/2020 bush fires which ripped through the Blue Mountains.

Evidence of the fires follows riders along the trails and the charred remains of trees contrast starkly with the bright blue sky and the striking green shoots of new growth.

Narrow Neck presents a solid workout. Short sharp climbs are scattered throughout the trail, and flat sections are interspersed with long, slow climbs. The halfway point features a few very steep climbs whose ‘whoa boys’, (water drainage humps), add an extra challenge to an ascent. They’re guaranteed to burn the legs – but they’re great fun on the way down.

Furthermore, Narrow Neck trail lies at about 1000 metres altitude. On some of the tougher climbs you can definitely feel the difference in the lungs.

Winter can be cold in the mountains – very cold. Its not uncommon to start the ride with the temperature hovering around 0, and the exposed sections get very chilly on a windy day. Don’t be surprised if you ride through patches of ice early in the morning.

An advantage of riding the trail in winter is the chance to see the valley covered in mist and to ride through clouds.

The trail head sits about 2 kilometres along the access road, which begins in the suburbs of Katoomba. It’s possible to drive right to the trail head, and the advantage of driving is that it cuts out a steep hill just before the trail head – a hill so steep it has been concreted to avoid erosion. This steep and nasty hill is quite a warm up.

For those who are not afraid of a little climbing, it’s possible to reach the trail from Katoomba town centre and from the train station. It lies a few kilometres from the station and can be easily found. Just head to Cliff Drive then keep an eye out for the sign to Narrow Neck trail and the dirt road.

A cycling trail also exists between Katoomba and Leura, and Katoomba and Blackheath and is a mixture of dirt, bitumen and suburban streets. At Blackheath, riders are rewarded with some genuine single trail.

Cycling to and from the trail also forces riders to climb back out to Katoomba, along the dirt access road. After a hilly 20km ride at 1000m, you’ll feel like a sprinter in a Tour de France mountain stage – just tap out a tempo.

Most cyclists tackle the trail on a mountain bike, but it would be achievable with a gravel bike and some decent bike handling skills.

Most importantly, the trail lies close enough to Katoomba for cyclists to finish their ride with a coffee.

Save Centennial Glen

Centennial Glen is under threat. The parcel of natural bush land to the west of Blackheath in NSW could be turned into a scenic highway if authorities choose this option for the expansion of the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains.

The construction of the highway would destroy the local ecology and rid the residents of a popular local hiking trail, as well as adversely affecting many other groups such as rock climbers, school students and teachers, and local businesses.

Part of a whole

The proposed highway expansion is part of a larger project to expand the Great Western Highway all the way from Katoomba to Lithgow. Many residents between Katoomba and Lithgow are not in agreement with the project, as they believe it will be destructive in so many ways. They are also not convinced by a project which the government itself says will save only 10 minutes on the journey from Katoomba to Lithgow. 

Economic mistake

The official document from the NSW government claims the entire Great Western Highway Upgrade;

“Supports regional economic growth”

I would argue that the proposed scenic highway could harm the economy of Blackheath.

The proposed scenic highway could reduce the amount of money injected into the local community. The scenic highway would essentially act like a bypass of Blackheath. According to Transport NSW, which is responsible for the highway project, the scenic highway option would require the building of an outer bypass with bridges crossing over Shipley Road, Centennial Pass, Porters Pass Track, and over the rail line at the north.

Shipley Road is a suburban road at the southern end of Blackheath, before the main shopping area. Centennial Pass is a section of the bush land that includes part of the popular hiking trail, and Porters Pass is another section the hiking trail that winds its way through the bush.

Motorists would not pass through Blackheath. They would enter the scenic road before the town centre, and they would exit after the town centre. The road itself may become an attraction for some visitors looking to enjoy the view, but it won’t bring more money into the local economy.

Common sense tells us that motorists will not drive past the entry to the scenic road and into Blackheath for a coffee and cake, before backtracking out of Blackheath to join the proposed road. They will also not backtrack into town after exiting the scenic road. There is even less incentive to enter Blackheath, and spend money in its businesses, when perfectly acceptable coffee and cake is offered at many other towns in the Blue Mountains, including at the famous Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath, which is just a few minutes drive away.

