This blog records my 3000-kilometre bicycle trip up the east coast of Australia, researching a book about simple living.
On the way we’ll meet a variety of interesting characters — chefs and scavengers, farmers and gardeners, the young and the radical, the old and the wise — and learn something from each person’s life.
It’s a story about local food and community gardens, downshifting and DIY building, sustainability and self-sufficiency. But mostly it’s about people. I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I have.
This feed contains my favourite posts, updated every few months. For more recent content, visit the full blog at www.simplelives.com.au
Miranda Gibson - tree sitter
I’m standing at the base of a 400-year-old eucalypt in Styx Valley, Tasmania, with my legs threaded through a climbing harness. Next to me is 23-year-old forest activist Rosie Phillips, listening to a crackling voice on a small radio tied with a bright pink ribbon. The voice belongs to Miranda Gibson, a 30-year-old teacher turned conservationist who has been living 60 metres up this tree for the last four months. And I’m about to be hauled up to see her.
“So how many people have you hauled up this tree?” I ask Rosie, trying to adopt a casual tone, as if I often spend afternoons dangling from the branches of ancient gum trees.
“Me personally?” she answers.
I hear a coo-ee from above, and then Rosie and the other “ground crew” start pulling. I’m now two metres off the ground. Three metres. Five. Ten. The rope is swaying in the breeze and I’m swinging from side to side. My face turns white and my hands cling to the climbing harness. I’ve honestly never been this scared before. As I reach the halfway mark, I can’t help thinking that living up a tree is, well, a little bit nuts.
But once I’m through the trap door and sitting on the platform, Miranda is reassuringly hospitable. “Are you okay? Let me know if you need anything,” she says. “A drink of water?” We’re perched 60 metres up a tree, but she’s playing host as if we’re having cups of tea in a lounge room at ground level.
Meanwhile, I’ve got my eye on the ropes holding up the platform.
These forest activists have been climbing trees for years, so I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but I’m used to being in buildings with steel or timber frames, and the sight of just a few ropes holding us up doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
But the thing that really freaks me out isn’t the precarious platform or the view of gum trees spearing up from below. It’s the fact that Miranda is standing here – seemingly one slip from certain death – with her shoelaces untied. She says it’s okay because she’s harnessed to the tree, but still…
We sit down on the platform. Miranda pours cold water into the lid of a thermos and offers it to me. I take a sip, then ask the only question I can ask, given the circumstances. “What the hell are you doing 60 metres up a tree?”
She giggles. “The reason I came up here in the first place was to highlight the fact these forests are amazing and they’re under threat from logging,” she says. Called The Observer Tree, Miranda’s upper canopy home is located in an unprotected area of forest known as “TN044B”. She climbed up here on December 14 last year to film the logging and document wildlife living in the forest, including the endangered Tasmanian devil. “Every day our forests are getting logged in Tasmania, but nobody sees it.”
From her perch, Miranda keeps vigil over swathes of wilderness across the Styx and Weld valleys. “Pretty much most of what you can see that way is under threat,” she says, sweeping her arm to indicate the mountain ranges in the distance.
The forest behind The Observer Tree is included in the World Heritage Area, but the valleys below are largely unprotected, and some sections have already been logged. They appear as smooth patches in the fuzzy landscape, like scars on the fur of a marsupial.
Right then a gust blows through, and the branches around us sway wildly. “It’s the windy season,” explains Miranda. Over the 126 days she’s been up this tree, she’s experienced everything from soaring summer temperatures to snow during autumn cold spells.
But as an experienced forest campaigner, she’s used to life up in the foliage. Her first “tree-sit” was in East Gippsland in 2006, and since 2007 she’s spent most of her time living at nearby Camp Florentine – a long-running forest blockade with permanent platforms in the trees. Activists sit in the platforms, which are tied to a wooden structure blocking the road. If a bulldozer destroys the structure, the platforms collapse and the activists fall to their deaths. Essentially, they’re saving the forest by risking themselves.
Most tree-sits barely have enough space for one person to lie down. The Observer Tree is unique because the platform is about three metres square, and the site has internet and phone reception. Through Skype calls, radio interviews, and a blog , people can “vicariously connect” with the forest Miranda is trying to protect.
I’m keen to learn how she manages to survive up here, so she gives me the official tour. “At the moment we’re in the bedroom,” she says, pointing at the swag she’s sitting on. Above her head is a tarp to keep the rain off, next to the bed is a wooden bench that serves as a desk and chopping board, and behind her are three plastic tubs filled with food, books and electrical equipment. She has two small netbook computers, which she charges with 12 volt batteries lugged up the hill by committed volunteers. There are also two 65-watt solar panels strung to a branch, but they’re not giving out much power.
Activists camped below cook hot food, which is hauled up to her through a system of ropes and pulleys. To keep up muscle strength, she does yoga on the south-west side of the platform. Sometimes she’ll climb further up the tree to sit in the branches above. “It feels a bit more connected to the tree than standing on the platform.”
Most of her time is taken up with media and blogging, including hosting curious (and slightly crazy) writers like me. But she still gets time to enjoy the forest around her. “Sometimes I like to listen to the birds or sit and watch a really nice sunset,” she says. She shares her observations on her blog, which features detailed descriptions of the natural world and photos of insects living in her tree. The environment is constantly changing, she says, so it’s never boring.
After months up here, she’s starting to bond with her aboreal home. “I’m up here on my own, but in a way I feel like it’s me and the tree as a team,” she says. “Everything that the tree experiences, I experience.”
Miranda has even written a letter to the tree on her blog. Here’s an excerpt:
“Tree, I want you to know that I love you. And although you do not know them, there are many others who love you too. Many who have seen your branches, from right across the globe.”
After so many years of fighting for areas only to see them logged, she’s now rediscovering what she loves about the Tasmanian wilderness. “Being in this tree-sit gave me the opportunity to reconnect to the forest.”
Living in the forest gives her a unique perspective on human society. “It starts to feel like that world out there – the world of cities and people doing things – isn’t a reflection of the real world,” she says. “When you’re living in a city, everything can be focused around people…you can often forget that we’re just one species out of many.”
“When you’re in the forest you can get that perspective back.”