This blog is a transcription from Episode #13 of my Find Your Feet Podcast with Tasmanian Tiger guru and Thylacine believer, Col Bailey, was produced by Chris Rehberg. Chris is the Author behind Where Light Meets Dark. (http://www.wherelightmeetsdark.com.au/about-wlmd/vision-and-goals/)
Listen to the full Find Your Feet Podcast Episode #13 HERE: https://www.hannyallston.com.au/col-bailey.html
Hanny: Ok, so, I think this is the most excited I’ve been for a very long while. I am so, so thrilled to be introducing you today, to Col Bailey. Col is actually a retired landscape gardener and an avid bushwalker and back in the day, he used to absolutely love to canoe and was even the Australian fifty mile walk, race, record holder. So he’s a pretty good athlete really, in his own right.
It was in early 1967 that he was paddling in his canoe on the Coorong (sanctuary area) in South Australia when he chanced upon a Tasmanian Tiger. So 1967 is well after the supposed extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger in the 1930s, but Col has become the go-to person for anyone who believes that they have seen or heard a Tasmanian Tiger. And he’s really made it his life’s calling to prove to the world that this incredible animal can still exist here in Tasmania.
In this podcast we delve deep into sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger here in Tasmania, including Col’s own sightings in 1993 and 1996. His books “Tiger Tales” and “The Shadow of the Thylacine” have been a raging success and we actually now sell them here, at Find Your Feet, in our retail store in Hobart.
Col lives in Tasmania and sadly he is not a very well man anymore. It was quite an honour to be given one hour of his time to sit and pick his brains on how and where the Tasmanian Tiger still exists.
Look, I was a bit of a skeptic, before I read any of his books. I am an avid believer now that I have read this book and I have had this chat with Col Bailey.
Our audio was a little bit interrupted because we need to give Col time to catch his breath during the podcast, but I know that you are going to be engrossed in this, no matter what, and are going to come away desperate to know that the Tasmanian Tiger still exists and desperate to see one with your own eyes, so let’s get right into it: Hunting for the Tasmanian Thylacine with Col Bailey.
Hanny: Rolling! Col, Thank you for making the drive down to Hobart to visit me.
Col: My pleasure.
Hanny: This is really exciting. I must say I potentially have been bragging to a few people in the store as they pick up your book and browse through it, that I was planning to broadcast you and that we had you lined up. There’s not many occasions where I can sit in one place for a prolonged period of time but when I came across your book on a holiday up at Coles Bay, I have to admit that eight hours later I was still curled up on the couch.
Hanny: So, it really - for those of you who haven’t read Col’s books, we’ll put some links to them on the podcast pages, but I can absolutely vouch it’s a phenomenal read and it will - I don’t know, I’m an avid believer now that the Thylacine still exists.
Col: That’s good.
Hanny: Yeah. I’m really interested to know, just at the outset, like - you talk a lot about your own experiences in the book as well as other people’s sightings. You’ve kind of become, to some degree, the go-to person if you believe you have seen it or had an experience with a Thylacine. How many times have you personally - feel that you may have come into contact or been in the same region as a Thylacine?
Col: Well, definitely in 1995 and perhaps in 1997 [sic - 1967] along the Coorong in South Australia. I didn’t know what it was, but investigations into what it could have been led me to the Tasmanian Tiger. I knew very little then, about it, and there were other people seeing the same sort of animals being roundly called a Tasmanian Tiger in the Adelaide Advertiser. And, ah, that may be - I don’t know, but what it did was start me on this caper, searching for the Tiger and proving to the world it still exists, but ‘95 was definite. And up ‘til then I was in two minds; I thought it could exist, it may not exist. I was like so many others - I wasn’t sure; I was hoping. Ah, but then I was led into that area by an old bushman who said they definitely were in there, and when I seen it with my own eyes, I knew, but for seventeen years I didn’t tell a soul, not even my wife. And she wasn’t very happy when she found out when I was starting to write the book. She said “I thought we had no secrets” and I said to her, “Darling,” I said “better a love affair with the Tasmanian Tiger than another woman!” And so I told no-one, to protect the animal, because I was so fearful of what could happen if people got in there. And there are hunters that would shoot them on sight. They’ve told me that, and Nick Mooney and I have both had this experience of being told by people that they will shoot them if they see them. And so I want to protect the animal, so the second time (in ‘95) was without doubt in my mind, and that woke me up to the fact that they were there. And people say “How can you be so sure? How can you talk like you do and say, you know, ‘there’s no doubts that they’re there'?” I said “Because I know. I’ve seen - I’ve seen the thylac- I know they’re there”. And so how much more definite could you be than that? I mean I’ve seen the thing, and ah, many people see an animal and they think it’s a Tasmanian Tiger but they’re not sure. And a lot of these people don’t know very much about them at all, and it could be a dog, it could be - and on the mainland, of course - a fox; a mangy fox. They’re seeing mangy foxes over in South Australia at the moment and there’s a certain fellow over there that capitalizes on this - “Oh yeah, it’s a Tasmanian Tiger” - but they’re not at all. I’ve seen the footage, and they’re not. So, ah, no. That’s - once - but I’ve smelt them; they’ve got a definite odour, and I’ve smelt them several times, and I’ve heard them calling in the bush on three or four occasions.
Hanny: Ok. I’m really - you know, I hear what you say about how you kept all this a secret, even from your wife, for a prolonged period of time because - you mentioned that a few times in the book: you were worried that by releasing your knowledge and the belief that you knew that they still existed here, that you were endangering the species itself. What changed then? How did the book come about then?
Col: Well, I really wanted to wait until I’d proven to the world that the Thy- exists, but time was running out. I was getting older and older, and less able to get out into the bush, where I wanted to go, and I thought well maybe it’s time to write the book. I left it until the very last moment. My agent said “You know, you’ve gotta liven this thing up” and I said “I can liven it up”. I said “I don’t really want to yet” and he kept at me and at me and he said - ‘cause I’d had him for the first book, Tiger Tales, back in 2001 and ah, he knew where I stood and he had faith in me and he said “Look, if you’re gonna liven this book up…” and I said “Yeah, I can liven it up” but I said “I’ve resisted this”. So eventually, I let it go. And I - even then I didn’t really want to but, ah, so, I told the full story, and he said “Now, this is what we love; this is what we want” and we showed it to the publishers and they said “Oh, we’ll jump on this, yes.”
Hanny: But you weren’t writing this book to become famous…
Col: No, no, no, no, no - I just wanted to tell my story.
Hanny: Yeah, to tell your story.
Col: If I wanted to become famous I could run to the papers with my sighting, and a lot wouldn’t have believed it, but I don’t like taking this to the newspapers. The media are very dangerous because they sensationalise it, and in this instance they have done, on a number of occasions. And people have gone in there with guns and tried to find it and shoot it! And I didn’t want that to happen.
Hanny: The Thylacine is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. It’s been reported in the media that has been sightings in northern Queensland and in South Australia but we’re talking about the Tasmanian Tiger, so I guess I have a couple of questions. One is, are we talking about the same species? Is there a possibility that they're on the mainland as well, or - yeah, can you describe a little bit more about the Tasmanian Tiger and where you believe it still exists?
Col: Well basically, it is the same animal, basically. The Queensland situation is slightly different. Now there’s supposed to be an animal up there that is a variation of our Tiger. Some have said the stripes go underneath, not over the back, and there’s a lot of contention up there as to, you know, what sort of an animal it actually is. But I doubt, if one was found in Queensland, [that] it would be like our tiger; it would be different.
Hanny: But there’s no record of any animal, no visual proof or any evidence, is there, that there is a Tiger up in the Queensland area. I mean we know for a fact that pre-1937 when the Tiger became extinct, that - you know - Tigers did exist in Tasmania, we have all the evidence of that, but Queensland? Different situation?
Col: Well they did - they did exist in Queensland many, many thousands of years ago. As my friend Mike Archer has proven, the Riversleigh deposits and that. There’s been instances of them being found in every state but basically in Australia. But this is millions of years ago - or thousands, many thousands of years ago. And, ah, but now, today, in this age I think if they were to be found anywhere on the mainland it would be in Western Australia.
Hanny: Western Australia?
Col: Vast areas there that really are still to this day, basically undiscovered. And, um, they found that one on the Nullarbor in the mid sixties - a desiccated specimen, they called it. And then the fur, and the teeth and the eyes are all there! And this animal at the bottom of a sink hole. It looked like it had only just dropped down there twelve months before. And yet they were saying it’s three thousand something years old. So they definitely were on the mainland, but in this day and age, I don’t know - as I say: the one on the Coorong, South Australia - I’m not sure to this day what it was. It was something strange, but if nothing, that started me off on this, this-
Hanny: Yeah, ‘cause the Coorong sighting was your first ever experience confronting a Tiger and you talked quite at, quite length in your book about that sighting. You were just out recreating in the area and suddenly saw an animal that you couldn’t really, um, describe.
Col: I was a recreational canoist. And I was looking for emu that morning. Instead I see what I thought might have been a Ta- I didn’t know what it was, and I went to the local garage and told him on the way home. And a friend of mine had a dairy along the Coorong. I used to stay there and he, he wasn’t home when I got back with the canoe, so I went - packed it up and went back through Maningie and I told the local tourism bloke. “Yes, oh you wouldn’t be the first one to see that”, he said, “there’s been plenty in here saying they’ve seen that sort of animal.” He said “There’s a fellah up the road”, and as I say in the book, “go and have a talk to him”, so I did. And it’s - it all added up. He’d seen the same animal that I thought I’d seen. And the Advertiser in Adelaide - the paper in Adelaide - was calling it a Tasmanian Tiger. So the general belief [was] that it was there, and - dozens and dozens of sightings. I started hunting some of them down, and interviewing them. And, ah, it all built up and I was going out (?) with quite a dossier and then, when I got to Tasmanian of course, I went to see a bloke called Elias Churchill who is on record as hunting the last - capturing the last tiger, the last one in the Hobart Zoo that died in 1936. And he opened my eyes to a lot of things. And then I started hunting down the old Trappers and Bushmen.