This is a region that has already suffered from the drop in tourists numbers due to the bush fires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock Climbing

Walls Ledge and nearby rock faces are enormously popular with rock climbers, from near and far. The new highway would ruin one of the most popular rock climbing sites in Australia. Rock climbers not only climb in Blackheath, they also eat, drink and relax in Blackheath, and this income would be lost to the community if they went elsewhere to climb.

School

Mountains Christian College sits atop the ridge of Centennial Glen, with fantastic views and an amazing playground. The scenic highway proposal would be built very close to the school’s facilities and the construction work, and the highway itself, would cause endless noise disruption for students and teachers.

Why build a scenic highway?

Official justification for the scenic highway is that even though “…. There are likely impacts on the existing environment through the valley…” There is “…the potential to create a scenic route for locals and visitors.”

The scenic route already exists, in the form of a hiking trail. If locals and visitors want to enjoy the beautiful views over bush land and farms, they can do so on foot. You don’t need a highway or a car to admire the scenery of Centennial Glen, just a pair of sturdy walking shoes.

The hike to the viewpoints is not even particularly long or hard. From various entry points, visitors can walk along relatively flat paths across the top of the ridge, and within a few minutes enjoy the views. A longer and more strenuous hike exists down below the cliffs, and this does require walking up and down steep and slippery steps, crossing over some boulders and trudging through mud, but the famous views are accessible on top of the ridge, just a few minutes from Blackheath.

The paradox

Who spends money in Blackheath?

Who would use the scenic road?

Probably the same people.

Tourists spend a lot of money in Blackheath and throughout the Blue Mountains, but tourists are most likely to drive on the scenic road. Locals would probably drive it once or twice out of curiosity, but why would they if they’ve already seen the view on foot?

Thus, the scenic road, which is supposed to attract more visitors to the region, would prevent those same people from visiting Blackheath.

Truck drivers won’t use the scenic road. They have a set schedule and need to arrive at their destination on time in order to keep their job and their income.

Locals won’t use the scenic road. If they use the highway regularly they do so to go to work, school the shops or an appointment, and they want to arrive at that destination on time. The scenic road would only add time to their journey.

How is it possible?

Centennial Glen is a possible site for highway expansion because it is not national park. The land is council land, managed by Blue Mountains City Council. The other side of the existing highway is part of the Blue Mountains National Park, including sites such as Govett’s Leap, and this area can not be built on.

Short-term thinking

Like many government-endorsed infrastructure projects, three of the four options for the highway expansion will deliver only short-term benefit. The project is apparently designed to cater for:

“Increased transport capacity to meet future growth.”

This means more traffic. The government boasts that the highway expansion will reduce congestion and traffic jams. It will in the short term, but experts tell us that building or expanding roads does not reduce congestion in the long term. Eventually, new roads fill up with cars and traffic jams return.

Alternative transport

Like many government-endorsed infrastructure projects, it could be replaced, or at least supported, by alternative transport.

Improvements to the train service between Central (Sydney) and Lithgow (then to Bathurst) could take many cars off the road. New trains running on a modern timetable could encourage people, especially weekend tourists from Sydney, to take the train instead of driving. New trains which allow for passengers to bring luggage (for a weekend away) strollers, bicycles or other large items would cater for the large number of people who would prefer not to drive to and through the mountains, but are put off by Sydney’s outdated and insufficient public transport network.

Once on the train at Central, the trip is not that much slower than driving from Central Station/CBD to Blackheath. The train trip to Katoomba is even quicker if passengers can get the express train which continues to Bathurst.

Locals are continually advocating to save Centennial Glen. They are following accepted channels and communicating with local and state government to try to save this beautiful section of bush land. Their efforts, and updates, can be see at http://www.savecentennialglen.org 

How to clean your hiking shoes

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Hiking shoes get dirty, very dirty.

They slosh through mud and trudge through dirt. They scrape and scratch and scorch in the sun. They sink into snow and slide down slopes, collecting dirt, mud, stones and blood.

 

But cleanliness is the last thing on your mind when you’re hiking. You’re too busy admiring the view or anticipating the next climb. You’re distracted by the sound of rushing water over cliffs and watching the sunlight tickle the drops of water as they fall from above.

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You’re charging through puddles once into the hike, because your shoes and socks are already soaked after you braved the mini waterfall charging down the stairs. You were too busy trying to stay upright to worry about cleanliness or staying dry.

