Tag Archives: fauna

Derwent River Wildlife Guide

This booklet titled Derwent River Wildlife Guide, by Veronica Thorp and published in 2000, is a 73 page listing with colour photographs and basic information about all the environments, the flora and the fauna which can be seen at some point along the Derwent River. The booklet is available for loan through the Tasmanian State Library system.

I am sorry that my discovery of this information has come after I have walked so far – it would have been most useful for me to walk with this booklet from day 1 of the entire project. Having said this, there is only one photograph per item and a tiny paragraph of information so that identifying plants and fungi correctly would have been a challenge.  While some entries indicate a location where a plant could be expected, most do not have this information. I have a sneaking suspicion that the listings in the booklet may only cover the areas that I have walked which are easiest to access.  I suspect that intensive investigation of the Derwent River shoreline and general vicinity between Gretna and Lake St Clair might not have been studied so rigorously.

A Visitor Guide (http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/file.aspx?id=16546) to Tasmania offers a limited selection of animals and environments compared to the comprehensive catalogue available in the Derwent River Wildlife Guide.  The Visitor Guide covers all Tasmania which is much broader.

The Derwent River at night

Tasmania’s bush, its coast and urban areas offer a photographer’s paradise at all times of day and night across the four seasons.

This Amazing Planet  is one of many blogs that show spectacular photographs of Tasmania’s flora, fauna and landscape. Go to Nightscape-Hobart for a stunning visual treat. Enjoy looking at part of the glorious Greater Hobart Area, at night, photographed from on top of Mount Wellington. Between the two sides of the city, the rich blue Derwent River passes on its way to Stormy Bay and then the sea. The brightly lit Tasman Bridge can be seen to join the two shore lines.

Religious wildernesses

I remember childhood Bible stories referred to the Wilderness. These days I find it interesting to consider most if not all religions link with the concept of the wilderness. Laura Feldt covered this topic in “Wilderness in Mythology and Religion”: ‘Wilderness is one of the most abiding creations in the history of religions.’ Her book ‘addresses the need for cross-cultural anthropological and history of religions analyses by offering in-depth case studies of the use and functions of wilderness spaces in a diverse range of contexts including, but not limited to, ancient Greece, early Christian asceticism, Old Norse religion, the shamanism-Buddhism encounter in Mongolia, contemporary paganism, and wilderness spirituality in the US.’

In her 2014 article ‘Religions need wilderness’, Kathleen Braden wrote “The three monotheistic religions based on a common root – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have an expression of nature and wilderness as places that allow perception of God’s sovereignty. … Wilderness is a territory (both on land and sea) where one encounters God, and it is not always an easy geography. For the ancient Israelites, it may be a place of repentance coupled with renewal. When the Israelites leave Egypt and displease God, they must wander in hostile lands before reaching a promised place. Abraham casts the slave woman, Hagar, into the wilderness, but she is saved by God, who renews her spirit and gives her a vision that she will build a great nation. Similarly, in the New Testament, the gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist proclaiming God in the wilderness, foretelling the Christ who is to come, and calling for, again, repentance. Jesus has his own time in the wilderness being tested and honed for his ministry. For believing Muslims, creation is a gift from God and a sign of God’s grace. Similar to Judaic and Christian traditions, in Islam, nature reflects the dominion of God, not the hubris of human control. For these three monotheistic faiths that began in the Middle East, groups of believers through history have set themselves apart in monastic communities, often seeking out the wild places in self-imposed exile to allow the voice of God to be understood more clearly.

In other religions, nature and the sacred helps bring humanity into a right relationship with creation. Baha’i traditions hold that nature reflects the perfection of God and thus, sacred spaces help create a sense of harmony, transformation, and wholeness. In Hinduism and Jainism, nature reflects the abundance that the earth provides and also reminds us of the wholeness of humanity with all other life forms: there should be no barriers or separation.

Likewise, Buddhism suggests that nothing that exists is in isolation, but the sacred can lead us to understand the interdependence of all living things and help us express compassion for creation. Some sects of Buddhism also have, like the desert Christian communities, an ascetic tradition, adherents who must be removed from the material world. Their spiritual quests may be best realized in wilderness.