Hanny: In Tasmania?
Col: Yes, yes, mainly in Tasmania. A few of them on the mainland, but ah mainly in Tasmania, and I was flying back and forwards and it was driving me silly, so eventually, come over here to live.
Hanny: So before all this came about, had you - were you working in any particular industry? Like who was Col before that first sighting?
Col: Just arbor/landscape gardener.
Hanny: Yeah really? In Adelaide?
Col: I was an athlete of course, and that was my main love - athletics, but then, ah, I was a landscape gardener and as I got older, I liked the canoe - canoing and stuff, so, you know - you take on different things as you get older. But this, when this thing came along, it was the thing that captured my imagination.
Hanny: Yeah, 'cause I was going to ask you - what then drove you to, I guess, you know, become someone who wanted to prove to some degree that the Thylacine still existed? Was that what was driving you then? Or was it curiosity? Was it love of Tasmania? Was it a bit of everything?
Col: Well, I was getting kicked from pillar to post by certain people in the scientific community, that I was a nutcase.
Hanny: I have no doubt.
Col: And I formed a good friendship with Eric Guiler - he was recognised world authority on it, here in Hobart. And Eric was getting kicked around-
Hanny: Is he the one that was in Europe?
Col: No, Heinz Moeller was in Europe. Eric was at the University here in Hobart. And, ah, he was recognised as a world authority on it. And he was getting kicked from pillar to post by the scientific community saying you know, “It’s not there”. How do they know it’s not? They can’t prove no more than we can prove it is there. And short of a dead or alive specimen we’re not going to be able to prove one way or the other, ‘cause photographs will never prove this. You’ve gotta get a freshly dead specimen or a live specimen. And as the Parks and Wildlife here says “Don’t touch it, leave it alone”, if you find a dead one even! “Don’t touch it”, but I tell you what, if I do, it’ll be home in the deep freeze. And we formed a pact, Eric and I - what we were going to do if we found a dead one. Ah, a live one’s a different matter, you just let it go, as I did in ‘95 in the Weld Valley - I let it go. I wouldn’t dare contain it in any way, because the Trappers told me that if you ah got this animal excited, it would drop dead on you. It was a very emotional sort of animal and when they found them in traps, the moment they approached the thing would shiver and put on a tantrum and drop dead. So you had to be very careful with them. And this is what worries me even today, if they find a live one, how are they going to contain it? They don’t know. And there’s so much about this animal we don’t know.
Hanny: Ok, I’m really interested to dig into your stories more - especially your own experiences with the Tasmanian Tiger, but I think maybe to provide some context for those of our audience who haven’t read the book yet and have the same understanding of the Thylacine, can you describe how prolific they were in Tasmania, I guess in the early 1900s?
Col: Oh there were many around as the bounty system proved. That was brought in, in 1888 and by 1900 there were several thousand had been-
Hanny: Several thousand!
Col: There was 2,184 I think officially, but we don’t know that, but I’d say nearer to 3,000 because many were taken on private bounties but didn’t register, and they were paying five Pound per pelt, which was a lot of money when a shepherd’s wage was basically ten Bob a week - ten Shillings a week. And so there was big money in this and the Pearce family at Derwent Bridge and, ah, well Derwent-Clarence River, they trapped something like 70-something Thylacines, and that was a lot of money. And they were just a farming family. So there was money to be made but I don’t think anyone really went out just to trap Thylacines. They were Trappers generally and the Thylacine was an added bonus.
Hanny: Was a bonus.
Col: Yes. And that happened with Churchill - he trapped the last one. He didn’t go out specifically to trap the Thylacine but it bumbled into one of his traps and that’s how he got, he got eight that way.
Hanny: Right. And the bounty was put in place because there was a problem with the early settlers and their animal and livestock being supposedly killed by the Thylacine, but in your book you talked about concerns that this was also to do with the dogs that they brought with that. Is that correct?
Col: Yeah, the feral, feral dogs - dogs that went feral, they brought dogs, ah, domestic dogs and some - a lot of them went feral. And they were adopted by the Aborigines that use them in their hunting and when they - as they got wiped out progressively the dogs became feral, wild, you know, just took off. And great packs of them formed and they did a lot of damage to the sheep - much more than the Tiger. There’s no doubt that the Tiger killed sheep, and we’ve got, now we’ve got people like Bob Paddle who wrote The Last Tasmanian Tiger saying he could only find six instances of sheep being killed by Tigers which is absolute ridiculous nonsense, because, look, I’ve got hundreds upon hundreds of accounts of Tigers killing sheep. And I’ve been told by actual old farmers and Trappers that they definitely did. They definitely were a pest animal. And there was only one way to stop them: wipe them out. Eliminate them. And so that’s basically what happened. But today of course, people are still saying “Parks and Wildlife, well look a Tiger’s killing me sheep”. It’s incredible in this day and age they’re still saying it. And that’s nonsense of course - that’s absolute nonsense today. But back in those days it really did happen, they really did kill sheep.
Hanny: And are there still instances of these feral dogs, I mean dogs of [unclear word] .. there still instances of the feral dogs?
Col: Look, I’ve only heard of one in the last twenty years and that was in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, and that was about, oh, five or six years ago - there were packs, a pack of wild dogs up there creating problems. But I’m on another book now: The Mystery of the Thylacine and in that I want to explain a lot of this away.
Hanny: Right, yeah.
Col: So there’s quite a story there.
Hanny: So when we talk about like over 3,000 animals potentially being killed - or Thylacine potentially being killed when the bounty was in place, where - was the hunting literally state-wide? Did these kind of Trappers go deep into the South-West wilderness, for example?
Col: No they didn’t, because there were no towns there where you could claim the bounty on. It was a wilderness from, ah, oh, down the Tasman peninsula, and around the bottom there - very few people if anyone lived - and down the West coast, basically no-one lived. It was only Strahan and Queenstown and there was a few little tiny settlements along the coast but there were nowhere, there was nowhere for a Trapper to put his catch. So people didn’t bother to go in there. They [Thylacines] were in there alright. They’re still in there today.
Hanny: So does that help fuel your suspicions about where the Tasmanian Tiger could potentially still exist in Tasmania?
Col: Oh yes! I know where it still ex- I can’t say. It’s there, but I can say in a general area, it’s there. It is, definitely.
Hanny: Alright, and we’re going to get to that. I’m really, I’m really excited to dig more into that. But I guess what I’m also coming to is this concept that there’s a lot of very wild country in Tasmania that it sounds like Trappers didn’t enter and also modern day tourism isn’t entering. It’s just locked up and protected wilderness now. Um, what do you believe is the ideal habitat for the Tasmanian Tiger? Can it still exist in these very wild areas as well?
Col: Look, if you want to see typical habitat - good habitat - go up to Derwent Bridge and look around Derwent Bridge because that’s ideal Thylacine hab- back into the Walls of Jerusalem. But the Tiger just can’t say today “I’m going to live there”, because he’d be knocked off very quickly, so he’s gotta go back, back, back to where he feels safe. There has to be game in these areas, no matter where it is there has to be game, hunting game. And I’ve found parts along the West coast there are - there are plenty of game, and there are button-grass plains where the Tiger could ah, could live there. And so these are the areas that it’s gone back into now to get out of the way, to get away from humanity because it was being killed off.
Hanny: Yeah, because just for our listeners, Derwent Bridge is the southern end of the Overland Track - very famous walking track here in Tasmania. And then the Walls of Jerusalem is becoming an incredibly popular area for especially like families and people entering the hiking market because it’s an easy three night, or even one night, but up to three night overnight walk. But I’ve always thought that as well, that, um, in that area sort of south of the Walls of Jerusalem right through until Lake St. CLair and the Overland Track - that Derwent Bridge area - it’s a lot of lake country, a lot of button-grass lakes. Easy, I guess easy feeding for wallabies which my understanding that the Tiger is one of their preferred food sources, is that correct?
Col: Well it’s not thick bush, and the Tiger, ah, will run it’s prey down and it can’t run its prey down in thick bush. But the bush is fairly open there and sparse, and it can run and hunt there in those areas. And there’s got to be prey for it to hunt, of course, and there are plenty of wallabies in those areas when you get in and have a look around.
Hanny: But what sort of range does one Tiger require to live on, because if we were talking 3,000 in - that we know of, that were trapped in the island of Tasmania, that’s actually quite a large number considering our island is not particularly enormous.
Col: It is when you get out and walk around it! And actually the Tiger wasn’t trapped in the one area - there were many areas, and mainly along the East coast down through the central corridor and the North-West, but very few on the West coast because people just .. go in there.
Hanny: Didn’t go in there.
Col: So when they first arrived here, the central corridor from Launceston to Hobart was much like it is today although a lot of it’s been cleared, but it was sparsely tree country. And that was ideal - there were more Tigers there than anywhere else. But they spread out from there as they started to make inroads into their population. And they had - this animal was supposed to be a dill of a thing, but it doesn’t present itself as a dill to me. It’s got intelligence to get away from humans and that’s what it had to do and it’s done it. And the only reason it survives today is because it had the intelligence to get out of the way and to form its own range in different localities, and it’s range could exist up to fifty-three [sic] kilometres. This is dependent on, ah, the territory, the game and the land itself. It all depends on the nature of the country that it’s living in.
Hanny: Fifty-three kilometres is quite a specific number. How did you arrive at 53?
Col: Fifty kilometres - no, fifty kilometres.
Hanny: Sorry, fifty kilometres, right.
Col: Some have even said eighty, but I say fifty - that’s a pretty good total.
Hanny: And you’ve been establishing just through I guess your own experiences with sightings and, um, coming encounters with the Tasmanian Tiger, plus also other people’s sightings that they work in a corridor fashion as they hunt, is that correct?
