Words by Amanda Kennedy Images Supplied
Can you feel homesick for a place you’ve never even been to?
The newly released book ‘The Great Forest’ somehow does just that. Giving the book its full (and lengthy) title ‘The Great Forest – The Rare Beauty of the Victorian Central Highlands’ by David Lindenmayer, with photographs by Chris Taylor, Sarah Rees and Steven Kuiter hints at the scope of the story contained within.
Yarra Valley resident and one of the book’s three photographers, Sarah Rees, was gracious enough to give OHO some of her time.
‘I help communicate science in a way people can digest,’ explains Sarah with typical modesty. For someone whose CV is full of well-hyphenated descriptors, perhaps most pertinent are that of full-time conservationist and co-founder of the Great Forest National Park (GFNP) initiative.
This initiative refers to a proposed area of eastern Victoria which would incorporate seven existing (State and National) parks, almost tripling the amount of protected area which directly feeds Melbourne’s water supply. The GFNP is also estimated to generate 750 new full-time jobs and $71 million for local economies.
‘The book was about how do we take what there is 40-odd years of science on – an area of forest that is incredibly significant to Melbourne – how do we turn that into something the average Melburnian can look at and understand, without having to understand the very complex equations around climate change and what’s going to happen to our forest and our water supply. These are things that sometimes people shy away from; I know I did.’
‘Once you communicate science through a visual medium like photo or film, or even an infographic, people say okay, I can accept that.’ And the visuals in the book are stunning. Sarah’s art & design background meant it was never going to be anything less. Her Instagram alone will have you pining for greener fields.
‘Because I’m a (Yarra Valley) local, I used art and photography as a method for not just healing after the fires but also for connecting and communicating my knowledge about the landscape. Myself and another scientist, Dr Chris Taylor, are quite close and we’ve worked together in photography before. We said – come on David (Lindenmayer) why don’t we just do a science and art piece.’
The Great Forest is available in most good bookstores and online. One Hour Out in conjunction with publishers Allen & Unwin are proudly offering a copy of the book to giveaway. Enter the giveaway here.
Of course, Melbourne lockdowns might have deterred some but not Sarah and co.
‘Being in lockdown, there wasn’t the freedom to go and photograph these areas. It was – ok, what have we got, and let’s look at if we need anything,’ she says. ‘We had an archive of some extraordinary photography. Chris and I have been taking photos for 20 years in the region. We see things that other people haven’t seen. Particularly because I live there, I get to see all times of the day, all seasons.’
Professor David Lindenmayer may be a world-leading expert in forest conservation, or as Sarah calls him the Australian Attenborough with a ridiculously impressive citation rating – but how does one harness 40 years of expertise into a compelling story?
‘We started thinking about what’s an interesting way to tell this story,’ Sarah begins to explain, while also acknowledging it is not really her story to tell. ‘We endeavoured to bring the role of the First Nations and the history of the landscape into the public spectre.
‘We deliberately intended to tell a story that was in line with the traditional owners (Gunaikurnai, Taungurung and Wurrundjeri) and what they felt comfortable about sharing. We made sure that every area we spoke about, we talked about whose nation that tree, that rock, that eco-system was found on. If they had a name for it, if that was ok for us to use, we sought permission to use it.
‘We looked into the geology, the under-story, the rainforest systems and the mountain ash which are historically some of the tallest recorded trees in the world.’
Sarah lays out some stark realities in regards to the water supply catchment and the dual challenges of fire and (over 100 years of) logging. ‘The fires are harder to manage; the logging is not. The mountain ash ecosystem is now critically endangered with only 1% of its original old-growth cover left unburnt and unlogged. Things like that are really important.’
The story of the animals, you can sympathise and fall in love with these animals, but you can also look at them quite objectively and say they are the canaries in the coal mine.
It’s little wonder the book is garnering glowing reviews from such luminaries as Tim Flannery (leading Australian writer on climate change) and the iconic Dame Jane Goodall (famed primatologist).
If you’d like to deepen your own relationship with forest ecology, then check out this Guided Rainforest and Mindfulness Tour once lockdown restrictions have eased.
We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai, Taungurung and Wurrundjeri people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.