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Western Front: the battle for takayna

| Krissy Moehl

The Tarkine – or takayna – in North-West Tasmania is the largest area of Gondwanan cool-temperate rainforest in Australia. It has been described by the Australian Heritage Council as "one of the world's great archaeological regions" given the area's high concentration of Aboriginal sites. It provides habitat for over 60 rare, threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna. It is also under threat. In the midst of a campaign to save its ancient rainforests and, amid growing calls for World Heritage status, The Tarkine is also now home to Australia’s newest trail ultramarathon, created in part to draw attention to the plight of the landscape through which the run traverses. Patagonia Global trail running ambassador and environmental advocate, Krissy Moehl, journeyed Down Under to join the fight.

 

 

Photo: Jarrah Lynch 

 

 

“There’s been a blockade. The rest of the runners have been held at the hall by a blockade.”

We had departed early that morning in two groups from Marrawah, a small Tasmanian village of just over 400 residents. The town hall was acting headquarters for the inaugural 65km takayna Ultra Marathon. Our group had gotten to through to where the race was starting, before the trouble began.

Shannon Bourke, Patagonia’s Environment and Social Initiatives Manager, had driven back to an area with mobile phone service and checked in with the race director, who was with the remaining group at the town hall.

“They are figuring out how to pile people in private cars, but locals are trying to stop that too. The race is going to be delayed.”

I immediately wished I was there with the other runners. Not that I would know what to say to speak up, but to be with them. I wasn’t the only one with this feeling as we later learned Bob Brown appeared on the scene to speak with the protesters and understand their fears in protecting the Tarkine. Bob is a former Australian senator and current head of the Bob Brown Foundation, which is leading the fight to preserve the area. Some of the locals feel threatened that their existence and ability to provide for their families will disappear with any halt in logging and their children will not have the forestry work they have known. It is an old way and the only known way, and change from that feels scary.

 

Thursday morning prior to the race, I had piled in a car with fellow Patagonia trail running ambassador and New Zealander, Grant Guise, to recce the course, see a bit of the rainforest and check out Sumac camp, a current Bob Brown Foundation stronghold. Guided by BBF team member, Eric Hayward, we first detoured to check out a recently burned coop. Only one sleep after 40 hours of travel, I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was a nightmare or reality. The jagged remains of trees were charred and the earth was still smoldering. I rubbed my eyes before I started asking questions. Unfortunately, I was wide awake and couldn’t believe my eyes.

 

 

Photo: Jarrah Lynch  

 

 

“Why would someone look at this and think this is a good idea?”

Grant chimed in, “Yah, can you imagine giving a high-five after this?”

We all stood there in awe of the destruction and slowly shook our heads not grasping the ‘why’.

Eric provided some understanding. He spoke of the varying views and the discrepancy from “up top” management versus the front line forestry workers; the different perspectives of those sending the orders and those doing the deed; the justification from on high, and not knowing any other kind of life at ground zero; the money motivation of leaders never having laid eyes on this beauty and, for those on the ground, the fear of unknown employment options and not necessarily wanting to serve lattes to tourists. There are some amazing opportunities for employment in the Tarkine, but with the construed singularly focused desires of those hundreds of miles away, it becomes as dirty and confusing as the smoldering charred earth that was beneath my feet.

 

Back on race day, the police eventually showed up and cars and buses were allowed through to the starting line. The majority of runners arrived in cars and a group of about 60 started at 7:15am. Soon, we were tramping through the bush, following pink ribbons calling out the way. I looked for the colorfully dressed runners dotted along the horizon ahead and behind me. Somewhat unknowingly, these unbalanced running steps through lumping button grass were pounding a personal connection with the Tarkine into my cells. The challenging off-track focused my intention on just the next step and when I did have a chance to look up, the wind touched my face and the view of the plains and then the ocean stretched out before me, ensuring there was more to come. The spirit of the runners around, the volunteers at every turn, added to the cellular embedding of this love of the Tarkine.

 

 

Photo: Jarrah Lynch  

 

 

We ran 17kms to the coast through the double track and off track to find ourselves full on into the rugged Tassie coast. Waves gave rhythmic movement to the scene and rock formations detailed the twists and turns as we journeyed north for the remaining 45kms to the finish. We were challenged to run head-on into the wind, with sand drifts that blasted and abraded our exposed skin. The brim of my trucker cap quickly became the most valuable piece of gear I had on me that day. My sticky, sweaty skin provided the perfect adhesive for the sand to coat exposed areas. The wind was so loud I couldn’t chat with the guy shuffling alongside me in the final kilometers. Instead, we encouraged each other along with side-ways glances and hand gestures until we had the brief protection of the hills to communicate a few words when the course weaved inland the slightest bit to avoid a swim.

 

 

Photo: Jarrah Lynch  

 

 

I thought back to the plains from earlier that morning and the trees from the day before. The extreme differences in vegetation, all connected by my two feet moving forward relentlessly. Being amongst the trees, moving through dense forests on singletrack trail, and exploring varying landscapes generates an energy and connection to something much greater, something that provides the ‘why’ to life for me. Into the storms and pushing forward, the story of a long-distance runner is not unlike the challenge of the work non-profit organizations like BBF face. We both have to take it in stride, be comfortable with the challenges and evermore, keep moving forward.

 

 

Photo: Jarrah Lynch  

 

 

As present as I remained through the experience, something more powerful struck me when the plane pulled wheels up from the Burnie airport, the first hop on a long journey home. This event and the wild of Tassie tore into my heart, embedded in my soul and ignited emotion for people and place. The connection promised in the Welcome to Country bore sneakily into my being. Reading through the continued posts on the takayna Ultra Facebook page, I know I am not the only one that carries this desire, love and hope for the Tarkine, as well as the enthusiasm to identify with and work for the place. As a collective, we raised over $100,000, BBF’s single highest earning fundraising endeavor yet (one runner, the bubbly Kate Hanson, raised over $7,000 on her own!). Just as importantly, this event symbolised a connection to the importance of wild spaces, wherever they are in the world, as well as the people that are passionate about protecting them. If you get out in it to know it, then you’ll love it. If you love it, you’ll protect it.

Photo: Jarrah Lynch  

 

Learn more about the event and the campaign to save takayna

 

Bio: Krissy Moehl traveled with Patagonia to take part in the inaugural takayna Ultra. Herself a race director, accomplished ultrarunner, author and coach she respects, appreciates and lives for all things trail running, especially the wild spaces. Follow Krissy