Not really knowing what to expect, I left Bendigo and headed to Tasmania to take my turn helping guard this precious patch of Tarkine rainforest. All I knew was that the takayna rainforest had a profound effect on me and that I wanted to do my bit to help defend it. So I set off determinedly with a camp stove, dehydrated food and reading matter to see me through a week of perhaps doing little but sit in my tent in the rain.
Imagine my delight as I came round the bend and caught sight, first of a pretty green banner emblazoned with “LOVE takayna” and, beyond that, a group of friendly, smiling people enjoying a campfire at the front of a rather quirky looking shelter.
The camp almost seems to have grown organically out of the red earth, the trees and the huge fallen logs. Firmly tied tarps provide shelter from the rain for those sitting by the fire or working in the roomy “kitchen”, but almost everything else is made of the timber and soil left as “waste” after the construction of the logging road.
You approach the camp up an improbable path of coarse, white sand. The edges are elegant little woven retaining walls of flexible green eucalypt lathes wound in and out of wooden pegs. On either side, clumps of bright green cutting grass contrast with the rich red clay. A variety of mosaic patterns have been created out of the pink, white and black stones that can be found further up the road. A wooden sign announces “Tarkine Defenders”. Strange but graceful bits of contorted dead tea-tree have been planted in the soil. It is clear some very creative landscapers have been hard at work and the effect is enchanting.
At the top of the path, with feet relatively mud-free, you enter the porch, cross a threshold of crazy paving and step down (another woven retaining wall) into the high-ceilinged shelter by the fire. Blackened kettles steam. How long since my last cup of tea? Inviting camp chairs compete for my attention with cushions on a woodpile and a seat carved out of the huge myrtle log that forms one wall of the camp. I don’t think I’m going to be spending much time sitting grimly in my tent!
The camp kitchen is clearly the work of some very practical people who’ve done this before. The big myrtle log is a convenient height for a workbench. At one end, there are big plastic containers of the delicious, tannin tinted rainforest water. Down the middle of the space is a long bench, its surface made of sticks woven together with string. It’s reminiscent of a corduroy road and, unlikely as it sounds, it works. Every necessary utensil is there, along with an astonishing array of herbs and spices. There are many home-grown vegetables. People have been generous with their donations of food. Ingredients are stored in (supposedly) wombat, quoll and bandicoot proof, lidded tubs although it turns out it’s quite difficult to wombat proof anything. Nothing keeps the many fairy wrens away and they skip and forage where they please. Cooking and eating are definitely important activities here. And yes, I end up taking my unopened dehydrated meals home with me!
The nook is a cosy corner of the shelter. It’s lined with colourful fabric lengths and carpeted with mats and cushions. Someone has constructed a dream catcher and decorated it with local treasures – feathers, lichens, twigs and leaves. The library, a lidded tub, contains maps, reference material and donated books. There’s a guitar that Amy plays when she sings her haunting songs of the Tarkine.
So this place quickly becomes home. The forest is calming and right. It’s not just beautiful; it sounds, smells, feels right. And it’s a rare luxury to have so much time. Time for real conversations. (And what a wonderful and diverse range of people choose to come and support the camp.) Time for exploring this extraordinary place. Time to sit by the Frankland River, plump and foaming after the rain. Time to commune with Frankie the dragon and straighten the odd scale that might have slipped. Time for minute examination of the fungi that make rainbow gardens. My week races by and suddenly there is no more time for me here.
I came to the Vigil Camp to make a contribution but gained so much more than I gave. It will all start again next February and I will be back. Get down there if you possibly can. The forest needs you. And you need the forest.
Note: If you haven’t met Frankie yet, he is an awe-inspiring guard near the entrance to the first coupe. A sinuous three-metre high pile of earth was left when the logging road was pushed through and clever protestors transformed it into an enormous dragon complete with big teeth, fierce eyes, scales, legs and claws and spikes all down his spine.
Photographs by Tim Cooper. Tim Cooper is a Tasmanian photographer who has been contributing to our campaign to protect takayna / Tarkine.