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The state of your shoes matters little while you count the scars on your shins as you bash through yet more bush, and remind yourself that a sprained ankle halfway through the hike would make the climb out even harder. Onwards you hike, over tree roots and rocks and boulders until something captures your attention – the sound of gushing water, and soon the roar of rushing water, such that this hike has never produced before. Onwards you hike, drawn to the sound of the thundering water and thankful for the grip on your hiking shoes as you cling to the slippery rocks further into the canyon. Then you see it; the origin of the roar, and what a sight.

Your mind is never on your shoes as you catch a glimpse, yes just a glimpse, of that beautiful bird before it flies away coquettishly. I’ll capture it for posterity next time. That’s what you said last time.

You push on up the steep and slippery stairs, sodden but satisfied and hoping that you packed the chocolate as well as the scroggin.

The encroaching clouds cause you to ponder whether you’ll make it home before the rain arrives, and whether the Scots would be bothered by a ‘wee spot of rain’ on the moors.

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As you turn for home, your’e forced to confront the condition of your squelching shoes.

There are various methods for cleaning your shoes. You can scrape them, soak them and scrub them. It’s always a good idea to remove the laces, for a thorough clean. Hold them up and squeeze the water from them – it’s amazing how much dirt they collect.

The trusty old toothbrush comes in handy when cleaning off all manner of debris, especially from the sole. The toothbrush helps to dislodge tiny stones and decidedly less savoury items. Be sure to return the dirty toothbrush to the laundry and not the bathroom – that would be highly unsavoury.

A scrunched up ball of newspaper inserted into the soggy shoes helps soak up the dampness, before you subject your footwear to yet another beating.

But in the end, what’s the best way to clean hiking shoes?

Who’s Protecting Our National Parks?

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Australia’s National Parks are under threat, and the culprits are not those you might imagine.

I enjoyed a morning walk on the Grand Canyon trail near Blackheath, NSW, recently and finished the hike at Evans Lookout. As I gazed upon the spectacular view and weaved my way between tourists taking photos, I noticed something very out of place. A woman was walking her pet dog at the lookout point.

Evans Lookout lies within the boundary of the Blue Mountains National Park and is therefore strictly off limits to pet dogs. Lookout points, picnic areas, trails and any other spaces within National Parks are all off limits to pet dogs, because pet dogs damage the ecology and threaten the wildlife that is protected within these parks. Despite this, the woman was happily walking the dog, on a lead, as she admired the view from the lookout.

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I then looked for a ranger or a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)  employee, someone who would remind the woman to take her dog out of the park. I didn’t see one. Despite being a busy, sunny Sunday just weeks after Sydney HAD lifted its coronavirus restrictions, there was not a single park ranger patrolling the lookout or the trails.

I wanted to know why.

I therefore emailed NPWS to ask how a woman could freely walk her dog inside park boundaries.

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I was informed, via an official response from the NPWS service, that:

“We are aware that some people use various tracks in the National park to walk their animals.”

On the one hand, it was encouraging to learn that the regulating authority knows what is happening within its parks, but it was also distressing to realise that they were not able to prevent it from happening. Then I was told why:

“We do not have enough resources to patrol and regulate all these areas.”

“If you report it at the time, it would likely take our Area Ranger at least 30 minutes but likely 2 – 3 hours to investigate, depending on where he needs to travel from.”

In government speak, ‘resources’ means money. Thus, there is not enough money to protect the plants and animals in our National Parks, even though National Parks were established to protect plants and animals.

I was then advised to record a rego number, car make and model and the time and date of the incident and make a formal statement which could then be followed up by the relevant authorities.

Should I?

The email from NPWS advised me that:

“Community pressure directly at the time can be an effective deterrent. You can advise them that the scent of a dog drives native animals away…”

Should I go to the trouble of reporting the person? Would anything actually happen? Would the person actually be punished? If I chose to report the person and make a statement, would I need to provide photographic or irrefutable evidence that the person took a pet dog into a National Park? If I took a photo of a person without their permission then passed on that photo to the authorities would I be charged with illegally disseminating an image? If that were the case, I would be punished far more severely than the person who was actually in the wrong.

Should I?

