Going for a walk in World Heritage Area
We have headed west, aiming for the range of Jurassic mountains that rise out of the centre of the island. During these couple of hours on the road, we’ve noticed the vegetation change; at some point, it became apparent that we were entering explorers’ country, the remote regions of Tasmania. But it’s not until we cross a thin course of dark water called Pencil Pine Creek that we are in the World Heritage Area.
Nearly one-quarter of Tasmania’s land-mass is shaded on our maps as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, or TWWHA. (This is colloquially pronounced ‘twa’, which sounds French enough for me to often call it le twa.) This status didn’t come without controversy – the World Heritage Area was listed during the tumultuous period of protest and debate over the future of the Franklin River, in 1982.
For a site to become World Heritage, a world governing body – UNESCO – must deem it a place of significance for all humans in the world. It may be that the landscape and ecology are unique, or that the area contains sites that are important for cultural reasons. As an Overland Track guide, I might be considered biased when I say that le twa is one of the most magical places on Earth. But UNESCO backs me up: the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area fulfils more criteria than any other site on the planet apart from one, Tai-shan in China, with which it is equal.
What does all this really mean? It means that when we cross Pencil Pine Creek and begin to ready ourselves to hoof it for six days along the Overland Track, we are entering special country. There are species of plant and animal that we will not find elsewhere; the rocks here span a huge range of geological eras; there are remnants of some very different human lives that have come to pass in this area. It is a place worthy of our attention and our curiosity.
Perhaps just as importantly, six days of walking in the bush – especially when it is as gives us a chance to live our lives differently too. Life impresses itself upon us in a new way. My thought patterns change in the bush; I am better at seeing, and understanding. Unhurried, there is a depth of being that I approach a little more easily. Surrounded by old conifers, ancient rock, and historic cultural sites I can contextualise myself a little better. I see my life a bit more realistically. I am probably a nicer bloke too.
There is often a misunderstanding about places like national parks and World Heritage sites. People frequently describe these regions as ‘locked up’. In truth, there are far fewer restrictions here than elsewhere. There are no fences, no traffic lights, no time limits. I may be biased – it is my office after all – but I reckon we are freer here than anywhere else.
Bert Spinks, Guide, Poet and Story Teller