Hanny: And can you explain that a little bit more for us then?
Col: Well, it doesn’t hunt willy-nilly over a vast area, but it’s got definite paths that it traverses. He knows where the game are and it will form a - what I call a corridor - to get from one point to the other, and it’s not a narrow corridor a hundred yards wide. It could be a kilometre wide. But it’s a general path and a direction through the, the territory. It doesn’t go from - you know, all over the place, so it, and it will work its way around there, in a period of, oh, five or six weeks. And it will come back again through that area and then - this is how I work my logic, that, if you want to ah, get near a Tiger, you have to find where it’s been through and be back there, you know, within a month or six weeks.
Hanny: Yeah, right, ok.
Col: And I smelt one, by following this, ah - I got near enough to smell the thing and ah, in the Sawback Range, out from Adamsfield.
Hanny: Ok, so down in the South-West area again. So the, um, the corridor theory - which sounds completely justified to me - it’s generally following areas where the Tiger can move more easily in the terrain, so say, like, button-grass plains and open, more open vegetation strips..
Col: Where the game is, yeah.
Hanny: And then it basically roams every five to six weeks around a set corridor because it disturbs the animals as it moves through the first time, is that correct?
Col: Well they get disturbed if they’ve seen a Tiger, yes. But it knows where the game goes - the trail the game uses, and that’s where it bases its corridor on.
Col: But there are summer and winter ideas here because in the colder weather the game moves down from the higher country and when the warmer weather comes it moves back up. So the Tiger will be conversant with this and it will adapt its range accordingly. That’s what I believe, anyway.
Hanny: So, what sort of habitat does the Tiger actually sort of reside in, say in bad weather situations or when it’s sleeping? You talked a lot about caves and hollow logs and things in the book. So can you describe a little bit more about the setting in which that-
Col: Well it hides up during the day, in natural hides. And this could be a cave, of course, or a rock overhang. It could be a bank of man ferns. It could be a hollow log. I’ve found many places that it could hide up. So it wants to get away during the day and that’s when it sleeps it off, and then at dusk, between dusk and dawn are the times that it emerges and hunts. And so, I think probably the best time, if you want to really find a Tiger is to be around dawn, when it comes back from the hunt. And that’s when I seen the Tiger in '95. It was coming back from its hunt.
Hanny: Can we talk about that time? Can you take us back to then? What was the day like? Where were you? Can you set the scene for us a little bit?
Col: Well I was told of a section of the Weld Valley alongside a river called the Snake River, which is way out under Mount Anne. And there were no logging trails there - they log the other side of the Weld River. Now the Weld River runs from under Mount Bueller, and it runs through to the Huon. And it runs through some of the most inaccessible country you could ever imagine. And this old fellow, Bert Brooks, he told me that he knew there were Tigers back in there, and that was in ‘93, so for the next two years I tried to get in and the bush beat me. I went through from the - under Mount Bueller and followed the Weld back, and the Weld goes through a lot of different types of forest, and some of it’s almost impenetrable. So there were various trails that run, that ran from the pylon - the electricity, ah, line, that goes through alongside, ah, Mueller Road, ah, that runs from the Styx Road and it runs through back to Clear Hill Road - it runs through the bush there. And I followed these and tried to get through that way and wherever I went I was beaten back by the bush.
Hanny: So by cutting grass?
Col: Oh, there’s everything in there. A lot of stuff, you can imagine, it’s there, and horizontal [scrub], ah, probably one of the worst things you can strike. And every time I got to the river on the northern side, ah, it was flooded. I couldn’t cross it to the other side. So eventually in early ‘95 I worked out a plan to go down the Clear Hill Road and I branched off from the South Coast Road - or the Gordon River Road and I went back under Mount Anne. I walked through to the Weld River and followed it through to the Snake. It took a couple of days - pretty rough country through there - but eventually I, I wondered why no-one else had been through there before. Then I could see why. It just was, you know, that sort of country you wouldn’t bother about and a lot of it floods when there’s a lot of rain. It floods the plains there that flood. There’s only one, two rivers through there, but are a lot of little streams and the whole place floods. And it snows - you get snow a foot deep through there, and so, I struck in, in early March and I was lucky to get through, get in there. And I camped alongside the Snake River this night and during the early hours of the following morning I heard these yips, high pitched yips, like Terrier dogs up ahead, in the button-grass plains up ahead. And I thought well, what are dogs doing out here? And, it all came back what the old Bushies had told me - they sound like high pitched yip, like a Fox Terrier dog, and I heard these yips coming, and I wondered what it was and I wasn’t sure. But the next morning, I packed up at just on daybreak, and I got my pack all packed up … and so everything was packed up on the pack, [unclear word] everything was there. And I thought well I’ll have a quiet look around, as I usually do before I break camp, and I walked around. And I was standing there quietly and out of the ferns this animal came out and shot straight back in - it seen me, apparently … So I packed up and everything was ready to go. This dog shot out of the ferns - well I thought it was a brown Cattle Dog, and shot straight back in again. And I was only, maybe, ten, twelve feet from it. It wasn’t very far. And when it went into the ferns I walked to the edge of the ferns where it had gone and called it up: “Hey, boy, come and give us a pat”. I thought it was a dog. If it had have been a dog I would have taken it home with me, ‘cause wallaby hunters lose their dogs … And when it went into the ferns, I followed it in and, ah, maybe for 20 or 30 yards and I could see the ferns moving ahead of me and I knew that it was keeping away from me. And I stopped and called it up again. And it went on to a - it moved onto a wombat trail [that] was semi-cleared and I could see it more clearly and then suddenly it stopped and it half turned and glared back at me. And that’s when I, my eyes ran down its back and I seen the stripes and the tail. And the penny dropped and I went into shock, because once I realised what it was - there was no doubting what it was - that’s when the penny dropped and I, I just ah, went into, basically into shock. I couldn’t move, I just - my feet felt glued to the - it’s a funny feeling when you can’t move your legs, you feel glued to the spot. And this thing stood there, eyeing me off! And I could see these great big, black, featureless eyes and I thought oh, what’s it going to do? Anyway, then it started to back-track and it turned right around and faced me head-on. And that’s - I had no doubts then what it was, and it gave a big hiss and I thought hello, it’s going to have a go at me. And this all happened over a 20-30 second time-frame I suppose, and it wasn’t any further than probably, well, 20 feet away from me. It was near enough to get a good look at. And, ah, I thought well what’s gonna happen here? Because I was in no condition to do anything. I just stood there and looked at it, and it glared at me. And then it started to do its back-track again and backed off and went into the ferns and I lost sight of it, and I could see it moving around, moving away, and I thought I’ll follow it. So I went back to my pack and I thought now what am I going to do if I catch up with it? What’s going to happen? And I thought, well, I don’t really want to catch it. I’ve seen it. Perhaps that’s enough. And so I sat down and had a really strong up of coffee to settle my nerves ‘cause I was shaking like a leaf. Anyway, when I finished that I thought well maybe I’ll see where it went. But of course, when I went to see where it went, it could have gone anywhere, it doesn’t [unclear words]. I thought, well it’s a waste of time. And that’s when I started to take account of the situation. I’d seen it. I’ve no doubt what it was. What was I going to do about it? And during the long walk home I - many things went through my mind. That's when I formed this pact to tell no-one. Keep it to myself. Ah, I was scared what might happen if the wrong people found out, got in there. And, the thing about I didn't tell my wife - if she could have let it slip to someone, you know, it's not that she probably would, but you never know. It's just one of those things that I wanted to keep to myself. Now I've found other people in exactly the same position who say they've seen it but they didn't want to tell anyone at the time and maybe five years later they tell me. And so it does happen. The same has happened to me.
Hanny: How have you become that sort of go-to person? Do you think it's through writing of the books, or is it - it's in your nature that you're a very approachable person, because how many sightings have you had reported to you from other outside sources, other than your own?
Col: Ha! Oh, I haven't counted them up but there'd be, probably hundreds, over the years. This is going over fifty years. I've had a lot, a lot of sightings. And, ah, some of them I wouldn't believe. Some of them I would believe.
Hanny: Have the sighting numbers increased recently?
Hanny: And have you noticed any changes since you released your book?
Col: Oh it's dropped off. Not so much since I released the book - that was only a few years ago - but in the last twenty years they've dropped away. I used to get maybe 30, 40 a year, back in the '80s, '90s, but now they've dropped away and I might get five or six. But what I am getting are fairly good ones, and most of the good ones come from the road between Derwent Bridge and Queenstown, along that stretch of road. And that's where the good ones come from.
Hanny: You mentioned one particular one in your book, where someone was driving - was it dawn, I think - and a Tiger crossed the road in front of him, and he stopped but the Tiger just disappeared down in the -
Col: Yep, into the morass below.
Hanny: Into the morass.
Hanny: Yeah. I actually, personally believe that my partner and I saw a Tiger around the Mole Creek area. We were driving at midnight up into the start of the Walls of Jerusalem trail and, um, we'd left work very late after work and thought that we would do that drive at night and we were going very slowly because obviously there's a lot of animals on the road in that area and this animal - again, long, dog-like, but wasn't running like a dog or moving like a dog, crossed in front of the car, and this is before I read your book. Way before. And we both sort of looked at one another and was like "Did you see that?" You know, "What was that?" And I think the more that I, um - since we started stocking the book in our store because I believe I want more and more people to read, and the more times that I point out about your book, the more people kind of open up to me and go "Oh yeah, you know, we believe we've seen one" and you know, "My friend saw one", and the other day I had a copy of the book right on my counter and I had a little note on it saying, you know, you've got to read this, it's a great gift as well, um, for anyone that you know who loves Tasmania. And this woman said to me as she was doing her payment at the checkout, she said "Oh, my friend's seen one." I said "Oh, really?", you know, "Where? Where did she see it?" And she said "Oh, I actually can't tell you", um, "it's with lawyers at the moment". So obviously, um, this friend -
Col: I think I know the one you mean. They took one on a remote camera, is that the one?
