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Are there any truly wild places left on earth? Are there any places where the local ecology is completely unspoiled? Well, that depends on your definitions of ‘wild’ and ‘unspoiled’ and on your appreciation of Chaos Theory. If a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can chaotically unleash a hurricane in Japan, then no place is safe from at least the most subtle influences of mankind. Perhaps a wild, ecologically coherent place is simply defined as one where the disturbances of adjoining ecologies are somehow contained to the level of ‘hard to observe’. Present, but you need to really look to notice. If that’s our working definition, then I am wondering how to classify the pure, un-taintedness of the place where I have just walked for the past three days.

You see, I’ve just been walking in my favourite wilderness church; a remote wild river gorge. I’m not going to say where because the ‘disturbances’ I noticed enroute might encourage our park management bureaucrats to take to their helicopter gunships again. Last time the wild horses flashed too much hoof, our Park managers unleashed a holocaust on this seedstock of the Australian Lighthorse.

I can understand the thinking to a degree. But the basic premise is as ignorant as their militant response. Wild places are rare these days. And this place is one of the rarest, most magnificent and most human-unaccommodating of all. If any place was worthy of ecological lock-down, this would have to be it. Wilderness end on end from one seemingly infinitely remote distance into another. There are no accommodations here to man. No paths. No huts, no mobile phone connections! The only way to navigate is via a good set of maps, and a GPS if you really want to come back. Too steep even for mountain bikes (unless you want to carry a bike on your back for the 3 hour 50% gradient hill you need to climb to enter or leave this wild spectacular place).

Horses don’t naturally belong, in an ecological sense. But then again, they belong there more than us. Horses don’t unleash toxic spills; they don’t level forests; they don’t build dams across wild streams. And they certainly don’t sit around campfires chucking beer cans after a wild afternoon of bush-taming conquest via the wheels of their oversized phallically suggestive 4WD’s.

So it’s more than understandable why there’s a will to lock such places away. Especially places where the depradations of humans are contained via inhospitality rather than locked gates. There are so few people willing to take up genuine wilderness walking these days. Thank the gods of this unimaginably gorgeous place.

The path down the river was made by horses’ hooves. You know this every time you step over a stallion’s personal patch. Walk quietly and you will find a family of mares, foals and their vigilant stallion grazing the lush riparian grass. Walk on and they follow via the compulsion of equine curiosity moderated by rightful suspicious fear. I can’t imagine any domesticated horse not wanting to immediately escape to a place such as this. This must be a horses’ vision of heaven. If ever there was a sight to signal harmony of place, this would have to be it. You just know in a deeply intuitive way that it’s you, not the horses who really do not belong. You with your heavy backpack of life-sustaining connection to the alien place from whence you came. Could you survive like they can as permanent residents of this place?

These are the smart, human-shy residues of a population culled by zealous park managers overburdened with good, but ill-conceived intent. These days, the best survivors are those horses who have learned to hide at the merest scent of man and, in particular, at the faintest sound of their noisy flying machines. Over my walk, I observed their hiding places under deeply thatched casaurina stands.

As my bearings re-aligned with the solitude and pristine purity of this place, I too began to reel at even the vaguest hint of man. On the second day, I found some historical catching yards; a bit of wire strung to a tree; a few stakes in the ground; a fire place long long gone cold. Those are the remnants of men who ran cattle through here. Inconceivably tough men who’s heroic pathways could only be described on an Everest climbing scale. All gone now. Locked out by World Heritage dedication and intent. Which only makes me feel even more out of place. A privileged observer who has earn’t this prize to observe and admire via legs cramped via unaccustomed strain (I’ve discovered that cycling fitness does not translate to fitness on the level of a bushwalking boot!). On my third day I came upon a tyre washed up against a river standing tree. What a flood that must have been! But other than that, the world outside has disappeared.

What a lonely, slightly more barren place this would be if the horses were gone. I am sure this place would retain its status as a sacred awe-inspiring wilderness with all the horses gone, but it would be a different place. It would be a more flora-balanced kind of place; a bit like those lichen-moss drenched rain forests found in shaded ridge hollows and straddling river banks in more tropical climates. It would be a quieter, stiller kind of place. It would become (or revert to) a place where you need you to look deeper and with even greater dedication to find and observe wildlife than it takes to notice the in-your-face presence of trees. All this means that my culture of aesthetics is probably skewed towards places with the noisier, busier dynamic of horses and other mega fauna than being a true fit to Australia’s more secretive wildlife ecologies. And I am sure I would still visit this place with the horses gone; and adapt back to the place it would become. But I like what it is now with a passion I am sure others find in church. So I’ll keep hoping that our park managers can manage to maintain a more pragmatic stance in relation to the rather pointless and unreachable goal of ecological purity to which they seem to be rather over-esoterically attached.

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