Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fencing in the Wild


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen


I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.