With a brother resident in the South, parents in the north of England, and my own roots in the Scottish Lowlands, it was high time that my little girl had the chance to see where my journey started. Our itinerary saw us touring around 2,500 kilometres over three weeks with a handful of multi-day layovers at the homes of near (and not so near) relatives. Happily, my daughter’s now reached the age where she’s both a fun travel companion and someone who can contribute to travel planning and navigation. We made a good team.
She’s also old enough to notice differences in environment. And while she squealed with excitement at the sight of picture-postcard villages with thatched-roof cottages, flower-filled gardens and twinkling streams, I think she was as frustrated as me with the traffic congestion in some areas – including in parts of Scotland that I remember as being relatively uninhabited. And she’s also old enough to be saddened when we’d find out that a species of small mammal or bird of prey - that was common when I was her age - is now on the brink of extinction.
For my part, I gained a renewed appreciation for just how much change can be brought about by the heavy hand of human habitation in the space of just a few decades.
Here in Australia, most of us can probably identify a good handful of locations, within an hour-or-so of our homes, where we can go to ‘escape from it all’. Whether in a National Park by the ocean, along a remote bush-track by a creek, or on a mate’s property, there are so many places where we can unhitch our campers, unfurl our awnings, and settle back around a campfire under a billion stars. Indeed, taking my daughter to school when we returned home from the UK, I found myself reflecting that in the nearby ranges I could see more pockets of relatively unspoiled native bushland in the ten minute drive than I’d seen in three weeks travelling the British Isles.
But how many of us take our outdoor s lifestyle for granted? Do we assume that it will always be available when we want it?
According to the Australia ‘State of the Environment’ Report from 2016, there’s no room for complacency. Australia’s population has more than doubled in the last fifty years. Our environment is under pressure from factors such as climate change, alterations in land-use, habitat fragmentation and invasive species. And these effects are felt most in some of the places that we overlanders most enjoy spending our time – whether that’s along our coastal fringe where 90% of the country’s population live, or in more remote areas where, in many places, grazing and mining are considered to pose a major threat to biodiversity.
Consider how the environment in your own local area has changed over your lifetime.
As an example, think about the sprawl of housing that’s grown along the mid-north coast of NSW where my husband grew up. Until the early 90s, sleepy coastal towns of Woolgoolga, Arrawarra and Emerald Beach were separated by tracts of hinterland scrub. Now there’s a continual urban development that extends most of the way from Sawtell to Corindi with house prices 10 times higher than they were 20 years ago. Indeed, in some unique places you’d be hard pressed to buy a simple wood and fibro construction for under a million dollars.
Think too about the recent industry boom. In the last decade, multi-lane roadways, bypasses, temporary townships and heavy vehicle traffic sprang-up in areas of remote Australia where previously single lane roads and a few rough tracks serviced a handful of properties separated by hundreds of kilometres.
Australia’s not immune from cumulative impacts of population growth, lifestyle choices and industry. Indeed, any number of reports will tell us that Australia has one of the highest rates of mammal species extinction anywhere on earth. Just like everywhere else in the world, we humans have a tendency to stuff-up the things we come into contact with – whether animal, vegetable, or mineral.
But we’re still the Lucky Country. According to the Wilderness Society, we have more species of mammals than 93 per cent of countries, more birds than 79 per cent of countries, more amphibians than 95 per cent of countries, and more reptiles than any other country on Earth. Because the country’s interior is relatively inhospitable to most humans, it’s still remarkably sparsely populated. So it holds the promise of adventure for those of us who are prepared to put up with the challenges that Mother Nature inevitably throws at us while we’re out there.
We live on a continent that is biodiversity-rich and ruggedly beautiful. And sometimes it’s good to be reminded just how lucky we are to live here. For my part, travelling to the UK put me in mind of that old Joni Mitchell song: ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. Here’s hoping that it’s a long time before they ‘pave Paradise and put in a parking lot’ around my favourite parts of this Great Brown Land.