Hanny: Potentially. She couldn't tell me anything.
Col: Down in the Florentine.
Hanny: Yeah, right.
Col: I think I know the one.
Hanny: Do you-
Col: Could be.
Hanny: Um, legitimate? Possibly?
Col: What's that?
Hanny: Do you believe that it could be a legitimate -
Col: I've seen this bit of footage.
Hanny: Yeah, right.
Col: [Unclear words] I think it's the one you're talking - and I think it was a big Tiger Quoll.
Hanny: Oh, ok.
Col: Ah, but, um, anyway, if that's the one I'm thinking of, ah, the fellow is supposed to have sent it to England for a verdict from, an expert. Now, look, let's get one thing - if I may, at this stage - there are no experts when it comes to the Tasmanian Tiger. Now, I think you'd have to agree that an expert on anything is someone who knows everything there is to know about the subject.
Col: No holds barred. And this animal, there is so much that we don't know about it. We an assume, or guess, and that. Even Eric Guiler said there was so much that he didn't know about it and he was the world expert [unclear word], basically the world expert. When people call me an expert I cringe, because I'm not an expert - there are no experts alive today. The true experts were the old Trappers and Bushmen who knew the animal, who worked alongside of it, and they knew its moods, what it got up to, how to even catch it, and some cases. But today there - we don't know hardly anything about it. What we can - maybe, guess we do, and there is so many people around that jump on this word "expert" and fellahs fluff up and they thing "Oh, I'm an expert" but they're only kidding themselves. There are no experts. And so -
Hanny: It all happened so early in the, you know, in the 1900s that we didn't, we don't have the knowledge even that, we have now or the technology or anything, so.
Col: Well look, I spoke to Elias Churchill and several other fellahs that hunted them, that actually knew them. They were the experts. They know what they were talking about. But now you get a scientist who jumps on the bandwagon and says "Oh, I'm an expert" but they're not experts at all. And we've got, even one particular who said this animal couldn't kill anything bigger than a possum because its jaws are so weak - it's absolute ridiculous! This thing could bring down a sheep. Ah, a sheep was equivalent to the size of the Thylacine. The sheep that came out here in those earlier days weren't quite as big as the sheep today. They were more in comparison with the size of a Thylacine, and, ah, it could certainly bring them down. But, ah, now we got a certain scientist - I won't mention names - saying "Oh, no, their jaws are so weak", ah, "We found out by analysing this Thylacine head" - that, they've got the head, and the jaws are so weak they couldn't bring anything down, anything bigger than a possum. It's absolute nonsense. So you've got all the scientific community getting up and imagining all these marvellous things that the Thylacine could or couldn't do. They don't really know. And until we can get one and study it closely - a live one - then we're not going to know.
Hanny: Yeah. I sit on the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council, which is a select group of people from the community who advise on behalf of the general public, to the heads of National Park[s] and one of the gentlemen - I won't mention names, but he is an incredibly well known, um, slightly older gentleman who works within the science community here in Tasmania; he's won Awards of Australia medals, I think - he really is an amazing person, and I, um, sort of poked him with my elbow the other day and said "Guess who I'm going to be talking to?" And I told him that I was going to be talking to you about the Thylacine on this podcast, and he said to me "Yeah, I've seen them, or had experiences four times". And this is someone that I respect endlessly, his knowledge. So we're not just talking about sightings coming from tourists driving their hire cars over the West Coast road. We're talking about scientists who've been out on epeditions and actually have had their own encounters. So, I guess, kind of going forward, um, what would happen if we were to have a sighting that we can prove the Tasmanian Tiger existed? What do you think would happen if that -
Col: Well look, the Government is fearful of this. Um, and, um, there are people within Government, and within Parks and Wildlife who know - they know it's there. Of course they do. They know the Tiger exists. But mainly because of the logging industry - they want to protect the logging because it's a very big thing in this state, logging. And if the Tiger was proven to be in an area then the Greens would jump up and down and scream blue murder and want the whole state locked up, and that's what they're scared of. And so this - although they know the Tiger is there, they don't want it to release to the general public because they know the outcome, what the outcome will be. So there are certain people within Government, and within the Parks and Wildlife, they know well it's there but they shut their mouths and say nothing. And until it's proven to be there they won't say a thing because they don't want the general public to know it. Because they're fearful of what's going to happen if it's proven to be there. So, I've heard of them being shot, er, in the last 20 years, and other people have heard of it too.
Col: And hastily disposed of. I've heard of them being run over on the roads and hastily got rid of, and so, these things do happen, but, we're being kept in the dark about it for, mainly for the reason, I think, for the logging - because that is a very important and viable part of the state, so many people imagine, and if you lost that, we would lose a lot. And so there are certain people who know, and, er, but I'm not a scientist and I'm not in the Government, so I can say what I like and they can't do anything to me. I mean I'm entitled to say what I believe. But if I was in the Government I'd be told to shut my mouth. And because I've spoken to certain Government Ministers about this, and they believe it's there. And they're out of Government now, they're gone. But, some years ago. So, you know, it's a general -
Hanny: Obviously needing to come to some conclusion in our discussion today, but, you mentioned Forestry. There is a bit of a belief amongst those of us who do believe, that Forestry, farming and hydro potentially could have impacted the ability for the Thylacine to still exist.
Hanny: Do you think there's enough terrain left in Tasmania where we can have a viable breeding population, or are the animals that we're seeing potentially older ones? Do we know how long the Thylacine actually can last for?
Col: Well maybe it's got a lifespan of 10 years in the wild.
Hanny: Right. So similar to a Devil?
Col: Well the Devil's only got 5 or 6 years. But, um, the Devil is considered the apex carnivore now, but the Tiger really still is, but of course it's not recognised, as such. Um, look, that's a curly one really. It's a very difficult one to say. There's no proof of anything at the moment, and so I guess you can't really say yes or no to the question.
Hanny: If - so, I guess to start concluding, you've written the book to help share your knowledge in the hope that some of us who read it will potentially continue the legacy, is that correct? Continue the, um - not "fight", but "search" to preserve the Tasmanian Tiger's habitat and potentially therefore the existence of the Tasmanian Tiger, am I correct in saying that, to some degree?
Col: Well, most people would want to protect it. I think there's only a very small percentage that would want to shoot it, or harm it. So most people, if they knew it was there, they would be happy just to know that - if it could be proven to be there, but of course it hasn't been proven to be there. And all the photographs in the world won't prove this because they can be so easily rigged and manipulated. So a live or a dead one is the only way, and I'd much rather find a freshly dead one in the bush than a live one, because then that would prove once and for all. With a live one you, well, you're not allowed to contain it, so the law tells us, or touch it or harm it in any way so, you just gotta look at it and let it go, much like I did. And, well, but a dead specimen, that would prove beyond doubt - a freshly dead one.
Hanny: Any obviously roadkill is always sadly a potential here in Tasmania. I, um - one of the stories that blew me away in the book was actually, um, the cycle tourists on Elephant Pass over on the East Coast, coming down past the famous Elephant Pass Pancake Parlour. It's an area which has relatively dense farming and housing situation in amongst open and dense bushland, depending on where you are in that area, and they came across some roadkill that at the time they couldn't identify. They then went to visit the museum here in Hobart,
Col: That's right.
Hanny: And saw the tiger and just kind of randomly said "Oh, that's what we, that's what we think we saw as roadkill". The museum curator gave them a bit of a telling off and said that couldn't be possible, and then they bumped into you out at Mount Field when you were giving a talk. What do you think that animal was? Could that potentially have been a Tiger at Elephant Pass?
Col: Oh, well the way they described it, it definitely was, but, as they said, the front half was smashed and the back half had stripes on it, a long, stiff tail, and the way they described it, there's no doubt and I've got no reason not to believe them. People say "Well why doesn't the Tiger get hit on the road?" Because the Tiger doesn't eat carrion, is the simple answer to that. The Devil will go onto the road deliberately to eat a dead animal. The Tiger didn't do that. The Tiger never ate carrion, it only ever ate what it killed, itself. The old Trappers were adamant on this, and they didn't touch poisoned meat. So, ah, very unlikely they were poisoned. So, um, this is probably the main explanation of why they don't get killed on roads, because - they cross the road, but they never stop to eat carrion on the road and that's when animals get killed. This is the Devil.
Hanny: Yeah. And then that makes sense. So what would be your message to us as Tasmanians, as listeners to this podcast further afield, um, going forward? Do you have a message for u?
Col: Well if you're out in the bush and you're fortunate enough to see a Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, leave it alone. Look at it. Get your photo if you're lucky enough to try, but don't go near it. Leave it alone, let it go its way. And don't tell the media. Keep it to yourself, and perhaps to your friends but let a bit of time pass between when you've seen it and when you let it out. Maybe a year or two. And I know it's a hard thing to do for some people - they can't, ah, wait to tell everyone. But the worst thing you can do is go to the media, because they sensationalise it so much, and build it up to something that it really isn't. And a lot of it is nonsense they put in there anyway, but, it's happened before and the moment they get hold of it, it's on, you know - like the things that happening in South Australia at the momnet. And I know that - [the fellah?] this, um, pushing all this, these things over there and, and he's out to make a bit of a name for himself. He likes publicity. And it makes good newspaper stuff, but I'd say leave it. Leave it. Leave it go, leave it be. Consider yourself really, really fortunate you've been lucky enough to see it, but don't try and harm the animal in any way. Just let it go and forget about it for a while. I know it's easy to say.
Hanny: (laughs) .. for 17 years and then write a book!
Col: Be very, very thankful that you've seen it and happy that it's still there.
Hanny: Are you happy for us, if we were to have our own experiences, to continue to write to you?
Col: As long as I'm here, yes.
