But that Franklin trip changed me profoundly. As I believe wilderness experience changes everyone. Because it puts us in our place. The human place, which our species inhabited for most of its evolutionary life. That place that shaped our psyches and made us who we are. The place where nature is big and we are small.
I am not part of that earlier Australian generation who set off on a deliberate search for fame and fortune in distant lands. My generation was the first that didn’t need to. By the 1980’s when I left home, our culture had grown deep enough and wide enough to encompass all but the most rarefied of ambitions.
I swim in a sea of words. They flow around me and through me and, by a process that is not fully clear to me, some delicate hidden membrane draws forth the stuff that is the necessary condition of my life.
And at this moment in history, our core value happens to be the raw, aching truth of the human predicament. It may also be the only belief that can save us as a species. A species that will continue to find comfort and delight in the companionship of animals, the miracle of birds, the colours of the corals and the majesty of the forests. We are in it together, on this blue spinning marble in the cold and silent void. And we must act on that belief, if we are going to be able to continue to live a good life here, in this beautiful and fragile country, on this lovely planet, our only home.
I also learned very early that you do not rise by planting your foot in someone else’s face. Our way, the Aussie way, was to extend a hand so that no one was left behind.
Australia has gained many things in the last thirty years, and I’m not for a moment belittling those gains. But some things have been lost, or misplaced, along the way. Maybe we can come to a new consensus that retrieves some of the best elements of the old one, that fair, visionary, daring and idealistic view that once defined us. Maybe, once again, it will be time.
What’s wrong with leading the way? We’ve played that role before, after all. We gave the world the secret ballot… that did so much to raise living standards and improve conditions for workers worldwide. We were a leader in extending to women the right to vote. We were barely a nation when we set the bar for bravery and sacrifice by common soldiers in foreign wars. We grew up out of racism and misogyny and homophobia to become a mostly tolerant, successful multicultural society. We did these great things because we know we are in it together. It is our core value as Australians.