Sometimes travelling can make you feel independent, resilient, capable, but something about Australia’s sheer geographic size and overwhelming natural beauty stops you in your tracks, dwarfs that sense of individuality we’ve worked so hard to define, and reminds you that we’re part of something bigger. So as my brother and I loaded the last of our provisions into the ute, strapped our swags to the tonneau and headed off into remote Western Australia I couldn’t help but smile to myself… This adventure was to be one of those journeys.
We started Pindan country, watching ocean giants on their yearly migration up the coast. We stood dwarfed by the fossilised footprint of a dinosaur and stood silently on the lands of the Gamberre and Wunumbal people before 30,000 year old rock art paintings.
For weeks we showered in waterfalls and bathed in gorges surrounded by ferns; hiked the ridges, bluffs and chasms of this beautiful island home. We weaved between mangrove roots, great boababs, eucalypts and native palms and fell asleep to the smouldering incense of Cyprus Pine under a roof of constellations.
We slept to the sounds of riverbeds running, crickets calling and frogs jumping, watching the night sky rotate above our heads as the earth spun silently through the solar system. And we woke beneath star speckled skies, the horizon bleeding orange, papaya and purple with chorus of birds singing in each new day.
Standing alone inside millions of years of evolution it was hard not to recognise that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; that the earth existed before us, rather than exists for us. It was impossible for me not to reflect on the unprecedented impact humans have caused during the blink of time we’ve occupied this planet.
With time and space to step back and reflect, I found myself repeatedly caught between awe for all that has come before us (without which we would not be here) and dismay at our wider society's ardent need to own, clear, manipulate and commodify this earth.
I think so often we’re conditioned to think about me, my, mine, and the result is that we don’t see the we, us, ours. But if we take a step back from ourselves, we can start to see that we are part of the ecosystem rather than separate from it. And in doing so, the earth and its resources become things that we need to live in accordance with and protect rather than exploit, destruct and disrespect. The ocean becomes our life-source, the holder of our oxygen and its death our demise.
Today we know the effects of this sense of entitlement to the natural environment, and they're slowly killing us as well as the world we live in. Yet our unsustainable pursuit of fossil fuels and coal seam gas, dredging of coral reefs, clearing of huge land masses, unrelenting production of synthetic materials and misappropriation and contamination of vital water sources continues in spite of the consequences.
Our generation may not run these industries yet, but we can still be the change we want to see. We can choose where we invest our money and the products that we consume. We can take responsibility for our individual impact by refusing single-use plastics and sourcing items without packaging (or request them from stores if not currently available).
We can become more aware of the materials our clothes are made out of - choosing natural fibres that will breakdown over synthetics, and buying items for their longevity. And we can begin conscientiously using natural products that are free of chemicals and not damaging to the plants, animals and waterways they will inevitably end up in.
And finally, in zooming out and shifting perspectives on our interconnected existence, the all-consuming problems that often feel so difficult to shake become just a little easier to digest. We can have more gratitude and respect for the world around us, and we can have more compassion and understanding for other people as well as for ourselves. After all, we're all here together and we're all the same.