Hanny: And what - what is your greatest fear? I mean you obviously can say yes or no.
Col: That officialdom get hold of this and ruin it. The Government has ruined many things that they've got hold of and taken over. Absolutely ruined them. And this is one animal they could ruin because so little is known about it and the - as I say, the so-called experts will come into it, and I can imagine this, and then they'll say "Oh, well we'll do this and we'll do that" and, ah, they may kill the thing off very quickly. And we've got Mike Archer who wants to clone it. He wants to, you know, not clone it, he wants to -
Hanny: Re-create it.
Col: Re-create it, yeah. I know Mike well and I've said to him "Mike, this is ahead of its time. It may - it may happen in 50 years time, but just at the moment.. What are you going to do when you find it?" He said "Oh, we'll let it in the bush", but here you've got an animal who doesn't know even how to look after itself in the bush, and then if someone doesn't come along and shoot it, it'll die of starvation beause it's lost the ability to hunt, so there's no easy ques- no easy answer to this question, but, um, if it is still out there, and I believe it is, it's hanging on, then it's done [so] through its own initiative and, ah, you know, why, why, ah -
Hanny: Why mess with that?
Col: Why mess a good thing up? Let it go.
Hanny: Nature is a very amazing thing - way smarter than I think we are, I mean, I loved - I used to work as a hiking guide at Maria Island and there's a story about when the island was created that we had sadly another animal that was extinct in Tasmania called the Tasmanian Pygmy Emu - like really, really small, almost the size of a chicken.
Hanny: When the island was created as a National Park, someone - I don't know who it was - thought that it would be, um, the opportunity to bring - or to try and re-create the pygmy emu. So they went to the mainland and they found the smallest of the large mainland emus and popped them on this island off the east coast of Tamania where, all to - left all to themselves, they blossomed and turned into these ginormous mainland emus that ended up being culled because they caused so many problems!
Col: Was that Maria Island, was it?
Hanny: Maria Island, so, I think nature can outwit us in many ways, but um, yeah. Look, today was only a snapshot of your knowledge, your experiences out in the wild and with the Tasmanian Thylacine. I can't encourage people enough to read your books. I can't wait to read Lure of the Thylacine, which is your newer book, recently released, and then you mentioned you're writing another book at the moment. Can you tell us a tiny bit more about that book?
Col: Well it's the Mystery of the Thylacine. There's a huge mystery surrounds this animal right from the very earliest days to the present, and I want to try and, um, get hold of it a bit and explain it. And it's not an easy book to write, providing I live long enough to finish it. It, ah, people are onto me already, you know, "When is it going to be finished?" but, it's not that simple when you're writing a book of this nature. You've got so much research to do, and I've been researching for over 12 months now and I'm, I'm nowhere. I'm still getting, you know, looking into - getting ideas and stuff, so, I know the direction I want it to follow is ah, to try and reveal the mystery. And it is a mystery. Ah, even today, um, it's as big a mystery as it ever was. And will it ever be solved? But yeah, anyway. It's going to be something a little bit different to the last two books. And, ah, so -
Hanny: Well Col, I - on behalf, I hope, of the Tasmanian public and the broader audience listening to this podcast, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge, your beautiful way of writing which inspires me as I sort of dream about writing a book one day. I want to thank you for your humility and humbleness because it speaks very loudly. I learnt (?) something that I really respect. I want to thank you for taking the time today to talk with us on our podcast, because I really hope that your message is shared and spread and that together we can help to preserve what we hope is the Thylacine living here in Tasmania today.
Col: Thank you Hanny.
Hanny: Thank you Col.
More about Where Light Meets Dark:Where Light Meets Dark was launched in 2006 in response to the publication of Klaus Emmerichs' alleged photos of a thylacine in Tasmania but Chris' fascination with the thylacine goes back further than he can remember. Although not trained in the forensic analysis of digital photographs, Chris takes a systematic and critical approach to his evaluation of photographic, film and other evidence for rare fauna. Each report is treated with respect and the assumption that the observer is recalling events to the best of their ability, as accurately as possible.
Since its launch, Where Light Meets Dark has achieved a number of milestones, many of which have been made possible by the generous contributions of a large number of experts and professionals.
Also since 2006, Chris has contributed small amounts of voluntary work to two zoos, a wildlife rescue program, frog conservation research in NSW and Eastern quoll conservation research in Tasmania. Together with Debbie Hynes he has launched a website dedicated to the search for Tasmanian devils on mainland Australia called Mainland Devils. Where Light Meets Dark also documents his own search for the Eastern quoll on mainland Australia.
In 2008 Chris received sponsorship in order to conduct an expedition to search for the Tasmanian tiger in Tasmania. The trip became the subject of a Monster Quest documentary episode screened in 2009.
Chris launched Wildlife Monitoring, Australia's first dedicated camera trap specialist business in 2009. Chris shoots photography both commercially and for pleasure.
The rain batters louder onto the sloping sheets of exposed tin above my head. Light glows faintly through narrow slits in the timber walls of this old cow shed, its exposed earthen floors emitting a musty dampness into the small room. We lie side-by-side like cucumbers under doonas and sleeping bags, cocooned, riding out the stormy night. Just outside the rickety door a cow begins to bellow, calling to her calf. Separated from its mother, the calf is also shut up for the night in nearby barn. The owners want the mother’s milk in the morning to make gloopy piles of cheese. I close my eyes, listening to the storm rage and echo through the valley, a drum beat to the higher pitches of cows, chickens, horses, goats and humans. As my eyes close I find myself expressing my gratitude for this opportunity to be here. Once again, I find amazement for the opportunity to run through this landscape, a place on beginning to hit the tourist map. As far as I am aware, we are the first trail runners to run across this mountainous region. - ‘Thank you for this night and to the trip now drawing to a close.’Then I sleep.
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Leading a running tour to Albania begun as an off-hand comment from an attendee to a spontaneous talk we held in Hobart at Find Your Feet back in 2017. During a day on the retail floor we met Rok, a travelling Albanian and Patagonia sponsored kayaking athlete striving to protect the last wild river of Europe, a snaking length of water running through the Valbona valley in the heart of the northern mountains of Albania. Rok had come to Tasmania to discover more about how Tasmanians had fought to protect the natural flow of the Franklin River. After his informal slideshow evening at Find Your Feet, we added Albania to our longer-term bucket list. But as the last guests left the premises, one lady pulled me aside. ‘Have you ever considered a Find Your Feet Running Tour to Albania? My daughter owns a lodge in Valbona. I can give you her details if you like?’From pipe-dream to forming plans, it looked like we were off to Albania.
Two years on we were joined in Tirana Airport by thirteen intrepid trail running enthusiasts from Australia. Amidst the buffet breakfast around sleek tables atop gleaming floors, we began to explain the plans for this inaugural tour to Albania. ‘This trip is exploratory. That is, we haven’t been here yet either… I am sure there will be many adventures in store.’As the waitresses bustled around us, delivering fine espressos and soy milk lattes, little did we really know what we were in for!
The first tastes of the country came half-an-hour later as we boarded a compact, dated minibus and headed towards the major A1 highway leading north. Half-built buildings dwarfed dilapidated homes now neglected as a sea of petrol stations popped up around them. Fields of corn and maize hugged them closely, enwrapped by the arms of small streams reaching down from the mountains. Litter dangled like cheap jewelry from the small shrubs lining the creeks, a sad sign of neglect in an otherwise beautiful landscape. Chaotic cities came and went, then the mountains lifted us into their midst, first dry but eventually tinges of green joining the pastel painting. The heat in the bus was stifling and we stopped on two occasions to take a break from the twisting, turning, gut-gurgling bus ride, eventually reaching our final destination with bewilderment and an overwhelming sense of displacement. As we disembark, chickens pecked the scratched earth, a pen of sheep peered through the roughly weathered timber of their yard, a dog barked, a cow bellowed and a family wandered into the scene to greet us. English is very limited in this northern region of Albania but with generous hospitality we were seated at their outdoor table and presented with a feast for lunch, all prepared from the fruits of their farm and their labor – homemade bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, setting a tradition for the remainder of our trip. Not ideal food to run on for our upcoming afternoon jog but delicious non-the-less!
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Each day of the tour we awoke early to the calls of the pigeons, or cows, goats, sheep or children playing. Breakfast looked like dinner, albeit with the addition of fig or plum jam, and our picnic lunch was a simply slab of break, a tomato and freshly harvested cucumbers. Vest packs donned, we would turn on our Suunto Spartan watches and navigate towards the trails, always blessed with a large climb through forest to meet the alpine meadows and their swaying heads of wild flowers, a bobbing sea of beauty. Past stone and log shepherds’ huts we would walk or run, waving enthusiastically at the children, women or weathered males. Occasionally we would be asked in for coffee and tea, the latter a blend of mountain flowers seeped in hot water. It was hard to gauge the ages of the individuals who braved summer and winter up there in the mountains, the sun, wind, rain, snow and shepherd lifestyles etched into their faces like a map of their territory. We tried to comprehend living in their shoes, especially when the winter would once again descend upon them, but sadly we couldn’t. It was just too far removed from our privileged lifestyles back home in Australia.
The mountains of Albania (and Montenegro and Kosovo when we crossed their borders too) reach up to over 2500m. A mixture of gnarled, white limestone and lush green pastures create a green and white tapestry that stretches to the horizon. The Accursed Mountains were especially spectacular, their jagged peaks erupting into the sky like the teeth of scissors, cutting Albania and Montenegro apart by dramatic alpine passes. It was through this landscape that we travelled, overnighting in the valleys before ascending again come morning.
