As an activist in my early 20s, I would hitchhike to Canberra once or twice a year, then head down across the Monaro tablelands to the mecca of Mt Oak. You could get dropped off just south of the town of Bredbo, walk over a ridge and down to the river, swim across, and find yourself among like-minded people who were re-inhabiting a harsh landscape with hot summers and freezing winters.
I got to know several of the core people at Mt Oak (originally established after the ConFest at Bredbo in 1977). But no trip was complete without visiting Barrie Griffiths and Marg McClean. In their hand built, solar powered house, they were clearly living the dream but more importantly, they were not ignoring the world, they were engaging as bioregional activists. Like a number of other leading campaigners of that era, Barrie was an early adopter of communications technology and I remember being impressed by the computer equipment and early use of the internet to keep in touch with fellow travellers and thinkers around the country, and the co-ordination of the Green Alliance Network and production of it’s magazine.
I remember many a long afternoon, with conversation roaming across dozens of topics, often interspaced with physical tasks around the house or out on Mt Oak. The vision of a green revolution and a re-building of decentralised human communities, living well in the broader landscape feed my view of the world and expanded my sense of what was possible. I would read the reports from far flung places and unknown correspondents in Green Alliance and feel connected to something bigger and kinder and more humble in its approach to our place on earth.
Barrie had a vision beyond some reformist tinkering around the edges of power: “we want to create a radical movement that seeks to change the system, not patch it up; that offers a positive, constructive vision of an alternative, rather than simply complaints to ruling elites to make some reforms …” (US Green Committees of Correspondence, 1987).
He warned against the dangers of “shuffling gradualism” that was prevalent in parts of the environment movement and the resulting development of the Green Party. He argued that in forming a new political party, it was essential that it reflect the broader movement, not just the leaders of the conservation movement, and that it “should reflect the spectrum of environment, social action, left political, peace/anti-nuclear, Aboriginal and other movements”. He was also a strong voice for the need for grassroots involvement in decision making.
Marg and Barrie eventually left Mt Oak and headed to the Upper Hunter Valley and I mostly lost contact with them. But my belief that Place is important, that communities are best when they respect, celebrate and reflect what the local environment offers, continued to grow, and lead me to co-produce a magazine called Inhabit for several years, which drew it’s inspiration directly from the earlier bioregional work of people like Barrie and Marg.
I saw them at the Climate Camp in Newcastle in 2008, and heard news of their life in the Upper Hunter valley up under Barrington Tops and their work in the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA). I even made a couple of efforts to visit, but was waylaid each time. But in my mind, they were still present in some way, like the distant uncle and aunty who were an inspiration, even if you never saw them.
In July, I was on a solo skiing trip, and various people from long ago were present in my thoughts that day as I followed the Brabralung trail from Mt Hotham, thinking about life. Barrie and Marg were amongst them. I came back to hear the news that Barrie had passed away after a lengthy fight against cancer a day or two earlier.
Thanks for your enduring influence and inspiration, Barrie.
A tribute to Barrie, from the Sydney Morning Herald
March 11, 1943 – July 13, 2016
It was a Wednesday he drew his last breath.
Treasured partner, father, grandfather, brother and friend.
Pioneer and benefactor in the community settlement and green movements; NEFA legend: Mt Royal National Park and many oldgrowth forests protected, part of his enduring legacy. Passionate and committed always as teacher, networker, bush lawyer and ecologist, writer, editor and archivist, activist and icosahedron builder.
We miss him and carry him in our hearts.
Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 23, 2016