When people say they've been to the bush, I wonder what sort of bush they are talking about? Are they referring to the grasslands out in the west of Melbourne, where there are currently less that 2% left in the entire state. Or are they talking about the plantation forests that lie across Victoria- a monoculture of trees each the same age, same sized trunk with little or no biodiversity within the forests. And I wonder if the person walking through these forests would know that what they're walking into is a manmade construct of 'forest' that does not exist in the natural world. I wonder how many people have seen a natural forest. I wonder these things because I thought I'd seen a forest. Land with trees right? That's a forest. But that was before I was taken to Warburton and I learnt and witnessed not only what our forests should look like, but what they are doing to our forests at this very moment.
There is currently only about 7% left of our old growth forests in Victoria. Old growth meaning these trees are on average more than 100 years old and are more than 200m tall. They are the rainforests of Victoria. Yes, we have rainforests. They don't just exist in the tropics. And they exist in Warburton, where one of the oldest trees in Australia exists; The Ada Tree. The Ada tree is an old relic of the past. Its surroundings showcase what Australia should look like if it weren't for the enormous amount of deforestation that occurs in our state. We are logging our state at a rate of 13 football fields a day, to the point where naturally occurring trees like The Ada Tree are considered abnormal and eucalypts are considered the norm. In fact, if we hadn't logged our old growth forests, most of the state would actually be covered in wet, luscious old growth forests instead of dry, brittle eucalypts.
So I was taken to Warburton to see the Ada Tree and the old growth forests surrounding the Warburton region. As we drove up the mountain, we passed logging coupes where large chunks of the forest was clearfelled like a blaring scar on a patch of skin. I don't think I've ever experienced such overwhelming vehement anger in my life. I never want to see another logging coupe again. I suppose this is what you get for being an urban kid; you forget the destruction your wants and needs have caused. We walked along the Island Creek Walking Track that led to the Ada Tree. It is estimated to be 300 years old and stands at a height of 76m with a circumference of 15m. It is one of the tallest trees in Australia. It's quite strange now that I think about it given that I live in the city and am quite constantly surrounded by skyscrapers that I would feel a sense of such bewilderment at seeing a tree that towered above us. But I did. I was in awe. Perhaps because it represented a marking of time whereas buildings are constructed in a blink of an eye in comparison. Whatever it was, the feeling was magical and reminded me of what it is ultimately I am trying to protect.
The Ada Tree
After the Ada Tree walk, we decided to go on a tree-top walk. The immediate dampness of the old growths against our skin was apparent. The treetop canopy walk was erected for visitors to experience the sheer size and magnitude of these forests. We were 15m from the forest floor which was covered in moss, ferns and fallen trunks. The foliage was so thick you can't see the floor. That is one of the trademarks of a healthy forest- the density of the understorey. The denser the understorey, the healthier and older the forest. So pristine was this forest that when this tree canopy walk was erected, scientists were scared that such a disturbance could cause damage to the forest. But not building the walk would encourage people to trample on the understorey. So the walk was built and we are now able to see the forest closer to the canopy. And what a surreal feeling it is to be walking and yet realising that you're looking at the middle of a tree-not the roots or the base but the middle of a trunk.
Can you imagine the tranquility in such a place? You can hear the river flowing in the amongst the ferns, feel the coolness of the air, hear the birds calling each other and the sounds of insects amidst the feeling of such calm and overwhelming beauty. It is beauty. In all its meanings, forms, emotions and manifestations, the feeling I had when I leaned against the railing of the canopy walk and looked out into the midst of the sea of trunks that stood before me was one of beauty.
People talk of being spiritual and feeling a bond so intense, a connection so powerful they can only describe it as being supernatural. I think that is a universal feeling. And whether or not it is supernatural, it is one of profound beauty and an emotion that shapes us in the way we are, and it is in these moments that we come alive and feel a level of connectedness we seldom feel in our urbanised world. I think this is what nature does. It connects us. All the elements on this planet came from the sun- the only star in our solar system. We are all made out of the same elements; we are all made out of stars. And when I breathe, I breathe the same elements that made that tree, that produced that grain of wheat, that was part of your brother, mother, sister. We are all connected. I am you, you are the tree, the tree is the air and the air is me.
The old growths are the lungs of our world. We need to protect them. But before we can or know how to protect them we must acknowledge them. So go into the old growths. Venture into their midst and sit back and reflect at what it means to live in our current society. And feel what it means to be truly connected to the world.