We traversed three countries on this Find Your Feet Running Tour and there was a distinct difference between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. Albania felt slightly rougher around the edges, and despite generous hospitality that stemmed from their gardens and their herds, there often felt like a wall between them and our western ways. The buildings were more rustic and whilst clean, there was always a feeling that their walls and floors had seen a lot of life, and maybe hardship. Then, when we crossed into Montenegro there was a clear difference in the language, lifestyle and our guesthouses. The architecture was sharper, the timber fresher and the smiles of the hosts more apparent. We especially loved Lilly and her brother Arben who welcomed us into their brand-new guesthouse with open arms. Their father had built it, their mother our generous chef, and Lilly and Arben a wealth of knowledge about growing up in a land of richness and poverty.
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On the last morning of the tour I awake in our cow barn, kicking back my sleeping bag and waiting for the sound of rain still falling. However, the weather gods are now silent and instead I am met by the continued ruckus of the shepherding lifestyle echoing around the valley. Easing my way out the creaking doorway I wander out into the meadows, marveling at the strength of the horses as they flock together, waiting the journey that also lies ahead for them as they transport our bags across the last lift of mountains and into the valley of Kosovo just beyond these hills. What a privilege to guide a group through such a rich landscape! I am humbled as I pull on damp, smelly running gear and prepare for breakfast.
On this last day of running we reached Kosovo, a country torn apart by war in a short three-month period in 1999. To reach our transport home we skirted around the country’s highest peak, past more shepherd huts and alpine glacial lakes scattered across the naturally barren plateaus. After descending from these lofty heights, we were met with our horses who had lugged our luggage across the mountains to meet us, and then our 4x4 transport back towards civilization where we were confronted with a plethora of graves and memorials littering the roadside’s fringes. This is a country torn apart by three-months of war in 1999, and now in a frantic phase of rebuilding. Houses, memorials, commercial complexes and yet more petrol stations were in varying stages of redevelopment. We all fell silent as we watched this all slip by.
The tour concluded back in Albania with a night spent in our Panoramic Hotel in the town of Kruje, a short bus ride from Tirana Hotel. The beating shower and fine dining such a contrast to our previous night’s accommodation in a cow shed. Sharing our highlights of the tour around the dinner table reinforced to us just how extraordinary this tour was and just how much more exploring we all want to do now. Yes, we are never too old or too busy to play wilder!
This piece is for all the individuals out there who can feel like a zebra - like your stripes are telling you apart from the crowd. It is also for all the individuals who feel a pull to shed their old identities and begin again, and to those who aren't quite sure where to start. It is packed with honesty in the knowledge that you will not judge me for the humanness of these experiences.
A zebra. That is what I kept likening myself to as I wandered in and out of various presentations at the Australian Institute of Company Directors Annual Governance Summit. What a mouthful! As I sat there, surrounded by 1500 other delegates, each in their grey suits, with the occasional blue pop on a male, or a fling of red or white from the women, I honestly felt my stripes yelling to the room. I don’t own a suit jacket, or corporate skirt, or black shiny heels. In fact, I don’t own anything that would help me fit into that room. Add to this my short spicy white pixie cut, youthful looks, my white slacks and turtleneck jumper, yes, I really was the zebra here. Many individuals bravely stated, ‘You don’t look old enough to have done all that!’ when I shared dribs and drabs of my story and how I came to be attending the conference. So, for me, the two-day summit and AICD councillor’s meeting prior to it, has not only provided insights into the principles of good governance in Australia, but also raised one question, should I be trying harder to fit in?
My mentor & transformational coach, Alice, has always said that you can find all the answers to our questions in nature. When I sat back to deliberate on my question, this is precisely what I have subconsciously done. Why was it that I picked the zebra as my way to describe my discomfort in this environment? And if I was the zebra, what did this make everyone else? Assume for a moment that they were horses, gorgeous stallions and wild brumbies. Yes, let’s consider this scenario for a second. If you were to put a zebra in the midst of these horses, to give it the same food source, water, love and attention, it will remain a zebra. The horses may try to teach it to trot, canter and follow their lead, but it will still have the traits and qualities of a wild Africa animal, one with white stripes and black. It can act like a horse, but it will undeniably still be a zebra. We could trim its main, shod it, and make it look more ‘horse-like’, but it will retain its stripes… it will still be the zebra.
So is that the answer here? If I know that I am a zebra, and this is a room full of horses, each of various breeds and beauties, I cannot change the essence of who I am by changing what I wear and trying to fit in. No, I don’t believe that I can. I must be proud of those traits and qualities that make me different. Proud of my age, my experiences, skills & my story. In truth, I must be proud of my identities, formed from my values, beliefs, actions and environment. If there are horses in that room who see me and accept me for these stripes, then I am willing to canter alongside them and enjoy the rush of the wind in my face and the new lessons I learn from them as we roam the lessons of great governance. However, to those who turn away, confused by the wild creature before them, then I respect them too. Zebras are not for everyone.
The second part to this story is that whilst happily a zebra for now, I too am still trying to understand my complete identity. Even a year ago if someone had asked me, ‘How do you see yourself?’ I would have responded with, ‘As an athlete and a businesswoman, as well as a daughter, a sister, a partner’. And if pressed, I might add, ‘World Champion and young businesswoman’. However, in truth, I am coming to realise that these identities are changing and I am still wrestling and trying to reconcile with this. This begs another question for me - What do you do with a beloved, love-worn jacket that you now know you need to retire? Should you keep on wearing it because it seems a waste to cast it aside, especially given how much you have trusted & loved it for protecting you from the elements? Now dismiss it after it has shared many wilder journeys with you? Or should you take it off, hang it in the closet, or pass it forward to someone who needs it more than you, someone who can grow into it? Just like this well-loved jacket, taking off an old identity can be terrifying. You can suddenly feel naked, feel the loss of its warmth and protection, forcing you to wrap your arms tighter around you. As you do, you will undoubtedly wonder, ‘How on earth you I find another jacket that is as good a fit as that one?’ Now imagine that you gifted your jacket to the local Vinnies shop, and a few weeks later, as you pop into the supermarket and feel the chill of the refrigeration section hit you, you suddenly see someone else wearing your jacket. This vision brings on a sudden pang of jealousy, a sudden desire to tug it back on and revel in its comfort. Yet deep down, you know this jacket no longer belongs to you. Now you feel sadness as you try to fill your basket with your groceries. You look down at the basket, and the items that you always enjoyed now no longer seem as appealing. For a short moment, you feel cold, alone and a little saddened without your jacket. Your old identity.
For me, this is exactly what has been happening, With the love and support of Alice, we have torn down barrier after barrier, peeling off the old jacket to help me uncover what my new identities are, and how my values feed into these. Most of these barriers come in the form of unresolved emotional traumas, and an incongruence with my actions, emotions, thoughts and identities. Unresolved anger, grief and sadness were hidden in the depths of each and every one of my cells. These stemmed from incidences that I had forgotten, dismissed or thought I had already overcome. Often the blocked emotions were not to do with an incident itself, but how I responded to the situation, or how someone close to me responded. It was about the choices that I made, or didn’t make in those moments, with the lessons not yet realised, the growth not yet experienced. So, as the barriers were torn down and reflected upon, at first I grieved, ached from the bruises of experiencing once again, and then rapidly felt myself coming back together, stronger than ever with clarity fuelling the flames of new desires and enhanced purpose.
For as long as I can remember I have lived by the identities of athlete, daughter, sister, protecter, hard-worker, talented, achiever, Tasmanian. Proudly so. Fiercely so. They have served me well, and taken me to the heights of sport and business accolades. Yet, despite the successes, lumps, bumps and dips in this road, somewhere along the way these identities had become shaken up - my environment had changed, my beliefs, actions and relationships too. In fact, my values had shifted and until working with Alice and trusting her to take me down deep into my subconscious, I didn’t release just how far I had moved beyond these old identities and how some of them have never actually served me. I had accepted them as a given and never thought to pause and ask the simple question, ‘Is this jacket for me?’
Sitting in the huge theatre in Sydney, the distant voices of the presenters floating towards me, I couldn’t help but find my mind drifting. Why? Because I have suddenly realised that there is no part of my identity that is a businesswoman. No, not at all. Despite having won two business awards, business is not a part of my identity… not at all. However, what is, is learning about the people who interact with the business. What motivates them, their dreams, aspirations and how they lead themselves there, or lead themselves away for that matter. It is the why and the how that fascinates me in business, not the what or the outcomes. During the conversations that erupted during the tea and lunch breaks at the conference, I found that my brain couldn’t attach to the stories that people were sharing with me unless we reached the human element at the bottom of their story - once again, their why and how, not their what - the accolades, successes & business outcomes. Similarly, earlier that morning, I had taken myself off to the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre to spin my arms and feel my body move silently through the quiet waters of an awakening swimming pool. As I began to ease into the movements, I couldn’t help but feel that athlete is no longer a part of my identity either. I no longer feel like I am competing against myself or others, that I am no longer driven by accolades or results. No. Instead, I feel like with every stroke that I take I am eager to see if I can make it my best stroke, to feel the water catch more firmly on my hand, to feel myself rise out of the water and how the resulting glide can feel more effortless. I can recognise now that this is not the mind of the athlete, but rather the mind of a learner, an explorer… an artist.
With guidance from Alice, I realise too that I now need to move beyond my identity of ‘young Hanny’ - the daughter, sister, and timid, young girl growing up in the big, wide world. At thirty-three years of age it is finally time to embrace my womanhood. I want to now look in the mirror and embrace the curvaceous breasts that greet me, the slight curve on my hips and the skin maturing from exposure to life, sunshine and the elements. I want to move beyond purely the practical underwear and sometimes pull on my big woman panties, the ones that make me feel a little more sensual and feminine. At night I want to go to bed and enjoy the feeling of sleeping in sleepwear that makes me feel beautiful and capable of mature intimacy with my husband. I want to see his eyes light up with ‘that look’, to know that whilst our relationship is absolutely 100% grounded in friendship and indefinite love & respect for one another, that there will always be a romance alive there too. I want to walk into a room and hold my head up high, rather than letting my gaze drift to the shoes of the adults. Then to sit across the table from them and feel empowered to share my thoughts. I also want to sit across the table from my brother and speak as equals, and to take the advice and wisdom that he shares with me as adult-to-adult, rather than simply as his little sister. Further to this, I want to visit my mother as Hanny, and yes, whilst still her daughter, I also want to know in my heart that I am an adult creating my own life and with a plethora of choices in front of me. More importantly, I want to share a meal with her knowing that she feels the same freedom and ability to make choices too. When I speak to my father on the phone I want to know that I can open myself up to vulnerability, sharing the joys, highs and lows of our lives lived, sometimes together but more frequently apart. And finally, to know that within each of my special relationships there is no judgement.
