Interview with Tasmanian teacher who spent record-breaking 15 months in tree!
May 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Some could say that when it comes to forest conservation, Miranda Gibson has had her head in the clouds – literally. The qualified high school teacher spent a record-breaking 15 months living on a platform built into a tree 60 metres above the ground in the forests of southern Tasmania.
Hailed as a “hero of the forests” by former Greens leader Bob Brown, Miranda staged the tree sit-in to protest the logging of Tasmanian forests. Although a nearby bush fire forced Miranda to leave the tree (which she named the Observer Tree) on March 7 2013, her determination to continue campaigning for the forests is far from gone.
By Lydia Hales.
Q. Your blog piece on what it was like for you to come down from the Observer Tree after such a long time was quite emotional. How are you adjusting to life back on the ground?
A. It’s been a lot to adjust to, getting used to life on the ground again. The hardest thing has been the separation from the tree and the forest, which I miss every day. But there has also been great things about being on the ground, being able to regroup with other conservationists and plan ways forward together. Now that we have the Tasmanian Forest Agreement in place, which effectively locks in ongoing native forest destruction, it’s more important than ever to keep up the fight for the forests. It is hard knowing that I had to get out of the tree before I was ready to, but I also know that there is so much I can do on the ground to keep the momentum of the campaign going.
Q. Do you know at this stage if any plans to return to the tree will go ahead?
A. At this stage, I don’t plan to go back up the tree. The area where the tree is has been nominated for World Heritage and I hope that next month, in June, when the committee meet, it will be officially included in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area. Of course, there are a lot of areas of high conservation value that will not be included and so I will continue the campaign for those forests across the state that remain under threat.
Q. A couple of articles mentioned your “isolation and solitude” as being the hardest things about your record-breaking time in the tree. Do you feel that during this time you learnt a lot about yourself, and how we as humans can connect with nature?
A. The time in the tree was undoubtedly challenging due to the isolation, but on the flip-side to that, the solitude was a remarkable experience and I feel that I learnt a lot about myself and about the forest. I developed a really close connection to that area of forest and to my tree in particular. It taught me that humans can definitely connect with the natural world in profound ways. I guess the tree became like a best friend to me and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Q. Whenever you were struggling, what did you think of to keep your spirits up and keep you motivated?
A. I was always uplifted by the forest. Whenever I started to find it challenging, I would just have to look out across the forest that I was there to defend, and I would find the strength to keep going. There were constantly special moments, such as amazing and beautiful birds and owls coming to visit me, which would lift my spirits. I also found a lot of strength from the solidarity that came from people all around the world. My inbox was filled daily with support and encouragement from people from all walks of life, and that played a major part in what kept me motivated. I guess I could also see how effective my action was, the impact it had internationally in spreading the word about these forests.
Q. What do you think has been the best thing to come from your campaign?
A. One major success of the campaign has been the growing awareness around the world about Tasmania’s forest. This has had an impact in several ways. It added to the pressure on the Australian Government, to ensure that the forests were nominated for World Heritage, which happened on February 1st this year. It has also had a direct impact on companies like Ta Ann, who are selling wood from Tasmania’s high conservation value forests and labeling it as “eco-ply.” It is through exposing the truth to customers around the world that pressure was brought to bear on the company for these practices. Ta Ann are still continuing to sell this timber, as well as timber sourced from environmental destruction and human rights violations in Sarawak, however with the campaign against them continuing to gain international momentum, I believe we can bring an end to the destructive practices of this company.
Q. Were there any things that have come from this which you didn’t expect?
A. The personal experience was something that I had not really thought about or expected. When I went up the tree, I was thinking about it as a tool to expose the truth about the forest destruction. I didn’t really stop to think about the impact it would have on me personally, to stay in the tree tops for such a long period of time. But it was really an amazing and unique experience, I learnt so much about the patterns of the forests day to day, and so much about myself.
Q. You’re not originally from Tasmania, yet have done so much in terms of campaigning for Tasmanian forests…what first drew you to this cause?
A. I first came to Tasmania almost 10 years ago. And one of the first things I did was go out to the forests. I remember how awe-struck I was at seeing the giant trees towering above, the lush green rainforest under-storey – it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And then seeing a clear fell for the first time, realizing the absolute devastation that occurs to these forests. This is when I knew I wanted to do something to ensure that these forests survived for future generations,.
Q. Can you share your favorite memory from your time spent in the tree?
A. I have so many memories of my time in the tree that will stay with me forever. One thing that was really amazing for me was the first snowfall up there. I remember how excited I was to be in the snow, 60 meters above the ground, watching the forest turn slowly from green to white. There were many more snowfalls to come, of course, and I was amazed by the beauty of the forest in snow every time.
Another special memory is when a goshawk came into my tree, flew right towards me so that it was only a meter or two from my face, and then flew away. They are spectacular birds and it was a really unique experience to be face to face with one, in the upper canopy.
You can read more of Miranda’s story and keep updated with her work through her Observer Tree blog.