Have you ever felt a connection with somewhere that you’ve never visited, without understanding why?
More than two decades ago, I recall unfolding a map of Tasmania and feeling my gaze involuntarily drawn to the large expanse of green nothingness in the lower left-hand corner. What sort of place in temperate Australia could have no roads and no towns? What wild creatures might inhabit such a location, I wondered, and how wonderful would it be to explore a landscape so devoid of human activity?
From that moment, Southwest National Park in Australia’s smallest state, became lodged firmly in my imagination. I was drawn to research its history and to dream endlessly about its rugged coastline abutting the grandeur of the great Southern Ocean.
I learned it was the only remaining breeding ground of one of the world’s rarest birds: the orange-bellied parrot. Fewer than 50 wild individuals survive and they migrate to the button grass plains and eucalypt forests of this area each summer from mainland Australia. For them, it was and remains a last hope landscape and for me, it would appear in my mind’s eye when stress called for calmness. I wanted desperately to go.
But you know how it is. Things gets busily complicated and sometimes whimsical bucket list travel plans take a back seat to everyday life.
Vacations are near impossible for families like ours. My gorgeous and determined but fragile son lives with profound disabilities and complex medical needs. My husband and I agreed many years ago that rather than abandon the idea of travel altogether, that we would take separate short breaks every couple of years. Not together, but for each other. It was a compromise designed to keep burnout at bay and dreams alive.
And so in the spring of 2019, my urge to immerse myself in the Tasmanian world heritage wilderness site was finally realised. Many thought I was crazy. Middle-aged working mothers, I was led to believe, are supposed to long for relaxing, tropical holidays with a good book and an endless supply of poolside cocktails. Not this one, it seemed. Instead I agreed to spend my long-anticipated break in an ambitious attempt to traverse the South Coast Track with five similarly adventurous strangers. The revered 9-10 day 85km hike, carrying a full pack of essential survival equipment and supplies, challenges walkers across difficult terrain in unpredictable conditions.
I’m not going to lie. It was brutally tough.
Despite adhering to a rigorous training regime for months prior, this walk pushed my good level of fitness to its physical limits. The track was slippery, steep and overgrown. There were waist-deep, fast-flowing rivers to cross on foot, rock faces to clamber up and fallen logs to negotiate, all in permanently soggy boots. Some days featured horizontal stinging rain and howling winds, others glorious sunshine with a refreshing breeze.
At night I lay in my tent aching from the tips of my strapped toes, through every strained joint and bruised limb, to the tops of my shoulders. Restful sleep with quick recoveries were needed to power through each day. I learned to crawl like a crab, to wade through waist deep mud, to laugh at my stubbornness and to go on despite my trepidation.
The rewards, however, were spectacular. The pristine beaches, the expansive plains and the sense of achievement at completion were everything I had imagined and so much more.
I expected the walking to be the highlight. It turned out the magic happened in those quiet moments when my feet stopped moving and I could just look, breathe and feel. The cheeky tent-side quolls and pademelons made me smile, the overwhelming green-ness of the rainforests fed my soul, the purest tannin-stained water kept me hydrated and the crisp, clean air filled my lungs. The call of the currawongs at dawn and the lapping of the waves on the rocks created a space for contemplation and release. A natural pocket of perfect.
One morning while pondering the toughness of the vegetation during a blizzard-like storm, I looked up lazily into the branches of a sturdy old shrub. To my surprise a small green parrot looked down at me. He turned to proudly face the rain head on and there it was: an unmistakable orange belly. My heart raced as it felt the privilege of seeing one of these delightful, rare beauties. It dawned on me that he and I had both been drawn to this most wild of places by some inexplicable force. The sacrifices were worthwhile.
So why not take a chance and follow that urge to visit your special place? It might not be easy but if you do it right, the only trace of your visit will be an immeasurable change deep within you.
- Michelle Campbell-Ward
- : Michelle Campbell-Ward is a conservationist and wildlife, zoo and exotic animal veterinarian dedicated to the provision of outstanding medical care for animals of all species and to advancing the fields of conservation medicine and research, animal welfare and ethics, veterinary preventative health and habitat preservation. Michelle is also an author, a mentor/educator, a carer and a disability advocate.
- : https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-campbell-ward-122ab093/
- : Michelle has had diverse career and home life experiences. She enjoys sharing her perspective on matters relating to conservation, animal welfare and ethics, veterinary medicine and parenting children with special needs. She values collaborating with colleagues in similar and diverse fields.
- : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
- : This is the first time this story has been published.