Abused Subtropical Rainforest Thrives Again

The threatened Gondwana rainforests of New South Wales.The threatened Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (source: environment.nsw.gov.au‬).

Sadly, we hear too much about the logging, clearing, and obliteration of earth’s rainforests, and about the global repercussions, including climate change. Here’s a story about rainforest rejuvenation, albeit on a small scale. From Germaine Greer, the Australian author of White Beech: The Rainforest Years:

“This is the story of an extraordinary stroke of luck. You could call it ‘life-changing,’ if only every woman’s life were not an inexorable series of changes to which she has to adapt as well as she can. What happened at Cave Creek, Queensland, in December 2001 is that life grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. I went there as a lamb to the slaughter, without the faintest inkling that my life was about to be taken over by a forest.”

Yvonne Roberts of The Guardian describes Greer, now 74, as “the towering polemicist, Shakespearean academic, ex-pornographer, and author of The Female Eunuch.” This onetime feminist and academic has put aside work on her earlier causes to devote her 60s and early 70s to freeing a natural environment from anthropogenic destruction.

Greer began her quest to regenerate precious natural areas by spending two years visiting trashed landscapes across eastern and central Australia. “For years I had wandered Australia with an aching heart. Everywhere I had ever travelled across its vast expanse I had seen devastation, denuded hills, eroded slopes, weeds from all over the world, feral animals, open-cut mines as big as cities, salt rivers, salt earth, abandoned townships, whole beaches made of beer cans. Give me just a chance to clean something up, sort something out, make it right, I thought, and I will take it.”

She found several promising but unobtainable locations and finally settled on a disused dairy ranch that had been logged, farmed with non-native species, and intensively dominated by banana crops for over a century: Cave Creek. The land lay just beyond the sixth most populous city in the country, Gold Coast, where tourists enjoy nightlife and residents, high-rise living. In the daytime Gold Coast shows off a sunny subtropical climate, surfing, boating, and yes, even theme parks.

“To give the forest back to itself”

Greer spent her life savings on a piece of the Gondwana rainforests. The most biodiverse nontropical rainforests on earth, the Gondwana were named UNESCO World Heritage sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to humanity in 1986. The steep montane and riparian ecosystem there has an extremely high conservation value. Many of the Gondwana’s species have hardly changed from their fossilized ancestors. More than 200 rare or threatened plant and animal species inhabit the rainforests.

Among others, Cave Creek harbors critically important habitat for the smooth Davidson’s plum and the Glenugie karaka. One of the most majestic subtropical rainforest trees, the white beech (Gmelina leichhardtii), has been logged to near-extinction in the Gondwana, except for use as lonely street trees. Greer found a striking mature white beech on her land, struggling with lovely but foreign lantana so invasive that Australia has introduced 30 insect species at one time or another to control their spread.

Greer and her team of local workers grubbed out the lantana by hand to free the magnificent tree. Her workforce spent years slowly replacing the human-torn land with healthy rainforest, weeding, collecting seed, planting out seedlings, freeing macadamias and black beans from obliteration, and coaxing native animal species to return to a restored habitat.

“Some of Greer’s descriptions, including that of the rainforest canopy as it changes with the seasons, establish her as one of Australia’s great natural-history writers.”

Tim Flannery, chief councillor of the independent nonprofit Australian Climate Council, describes Greer’s work at Cave Creek as “a trend in contemporary Australia that is manifesting across the country. Thousands of Australians donate to not-for-profits such as Bush Heritage and the Australian Wildlife conservancy, which restore habitat on a grand scale.”

The Sunday Times describes Greer’s book about the incredible undertaking as “An eco-love letter about saving and reviving trees on her farm in Australia.”

The Caring for Our Country program of the Australian Government is currently conducting both an assessment of fire impacts on rainforest communities and a regional assessment of climate change impacts, with a goal of developing appropriate actions for threat mitigation.

Online and brick-and-mortar bookstores are now carrying White Beech: The Rainforest Years. You can reach the website about Cave Creek here and other information about the Gondwana (named for part of Pangea’s 200-million year-old southern subcontinent) at the Commonwealth of Australia’s Environment site. Book tours have been scheduled for several cities in England. If in London on March 11, hear Germaine Greer and her editor, Michael Fishwick, discuss the project at The Bloomsbury Institute, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP at 6:00 pm. You can book online.

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