Therefore, in the recent months I have learnt that identities evolve. When it becomes apparent that we need to, we must peel off the layers - the athlete, the daughter, the sister, the youth, the businesswoman - and try on some new ones. The laciness of womanhood. The stillness of the writer. The creativity of the explorer. The colours of the artist. The compassion of the healer. The voice of the coach. From this place of strength & understanding, my ‘be wilder’ state, can come the exploration of values, beliefs and actions.
I am sure that many of the things I have discussed here today will change by tomorrow. However, this is absolutely okay and please do not judge me if I do profoundly state tomorrow that I am once again an athlete! Change and evolution, confusion and then clarity, this is all a part of the human experience. We must wrestle with the known and the unknown, with the feelings & experiences that we can put words to, and those that we cannot yet. We must be willing to be brave in our vulnerabilities so that we can turn these into our vitalities.
Like Alice has done for me, today I write to give you the permission to also turn inwards and identify the identities that you are wearing, those that serve you, and those that no longer do. For if we all go on this journey, not only will it be less intimidating and lonely, but we will be helping to make the world a better place. The world needs more zebras. But it also needs more lions, buffalo, hippos and tigers. It needs more cats, dogs, ponies and goats. It needs more plants, grasses, and towering trees. It needs more diversity and individuals living a conscious life.
As featured in Travel. Play. Live Magazine, Autumn 2018
Mud between my toes. Mud etched into the lines of my hands. Mud spots on my cheeks, both facial and I am sure, other. Mud masking the scratches across my legs, the downside of this dense south-west Tasmanian scrub. I have pain in my lower back, jarred from all the ducking beneath and leaping over the maze of toppled trees, their lifespan shortened by the roaring forties that rip through here. If I am not buried in this confusion of fallen limbs, I am vaulting from button grass to mud bank, trying to avoid the deepest holes. I can hear Dale behind me. Deep breaths expired, the squelch of his shoes and the occasional humorous remark at our predicament as he flings himself across, and sometimes into, each muddy void.
Just four hours earlier I had lain, clean and cosy beside my husband listening to the rain beating onto the metal roof of our van. Surrounded by absolute darkness, the only indication of our remote location was the sounds of wind in the ancient Gondwanen forests and the swollen, rushing river. Into this dark night I had uttered, ‘I am scared’. Despite the knot of anxiety in my stomach, I had clambered out of the down parlor, the beam from my head torch highlighting the breadth of the growing puddles. As I had tugged on long scrub socks, shoes and raincoat, set a match to my stove and prepared my tea pot, I went through a mental checklist:
As I poured the boiling water onto the tea leaves and finished preparing my vest pack, I knew that the only failure in this adventure would be not leaving the comfort of this van. Fear should never be the barrier to our dreams.
In May 2017, I had taken a giant step back from competitive sport. Ready for a change in attention, I was forced to address the questions, ‘Who is Hanny and what does success really mean for her going forward?’ My new normal became playfulness and it was on the silly adventures, most notably in the wilder environments of Tasmania, that I slowly came to a very important realization - success is not about reaching summits, winning medals or hitting business targets. Rather, it is a willingness to walk to, and then along, the edge of discomfort. To be willing to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of the meaningful.
By the time I had hugged my husband one last time, rain beating down and my watch reading 4:30am, I was completely committed. I followed Dale into the dense, saturated undergrowth, our torches dancing together. Whilst the summit of Federation Peak was our aim, twenty-two kilometers along this overgrown hiking route, I knew that I had already succeeded by being 120% engaged in this adventure. That is, success had been emotionally checking in for today despite the adverse weather conditions.
Now, four hours into the mission, I feel nervous. Dale and I are ‘running’ towards the base of Moss Ridge, the notorious 1000m climb onto the plateau that marks the start of the final precarious ascent to the summit of Federation Peak. We can see the clouds boiling above us, the summit’s sheer beauty obscured by their wet contents. I have noticed the temperature has dropped again and I find myself needing to stop to pull on more layers. I am wet to my skin, my shoes filled with the fine silt from the mud and every time I bend over my back is jarring. Deep down I can distinguish that my emotion is not so much fear, but rather vulnerability in the face of the challenge ahead.
To help remain positive, Dale and I begin to break the adventure down into smaller moments. We encourage one another to keep fueled, warm, and to continue for another short period of time before we decide on the feasibility of a summit attempt. We cut through the tension with laughter for what else can you do when you are soaked to your undies, muddier than a hippo and running like a wombat? As it happened, this was the exact moment in this adventure where success occurred. Our willingness to persevere and laugh in the face of our discomfort created a positive spiral that soon after had us whooping and huffing, puffing and clambering all the way to the plateau. From there we had gingerly scuttled up and then down steep scree-filled gullies, teetered our way around narrower ledges and then, with frozen fingers, pulled our way up the final rock faces towards the summit where cold and dangerous conditions had us hightailing downwards before even a happy-snap could be taken. Not once, in those uphill endeavors, did we consider turning back. Success at the base of the mountain had helped us to realise our dream of summiting.
It was a long, muddy waddle home. However, high on the adrenalin of accomplishment, we giggled, found tranquil silence, experienced peacefulness in our deepest selves and then finally bumped into my husband Graham. After 11.5hours and 43km, we popped back out of the undergrowth to the welcome sight of the van. The sun was shining.
Every element of that adventure to Federation Peak should have been miserable and yet, when I reflect on it, all I can find is joy. I am so proud that we overcame the temptation of comfort to embrace the conditions, that we found delight in the discomforts, and that we didn’t turn around in the face of fear or vulnerability. It just makes me even more empowered to share what I know about success – that it is not the outcome. It is about your willingness to walk to the edge of discomfort, and then remain there.
Adventure can truly be your avenue to self-development. It can strengthen you in moments of weakness and showcase what you truly love. Adventure can highlight where you have room to grow, and where you have already grown. It requires patience and perseverance, preparation and planning, humility and humour. And if the stars align, you will walk away many memories richer.
Look backwards to where we have come. We are anonymous. No one knows our pathway more than they know our future. A sodden trail leading upwards, substituting the sparse understory of the lower forest for a non-existent canopy. Frozen, white fingers mimicking the silent stags guarding the history of this forest. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
The buttons of the Buttongrass dance a silent tango, intimate and yet rarely touching. That’s where we belong… intimately a part of Tarkine’s waltz. Observing without touching, admiring without desiring. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Opposites attract. Light rain feeds the vegetation whilst we shrug deeper into our jackets. Grey undergrowth to grey skies on grey alpine soils. Red raincoats a reminder of our differences. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Roads dug through deep culverts, winding us from one sensory overload to another. A white bridge spanning a rusted river, jade moss clinging to its edges like the silvery mist clinging to the ridgelines. Once again, we look to the white stags spreading their fingers towards an inconspicuous sky. If we could take flight like the Currawongs we wouldn’t need the roads. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Her peat soils hide her wealth. Gold, tin, iron and more. She produces beauty so heightened we often rip off her surface to expose her emotions. Inevitably she will bleed her pain into the surrounding waterways as slurry is dug from her heart, feeding outside investments. Tarkine. Our wounded Tarkine.
She cannot hide. Vast Myrtles a true giveaway of her affluence. She cannot escape. Let her beauty not face the fate of the Thylacine and Tarkine people. Tarkine. Our trapped Tarkine.
Flick off the leech, swat the marsh fly, wave away the mosquito and wash the mud off down spinning drains. We barely belong here but we are Tarkine’s caretakers. Stave off those bearing down on our Tarkine! Wave them away like an insect. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
If we can learn to run we can learn to say no. Say no to her helplessness.
If we can learn to speak we can learn to say yes. Say yes to her protection.
Without a voice, she needs our help. Stand up for her freedom like we avidly protect our own.
Tarkine. Let her become your Tarkine.
It was 3pm in the afternoon and I found myself lying on my single wooden bed atop rough wooden floors in the hostel. I rarely lie down in the middle of the afternoon but I found that it is what you sometimes need when you are so emotionally challenged by your environment. Graham and I visited Nepal for the first time, there to hand out running shoes to the children and villagers living in Batase, some 35km outside of Kathmandu over imposing mountain foothills. This assortment of secondhand shoes had been collected by members of our Find Your Feet community and it was an honour to deliver them to the village.
On embarking on this trip I had a vision of mountains, monasteries, prayer flags and wild spaces. I guess that is the Nepal we see clearly in the photographs and yes, it is there for sure. In fact, we spent two nights living in a Buddhist monastery rarely visited by Western travellers. From here we ran into the national parks protected by the Nepalese army, ducked beneath prayer flags stretching across the trail, and even encountered a leopard. But the real Nepal, the one where most people live, is either in Kathmandu or in the outlying villages perched on the sides of the foothills. In Kathmandu the air pollution and dust rising off the congested untarmaced roads is so heavy that I found myself wrapping a scarf over my nose and mouth. It is so hard to think clearly about the imposing Stupa in front of you when you are finding it hard to breathe. Furthermore, the destruction of the earthquake that struck the region just two years previously is still hugely apparent, with cracks extending down buildings and rubble piled amongst the rubbish-strewn sidewalks. Further out into the countryside and the air becomes cleaner. However, the rubbish strewn through the beautiful national parks and farmlands hurt my heart. Added to this were buildings after buildings, and thus livelihoods after livelihoods, destroyed by the earthquake.