Religions or traditions with cultural hearths further east in Asia – Shintoism, Confucianism, Daoism – also have expressions of harmony and continuity with nature, but perhaps more in a cosmological view, although places, such as sacred stands of trees with shrines in Shintoism, may be manifest of the need to have a holy place of contemplation and refreshment.

Finally, Indigenous religious traditions are so varied and numerous that outlining them in a short essay might risk stereotyping these faiths. But in many regions, Indigenous spiritual traditions connect the wild with a worldview that interweaves humanity with nature in an unbroken relationship. Whether the shamanistic traditions of Central Asia, Native American religions of North and South America, pre-Christian European practices, animistic faiths of the African continent, or contemporary paganism, none are devoid of practices and stories related to the human relationship with nature. 

While the sacred does not have to be wilderness, wild places must be sacred. Religion needs wilderness. Whether we call this hunger an expression of God’s sovereignty or evidence of the union of all living things or connection with ancestors and a world of spirits, religion requires the wild – the not-us – to show a crucial interrelationship. The threats to wilderness, therefore, also pose a danger to the heart of humanity’s most treasured faith doctrines.”

As an atheist I don’t believe a God or other deities exist, whatever name is given by any religion. However, I am happy to be playful with one ancient Greek god who came out of retirement to meet me. A recent comment by my sister about the danger of snakes when I walk in the Tasmanian bush (all Tasmanian snakes inject their venom poisonously), reminded me of my meeting with Zeus last year. While walking in the visitor-less grounds of one of his temples located in Dion, northern eastern Greece, he and I surprised each other. Zeus has the ability to transform himself and appear as a snake. There he was basking in the sun near the end of the path I was following. Having welcomed me, he slipped away quickly.  I felt very safe then, as I will do when walking along the Derwent River. Besides, Tasmania’s Mt Olympus overlooks Lake St Clair on its western flank, and we all know Zeus’s home is Mt Olympus, albeit the one in Greece. I suspect Zeus will look out for me in some form, and make sure I reach Lake St Clair.

Despite not believing in a God, I do believe in the personally transformative power of the bush, wilderness, forests, whatever you may call those bunches of trees and natural collections of flora and fauna.

When with friends I have talked about walking, particularly in the bush, as a meditative practice. Sometimes the impact of the bush and its flora and fauna is so great that a well of great happiness is tapped – as evidenced, for example, by my bursting into song as described in an earlier post . At the end of any walk, words such as reinvigorated, revitalised, relaxed, uplifted, satisfied and at peace always come to mind. In addition, the power of the bush allows me to put the rest of life and living into perspective. Nature and its forces are so much stronger and more beautiful than any one of us, and it is a delight to be reminded of this in such profound ways. The rich rare world out there, rather than any religious connection, draws me to our wilderness.

Wilderness – what is it?

The word ‘wilderness’ has different meanings depending on context. Dictionaries offer a range of similar meanings:

  • An uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. Neglected or abandoned.  A large area of land that has never been developed or used for growing crops because it is difficult to live there. (Oxford)
  • An unsettled, uncultivated region, especially a large tract of land that has not been significantly affected by human activities. A barren or desolate area; a wasteland. Something characterised by bewildering vastness, perilousness, or unchecked profusion. (The Free Dictionary)
  • A wild, uncultivated region, usually where humans do not live. Any desolate tract or area. (WordReference.com)
  • A tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings. An area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. An empty or pathless area or region. (Mirriam Webster dictionary)

From Old English used in the 13th century, the word ‘wilderness’ is derived from wild dēor ‘wild deer’, wilddēoren ‘wild beasts’, and from wildēornes, ‘land inhabited only by wild animals’. From Middle English, wildern is ‘wild’.

Reflecting on these varying definitions, I realise some of the meanings ring true particularly in relation to the land along the Derwent River between Lake Catagunya and Derwent Bridge (I anticipate this part of the River will take at least 8 days to walk, over three stages).

