Sue and I enjoyed two great months travelling New Zealand and Australia or ‘OZ’.
This was a trip we long prepared for and anticipated. We could not do it sooner because of the amount of time we needed to be away. Because this was our first trip ‘Down Under’ we were sometimes surprised by unforseen challenges and at one point: in Broome Australia, things went off the rails and we had to change our plans. The issues were: the stifling heat, the need to have a four wheel drive, unexpected road closures and the volume of the luggage we had. The Kimberley has very special appeal but is at the same time a very tough place in which to travel, and photograph. This we found out the hard way. If we return to see the parts we missed it will be under different conditions, providing a higher level of personal comfort and by that I’m not referring to wheelchairs.
From a planning point-of-view Sue had done an incredible job and we had no major problems to speak off with numerous reservations and travel arrangements. This part was all smooth sailing. The blog Sue produced hopefully will get printed and for anyone interested in doing ‘Down Under’ as well: it would be a good read to start with.
If there are any issues about this experience which I would love to share with people, here they are. Some may know I’ve always been interested in conservation and how it’s done. I have strong feelings about that and watching what is happening down under has not reassured me, if anything, it has heightened my anxiety about how homo sapiens is doing. Part of my interest in conservation stems from personal experiences as a nature photographer and from the fact that my images were published in several environmental books: Endangered spaces (Monte Hummel, WWF), Islands of Hope (Lori Labatt) and Last Wilderness (Freeman Patterson). These books were accompanied by the writings of several experts in the field on conservation.
Fyodor Dostoyevski once said: “Beauty Will Save the World”
When a beautiful area is discovered, my first question about it would be: how do we keep it beautiful? How do we prevent a chain of events that – to give an extreme example – led to the travesty that is the Niagara Falls area today. What we’ve discovered over and over in New Zealand and Australia is that the commercialization of conservation is well under way and it looks like little has been learned from the North American experience.
There is the issue of signs. The most obvious and in-your-face- sign of commercial activity is the billboard. The more you have of these the more you feel like you’re in Times Square. I love the blunt humour of the Kiwi signs though: “If you step off this trail you will fall and die”. But really the message is: good conservation tries to perpetuate the awareness that we’re in a wild place, untouched by Mankind. So signs, if absolutely necessary, should be small and unobtrusive. Structures, if any, should be painted in natural colours like brown and green. Trail maintenance should be minimal and concrete should not be used. Parking lots should remain small and outside the park if at all possible. Commercial venues should absolutely be banned within parks. Park entrance fees should be non profit.
Australia and New Zealand are unquestionably beautiful places.
If you want to come to these countries and enjoy their real beauty: there is plenty of unspoiled beauty to be found, but not in the places which all the books tell you are a: “Must See”. We fell into that trap and will not do it again. “Must See” has, for me, become synonymous with: “Avoid.”
Yes, Mr. Dostoyevski, Beauty May Save the World, but commercial exploitation of nature’s beauty might just make that very difficult. Let’s carefully reflect on how conservation can really help educate people and thereby help protect nature. And then consider the many ways the almighty dollar might corrupt those attempts. “Is capitalism not part of nature?”, you ask. I don’t think so. Nature would not give you a loan. It would feed you to a lion.
Another, smaller part, has to do with what in my eyes seems to be a deplorable waste of time, resources and effort in management of invasive species. This is not specific to ‘Down Under’ but seemed more visible in Oz and New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. I would simply refer to the recent book “Where do Camels Belong” by British ecologist Professor Ken Thompson. I totally agree with its contents. It downplays the seriousness of invasive species and emphasizes that the presence of species in certain geographical locations has never been a static thing: Dutch researchers have demonstrated clearly that there is normally a natural steady succession of different species in a given area. If there is one invasive species which we really need to regard with great suspicion it is Homo Sapiens.