Over the course of the week, we ran and hiked through national parks and villages, experiencing a side to Nepal mostly overlooked by most Western travellers to this country. Then at night we would return to Batase and eat with the local children living in this hostel, children who had left their homes as orphans or as ‘one-too-many’ in their families. Dinner was cooked on an open fire in a corrugated iron shed, built as a replacement to the original stone and thatch buildings that crumpled with the tremors of mighty earthquakes. We would eat standing outside under the stars or with a light mizzly rain falling, chatting to fellow travellers or volunteers working in the village whilst the children babbled away over their rice & dhal inside the tin shed.
The children and villagers of Batase are blessed. Whilst life is tough it could be a whole lot tougher. They have people like us with prosperity who care for them. They have shelter and livelihoods and prospects. They can receive some form of education. However, many in the surrounding villages and towns are not so lucky. That is the hardest part and why I closed my eyes at 3pm on my single bed to ‘comprehend’.
Whilst our trip to Nepal raised the question of ‘How can we do more?’, it also made me realise that we need to really, really appreciate and protect what we have here in Tasmania and Australia. We need to stand proud of our natural landscapes and make sure that we protect them with fierce determination. What we have here in Australia is unique but it will need all the help that we can provide to ensure it remains beautiful for our children, and their children and every living species that relies on it.
Here is a further reflection of what we travelled with to help you with packing for your own third-world travels. Please note, Graham and I were able to avoid all sickness despite not drinking one bottle of bottled water. Instead, we used the Cambelbak All Clear UV Purifier which lasted the entire time on one USB charge. We also took our jetboil and our own utensils so that we didn’t have to risk picking up germs from communal kitchen arrangements. Finally, we avoided eating anything fresh and all meat products. The only fresh food we had in our time in Nepal were bananas which are safer to eat due to their skins.
What I wouldn’t leave Australia without:
What wasn’t essential but I was stoked to have with me:
Foods to avoid sickness:
What we ate lots of:
Further tips for not getting sick:
Sometimes you reach a point where you know some things need to change. In February 2016 I realised that it was time to audit my life after experiencing the devastation of raging fires in northern Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, a back injury and turning 30 years old. I started journalling my thoughts and actions, quickly realising that I felt completely unharmonious between my intentions and actions. Furthermore, I knew that my body wasn’t healthy. I looked fit and was running strongly on paper, but underneath this there were old habits that were holding me back. Crunch point.
Today I want to share the 11 steps that I have taken so far to re-find my feet:
1. Beginning the ‘Internal Work’When I visited a new doctor at the start of the year she looked me up & down and said, ‘Hanny, you need to find your femininity’. I had not a clue what she meant but when I was handed the name of a performance psychologist in town I new she must be serious. For sure, I was experiencing a nasty back injury & was feeling a little directionless but by no means did I really feel I needed to ‘chat’. However, when I began to audit my life I realised there were (and always will be) a number of areas for self-improvement. At this time these included: a lack of feminine hormones; a constant need to be busy; quick to react to stress; physical niggles; adapting to a growing leadership role in my business; increasingly large sporting goals; and a concern about nourishing nutrition (or lack thereof).
This year, I have worked with Jeremy, a performance psychologist, on my ‘internal self’. It has been one of the more difficult and yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. It has opened my eyes to the extraordinary power of our minds, emotions and actions stemming from deeper, mindful intentions & values. I have found greater purpose in my relationships, running, and business, as well as an understanding of femininity & self-compassion. And this journey is just beginning…
2. Loving the ‘External Self’As I started the ‘internal work’, I realised that I was often neglecting my ‘external self’. In fact, I almost felt disassociated from my body. One day, Jeremy asked me what I did for self-compassion. I racked my brains before proudly jumping to the notion of massage. “I get massages!’ He looked me squarely in the eyes and replied, ‘for self-compassion or for recovery from training & sport?’ I had never realised there was a difference.
Though self-exploration and monitoring my actions I am slowly developing an awareness that self-compassion starts with accepting who I am and how I look & feel. I started by exploring small ways to nurture myself. Here are some of the actions I have taken, although I know there are many more to foster:
3. Learning through listeningI love to learn but was becoming frustrated that I wasn’t investing in formal learning. Through the encouragement of my friends I began exploring the beautiful world of podcasts. I was hooked! And because I loved listening to podcasts so much I began exploring ways to have more time to listen to podcasts. This lead to getting back on the bike, running more on my own and using rare times in the car to unwind with a great episode playing. Learning doesn’t need to be formal and what I am learning through other peoples’ stories has not only increased my motivation but also made me feel more connected to society. I am now in the process of launching my own podcast through which I hope to share my community’s stories. I honestly believe stories are the gold through which we can learn to enrich our own lives. Here are my current favourite podcast series:
4. Understanding through writingI wish I could find more time for writing but journaling has become the key to unlocking my understanding. When my head is full or I feel like I am becoming stale, I pick up a pen and start writing. I am always amazed at what my mind has stored up that I was unaware of, and the insights that I shed when I write without judgment. Don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of garbage that gets written too! Writing allows your mind to let go of the unnecessary thoughts, release subconscious mulling, and then act on the ideas that spark your imagination, creativity & passion.
5. Acceptance through meditationWow, never thought I would admit that I love to meditate! I started in this world with a need to relax. Using free YouTube videos & the encouragement from Jeremy, I started practicing whole-body relaxation before I went to sleep. This certainly enhanced the quality of my sleep but I also found that I had a clearer mind the next morning. From here I began to explore more and more YouTube videos: Guided meditation; Chakra Meditation; Hypnosis etc. It really is an interesting world. I try to put thoughts of religious association aside and just observe what happens when you willingly have a go. I have also begun practicing self-guided meditation, especially when I am lying quietly in bed at night.
6. Plant-Powered NutritionI also never thought that I would admit to exploring a 100% plant-based diet. I have been a vegetarian for 17 years now with the occasional salt & pepper calamari in there, but I honestly have never enjoyed any form of animal meat or fish. When I audited my life I realised that I had some shockingly unbalanced habits when it came to diet and I know these have stemmed from struggles with disordered & restrictive eating in my blacker past. These included an absolute love affair with cheese. Whilst I was eating enough in an energy sense, I didn’t feel good. I felt heavy after lunch and the skin on the back of my arms and legs were covered in Keratosis, a dry skin condition that looked like a constant bout of goose bumps caused by excessive keratin build up. The more I researched, the more I was pointed to the ill-effects of dairy and how it can cause Keratosis. Furthermore, I knew that my mother is lactose intolerant.
Removing dairy from my diet has changed everything! Not only has the Keratosis almost completely disappeared but my mind is clearer, my moods are more constant, my hormonal cycle is regular for the first time ever and I feel energised beyond measure. It has also opened up a whole new plethora of amazing foods that I have barely experienced and a need to be more creative with preparing meals. None of it has been hard, but rather it has just required a willingness to shift my thinking and crack some old habits.
7. Simplifying StuffThe flow on of changing my diet and removing toxins from my lifestyle lead to a realisation that I have a lot of ‘stuff’. I am just beginning to think about how I can master the art of living simpler. I would love to set a radical goal of spending at least one night a week in our van for the entire summer (and maybe winter too!). I am also about to embark on a big ‘culling’ session around home. When I do need to buy something, I will be looking for lasting quality and where & how it was made, rather than the price. Buy once.
8. Intention & Values not GoalsI no longer have strict goals and for now I am not planning any races. When I started feeling richer in other areas of my life I found that the drive to set goals had diminished. I am not saying the need for goals is gone completely, but perhaps setting goals had been a way to plug holes in a leaky lifestyle? I now feel filled with purpose and a motivation to just live & be wilder. I am driven by intentions that bubble up from a deeper place within me. And because of this I am playing… hard! I don’t think I have every felt so fit and I have big dreams that I am working towards. That is far more exciting for now than any goal I could set myself.
9. Learning the Art of PresenceI am a shocker for trying to plan, plan, plan. But isn’t there a saying, ‘life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans’? That was me in a nutshell. I am now trying to not get too far ahead of myself because I also think my planning brain kicked in when I was fearful, nervous or struggling to slow down. I also read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Whilst heavy and often a little too ‘out there’ for me, I found the concept of intentionally trying to be present in what I am doing highly invigorating. When I am on a run I am on a run. When I am listening to a podcast I am listening to a podcast. When I am making a cup of tea I am focusing on this task. When it is time to go to bed I am literally going to bed to rest. Being more present has reduced stress and increased space in my life for creativity & enjoyment.
10. Recognising the importance of PatienceNot my greatest strength! It was Jeremy who said to me, ‘Han, I think you need to learn the art of patience’. With all this energy and enthusiasm I am constantly looking for how I can give back more and more. But Rome was not built in a day, nor are dreams, or health, or lives. Patience may end up being my most difficult obstacle. Lucky I like a challenge!
11. Measuring health by the health of my hormonesThis is a personal note to end on but a lack of regular menstrual cycles has been my biggest fear in life. I had seen so many specialists and been put on so many supplements and drugs over the years to solve this issue. However, the deep internal work, the decluttering, the planting my feet in nutrition that nurtures… this has been what has allowed my body to embrace its femininity. I have learnt that the greatest measure of my body’s own health is the health of my hormones. So, over medals, business, records and more, I think finding health in my hormones is the accomplishment I am most proud of in 2016.
For 2017 I am setting my intention to consolidate 2016. I want to learn more and find routines in what I embarked on this year. Underlying this is a desire to ‘Be Wilder’ - in my actions, intentions and thoughts. Getting uncomfortable every now and then will be at the heart of this too.
It is with great excitement that I wish you all a wonderful start to 2017 and I hope that this coming year can provide an opportunity for you to find health, vitality & wild adventures too.
These articles are a collection of my writing. If you have feedback or questions, would love to hear from you!
keep in touch!