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Nature Writing Part 2

By September 12, 2019Nature writing, News
Booklovers Dilemma by Julia Brougham

Bookshelves stacked high and in double rows squeezed tight. Bedside tables stacked with four or five books on the go. The numbers grow, the TARDIS Effect fails and the booklovers dilemma sneaks in with a strange urge to be sensible.  Bargain with self and make sober justification noises. Haven’t read this in years. Didn’t like it. So old the paper is crumbling so bin it. Buy another book only after donating an existing one, or a boxful to the University Book Fair.  Done!

That looks better, single rows in a semblance of categories. Here are the autobiographies, there the novels, behind the glass are the references. Mental pat on back for being sensible and logical. But the penguin copy of Anna Karenina stayed despite loose pages sticky taped together, spine bare, cover dog-eared. It was joined later by a hardback copy by a different translator. Then Christmas and birthdays. New books and no cull. An “I’ll just have a quick browse” through online booksellers, books from a market stall, and the bedside table still has four or five books on the go. 

Sensible be damned. When I’ve become star stuff again nobody will remember if my bookshelves were chaotic, overflowing or neat.  

I was four and adored being read stories from Uncle Wiggily On the Farm by Howard R. Garis. The small orange book, no pictures except one drawing of a top hatted gentleman hare, is full of benign and bountiful stories and ideas about animal people and nature. I keep it with other old treasured books. I read it again recently. The memories of times and places where it was read to me, and the readers faces and voices, don’t fade. If that book had been (sensibly) discarded for being past its usefulness during relocations across continents and states I would have lost one connection in my personal ecology of people, ideas and words. I’ll go with C S Lewis. “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
Take a step into a different place full of books, the library in the Schoolmasters House. Eighty metres of shelved documents, books, reports, maps, images, surveys and landscape analyses collected over twenty-five years of rehabilitation of wetlands on Ash Island and other places in the Hunter River estuary. It is the distillation of thousands of hours of study, old and new knowledge, insights, creativity, innovation, book design, printer’s labour, and plain hard slog. Students and researchers use it, schools bring in groups for environmental studies, and it is at the centre of a big outdoor classroom.  Faced with its possible disappearance, the Landcare group, 'Friends of The Schoolmasters House', formed from a core group of volunteers who have been part of the Ash Island revegetation since 1993. The Friends wanted the library to stay in place and the house to stay open. We solved that dilemma with a lease of the house and its piece of territory in the Hunter Wetlands National Park.

The library is significant for its close environmental and cultural connections to its location. The Friends are digitising the library, giving it a second form of life. Uploaded to Trove it will have a third life.  Awabakal and Worimi knowledge and practice is included and they share in the care of the island, as they have done for as long as it has existed. Ash Island is where the first European settlers, Alexander Scott and family, including his daughters Harriett and Helena, lived and where they painted their enchanting botanical illustrations of butterflies and flowers. Have an online browse through the Australian Museum to see the images and read the Scott papers. The plant species newly grown and planted on the island were recorded in Helena Scott’s looping script in 1862 as she rambled across 5000 acres through scrub so thick that sometimes it was difficult to penetrate even a few yards. The Scott family left Ash Island in 1866 and the land was sold as small dairy farms. Shelves of family trees, stories and pictures of the lives, loves and griefs of hundreds of island residents are visited by former farmers, tenants and their descendants. They remember a landscape where “there were never all them trees when we were here, you could see the river”. 

When the Friends arrive on site a small group of butcher birds, magpies and a cautious crow swoosh in, anxious for their handful of treated cheese shreds. Come to the island sometime and see for yourself.


Frog climbing
Eastern Curlew
About Julia:

Born in Bunbury WA, lived for six years in South Africa, moved to South Australia and with husband John lived in the Far West, the mid-North, Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide. Since 2002 we have become forever Novocastrians. 

In childhood my fascination with native plants and animals was heavily influenced by a Dad who had an affinity with animals of all shapes and size, and a Grandfather who took us on bush outings at weekends. Love of the natural world and volunteering as a landcarer on Ash Island are ways of connecting with people who combine ecological knowledge with scientific rigour and impassioned care of our natural environment.

Books and reading began early too. My reading habits are wayward and well supplied. We have shelves and cupboards full of books, sometimes in double rows. Becoming a member of Hunter Writers Centre has added to my book stacks as I became involved in the marvellous workshops leading me to new reading places like oriental poetry forms, modern American fiction, grammar and who knows where.


The words I write daily as the current coordinator of a landcare group are, whether necessary administration or a creative writing piece, an act of advocacy for care of nature. Now more than ever the environment needs advocates who can speak for it and do it well.  To help this along I am hosting a new Meetup group "Nature Writing In Company" which will begin in August on Ash Island. Who knows where that will lead and who will find their voice.