Lake Catagunya to Derwent Bridge

The sides of the River will be uncultivated and uninhabited. Its dense forest, littered with generations of massive tree falls, will make some sections relatively inhospitable.  The only markers of human kind will be parts where old growth logging has or is occurring, and where the infrastructure associated with dam construction across the Derwent River has occurred and is being maintained.  The area will not be barren, desolate (although I might feel desolate when penetrating some of the denser bush hour after hour), and it is not neglected, abandoned nor a wasteland.  This wilderness will be rich with flourishing flora and fauna, have profound connections with the original indigenous population pre-European settlement of Van Diemen’s Land, hold a social history with the settlers who moved inland in the 1800s and 1900s, and include an occasional contemporary history with photographers, tourists and fishermen.

The United States of America has proclaimed special legislation. ‘The Wilderness Act bans all kinds of motors, roads, and permanent structures from large tracts of American territory. It provides a legal definition of wilderness, as land that’s “untrammelled by man” with a “primeval character and influence”.’  You can read more at this site.  What is the Australian situation?

The Wilderness Society of Aus logo

The Wilderness Society of Australia summarises our state-based rather than national legislation in relation to the wilderness. ‘Dedicated wilderness legislation exists in NSW and SA, which allows the nomination, assessment, declaration and management of wilderness. In other States, such as Victoria, Queensland, WA and the ACT, management of wilderness is provided for under general nature conservation legislation, with varying degrees of usefulness in terms of actually ensuring identification and appropriate protection.’

In Tasmania we have a range of legislation including the most recent Tasmanian Forest Agreement Act that was negotiated to include the requirements of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) – that is, those parts of Tasmania which have been recognised with World Heritage listing for their natural and cultural heritage that is important to the world community.  Tasmania’s Nature Conservation Act talks about biological and geological diversity, and historic sites and provides regulation for our fauna (and strangely it also covers animals which do not live in Tasmania such as dingos and wolves) and flora. The word ‘wilderness’ does not appear.

stock-photo-64271807-walking-boot-and-bike-tread-marks-on-muddy-trail(Image is a free iStock photo)

The land on which I will walk has been walked for thousands of years originally by our indigenous ancestors and more recently by their descendants and European settlers. However, there will be parts on my trek which will not have had many footfalls because of the isolation and the forest density.  Unless there was a purpose such as surveying the Derwent River as part of planning to build dams, sensible people would travel from Lake St Clair towards the coast  via the region around the township of Ouse, or by more hospitable routes. With or without the word ‘wilderness’ being written into our state legislation, much of the inland edges of the Derwent River edge are undoubtedly genuine wilderness.

Walking from Australia to London

I blinked and blinked again.  Walking from my home to London? How would this be possible?  Yes it will be possible … but in 100 – 200 million years’ time when continents reconnect with each other, according to a recent news story: http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/australia-on-path-to-join-uk-as-part-of-supercontinent-amasia/story-fnjwl2dr-1227331780435?sv=1e2848859e5b4afa30b76819882202f0&

I reflected that the Derwent River might no longer exist and its beautiful ribbon-like pathway through our landscape might only be remembered in the fault lines of rearranged rocks.

Considering the geological and weather upheavals likely during those intervening years, I imagine the footsteps of human kind will not even be a distant memory.  My guess is that the ant and cockroach populations will have mutated strangely and may be the only lively fauna roaming the planet. If water remains on the Earth then possibly some creatures who can survive in highly acid waters may be in the ascendancy in some regions.

It is rather strange to sit here tapping on my computer and to consider that not only do I expect the human race to become extinct, but all the artefacts of mankind will be obliterated over the millennia.  Having held a career in the museology industry for much of my professional life, I retain the urge to collect and conserve the artefacts of our histories. Nevertheless, these collections and preservations will probably only be valued for a few more hundreds or thousands of years.

On this basis it seems that walking and discovering what we have around us is a much more worthwhile thing to do – at least at the personal level. In an earlier posting I referred followers to the blogsite of a man who took 11 years to walk around the world. Even if I should set myself a similarly outlandish goal, it won’t be possible now to walk from home to London in my lifetime except by using some water or air based technology to move from land to land. What a small dream this is in relation to the expanse of the history of the universe.  But then, humans are not so great when compared to the scale of the universe.