So the story begins.
My journey to the forests started on May 27th, 1979 when ABC Radio's Science Show, hosted by Australian "National Living Treasure" Robyn Williams, broadcast an incredible interview between Richard St Barbe Baker and Barrie Oldfield.
St Barbe Baker, then in his 90th year, had travelled to Western Australia at Barrie's invitation to visit the State's South West and see what was happening with the magnificent Karri forests. Barrie, a keen film-maker, thought he might capture some of St Barbe's wisdom and so recorded an interview in a friend's lounge-room, sitting on a couch, with lots of tea, cake and chatter.
After the interview, Barrie was so cross at himself for not preparing questions. He'd felt the discussion had rambled, and that he'd not managed to produce anything of note. He filed the tape away in his office desk drawer for a month before finally deciding to "pop it in a can" and send it over to Robyn at the ABC in Sydney. Robyn tells the story of how he listened to the interview and immediately sent it for broadcast, so powerful were the insights. Barrie's interview has become one of the most popular broadcasts in the Science Show's 40 year history.
Far, far away from Barrie's home in Perth, a young lad had been outside playing with his dogs. He'd come in for a drink of water and found the radio on.
At that stage of my life, I'd never heard of a "forester" but the idea instantly intrigued me. I had spent a lot of time in forests with my dogs marvelling at their beauty and here was the suggestion that I might get a job working to protect them, like St Barbe. His words transported me.
And so the stage was set. I abandoned my plans to become a vet and set my sights on forestry. Yet, something else from St Barbe's interview intrigued me: his description of his experiences with earthworms. St Barbe had shared the story of how when planting trees in hostile environments, like the Sahara and in the Judean Hills, he had tried "stone mulching" to give the trees a greater chance of survival.
I kept wondering, "Where did those bloody earthworms come from?" I still wonder today. In those terribly harsh conditions, how did they survive and find themselves sheltering in that cool, moist place under the rock? There seemed to be an important metaphor there. Even in the most barren of places, with care, we can help bring life. Amidst all the news of deforestation and environmental issues, this seemed an important, wise insight.
I was equally as intrigued by the goat herder. It was patently clear that we could plant as many trees as we liked but if we didn't work with people, with the communities, that our efforts would come to nothing because we wouldn't get the "goat herders" on board. So was born the complexity involved in working through wicked problems. Earthworms, life-giving stones, goat herders and planters, just some of the players in the dance to get trees back in the landscape
In the age of climate change and our troubled relationship with Nature, I am constantly reflecting on St Barbe's life's work, his eternal message of love, humility, of the need to work together, peacefully, to solve our problems. "The Magical Appearance of Earthworms" is about this.
"The Magical Appearance of Earthworms is the story of how I have travelled my path in support of Richard St Barbe Baker's mission. On that day in 1979, I felt that St Barbe somehow passed me the baton. Now, 36 years later, I have my own experiences and lessons to share, some successes, many failures. I wonder what young person I might inspire if they know there is no need to give up, to despair, that the world needs us to keep trying, to keep striving. I want to convey a message of great, positive hope. In these somewhat challenging times, I think we need it.
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