Would it make any difference? Dog owners throughout Australia flaunt rules on a daily basis to ensure that their dogs are happy and content. They take their dogs into off limit areas and are never punished.

Should I?

Should I ruin my Sunday bush walk, through a beautiful patch of bushland to engage in an argument with a dog owner. The owner has no compulsion to listen to me. I have no authority, I’m not a ranger, I’m just another visitor. Plus, do I want to invite this stress into my morning hike? Anyone who takes their pet dog into a National Park is selfish, arrogant, ignorant or illiterate, or all of the above. Do I want to engage in a futile conversation with someone like this when I am undertaking an activity for fun and relaxation?

Why does it matter if a person takes a dog into a National Park?

Pet dogs harm native wildlife.

“Some ground birds and mammals will leave their young (children) to die at just the smell of the dog. Lots of people just do not know.”

A more detailed explanation is provided on the parks website and even on tourism and council websites. It’s true that some people don’t know why they can’t take their pet dogs into National Parks. It’s clear that many just don’t care. For that reason, relying on the good sense of dog owners will not protect native wildlife. National Parks need extra resources, as is evidenced by the response to my email.

When will National Parks be adequately funded?

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Cat-eating dogs in a forest in the clouds.

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The low growl seeped through the mist. A shriek of terror emanated from a living being somewhere in the vicinity, but also shrouded in mist.

Then a chase.

The growl hastened and sharpened.

A bark.

A violent, frenzied bark and a shriek of pure terror as two sets of paws splashed through the mud and the undergrowth.

Then they emerged.

Two forms, surging with adrenaline; one in pursuit, one in danger.

A terrified cat broke through the mist of the cloud forest at Monteverde and continued its shrill cry as a feral dog came bounding through the clouds, eyes set on its target and its salivating mouth agape.

The animals ran and swerved and barked and shrieked through the forest, bounding over logs and slipping through fences, disappearing into the mist and emerging seconds later in this chase to the death.

Yes, to the death.

The dog won.

The prey succumbed to the predator. The dog pounced on the cat and proceeded to tear it apart.

All of this happened in close proximity to the cafe where we were enjoying lunch, where we were tearing into our own sustenance.

It was a horrifying sight. It certainly put us off our food.

It was also the only exciting moment of our visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. We saw virtually nothing for the remainder of the morning. Everything was shrouded in mist.

Who’d have thought a cloud forest would be blanketed in a thick layer of…clouds.

Perhaps we should have set the alarm clocks earlier. After all, the early bird catches the worm, just as the angry dog catches the cat.

Image: Rachelle Blake

Courage: Berta Caceres.

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Berta Caceres personified courage.

The Honduran environmental activist devoted much of her life to campaigning for the protection of the natural environment and indigenous people of her native land, and only stopped fighting when she was assassinated during a campaign.

Caceres fought for the protection of the natural environment in a country and a region plagued with corruption and impunity among politicians and big business, especially resource companies whose projects threatened the land she worked to protect. International organisation Global Witness once declared Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for protecting forests and rivers.

Caceres knew she faced enormous obstacles and danger. She knew she faced corruption at the highest levels. She knew she faced multinational companies operating with impunity and enormous budgets. She was reminded of these obstacles on a regular basis, throughout her activism, when she received death threats.

She was once quoted as saying;

“…When they want to kill me…they will do it.”

During the lengthy campaign for the Gualcarque River, the Honduran military opened fire on the group of protesters, killing one member. More protesters would be killed. Still Caceres fought.

Courage is encapsulated in the famous quote from Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, when Atticus says to Jem;

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Unfortunately for Caceres, and the land and the people she protected, the man with the gun in his hand had the backing of many powerful organisations. The company behind the proposed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, Desa, was eventually ruled to have organised the squad of seven men, yes seven, who carried out the hit on Caceres. A number of the hit squad had been trained by US Army special forces. Thus, it took seven armed men, some with specific military training, to silence one woman.

Caceres utilised her intelligence, her dedication and her courage to peacefully defend the natural environment. Not only did she fight, she often won. The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras which she co-founded and led staged many grass roots campaigns to protect the environment, indigenous people and women, before the action for the Gualcarque River.

Berta Caceres knew she faced enormous obstacles and danger, but she fought anyway. That is courage.

Image:www.goldmanprize.org