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Claire survives year in the wild without matches

CLAIRE DUNN: Pictured, above, with a tinder bundle and, top row, from left, a fire providing central heating and also allowing indoor cooking during long periods of summer rain; using a grasstree stalk and no small measure of elbow grease to coax a coal from the wood shavings in the notch in her Wild Tobacco base-board; and a short hike from home, the Sunrise Tree provided a elevated view of the Banksia heath around Claire’s camp.
CLAIRE DUNN: Pictured, above, with a tinder bundle and, top row, from left, a fire providing central heating and also allowing indoor cooking during long periods of summer rain; using a grasstree stalk and no small measure of elbow grease to coax a coal from the wood shavings in the notch in her Wild Tobacco base-board; and a short hike from home, the Sunrise Tree provided a elevated view of the Banksia heath around Claire’s camp. Ben Eyaustralian Geographic

"THEY were wild times," said author and forest campaigner Claire Dunn, reminiscing on our late-nineties Sydney share-housing escapades.

I chose not to signpost the irony that, after 15 years, I was calling Claire professionally as a 'rewilding' advocate and author. It's the first time in years I've heard her polite and temperate voice. Amid the clanging hangovers and bong-stained chaos, I remember the Hunter Valley girl as a regenerator of order and compassion. The perfect housemate.

The now 36-year-old is in town this week to talk about her book My Year Without Matches, which chronicles her year spent in Gumbaynggirr Nation near Grafton, making shelter, building fire, trapping food, and having her identity totally and unavoidably unravelled by the forest's honesty.

Claire Dunn will talk about her book at:

  • Kulcha Jam, 1 Acacia St, Byron Bay, today (7pm for 7.30pm start)
  • Goanna Bakery, Keen St, Lismore (6pm for 6.30pm start)

Disillusioned and burnt out by her deskbound greenocrat job at The Wilderness Society, she left her partner and comfortable life to strike up a relationship with the forest. She joined six others in the year-long Independent Wilderness Studies project.

I was a spokesperson for the forest, but I never felt like I was resting on sound knowledge. It all started to feel a bit hollow

"Environmental campaigning is really important," she said. "But now I realise we need to address the underlying cause of why we have drifted so far from what is important. We are separated from ourselves, our own passions, visions and instincts.

"I think we can all benefit from coming from an authentic place. Discovering a wild heart and coming from a place of honesty and authenticity."

Claire signed up to be humbled: "I had this feeling that I was skimming the surface. I was just seeing the top of the iceberg.

"I was a spokesperson for the forest, but I never felt like I was resting on sound knowledge. It all started to feel a bit hollow."

There is this sense today that the wild is there to be survived, to be conquered. I wanted to immerse myself in it with a feminine energy ... and when I flowed with the forest, I fell in love

Although most food was supplied, Claire's self-imposed rule to not carry matches sparked a deep relationship with fire. The calluses and despair over countless failed starts were worth the ecstatic joy of lighting her first fire.

When the gloaming approached, the masculine element of fire was to Claire what 'Wilson' was to Tom Hanks' Castaway character.

But Claire makes no apologies about anthropomorphising the wild.

"I journalled every night. The writing of the book fleshed things out. You can't help but look at the birds and see them with human traits. There were matrons, there were mystics.

"When the Powerful Owl was around it was quite a gift. I found the Yellow Tail Black Cockatoos mirrored the way I was feeling at those liminal times before dawn and desk."

Claire approached her 'rewilding' with the intention to find an alternative to the 'Man vs. Wild' narrative perpetuated by mainstream media.

"There is this sense today that the wild is there to be survived, to be conquered. I wanted to immerse myself in it with a feminine energy ... and when I flowed with the forest, I fell in love. When we got to know each other there was this playfulness," she said.

And like all the best love-affairs, the forest taught her hard and unexpected lessons.

"I realised so much of my identity was based on being productive, on getting things done, on being 'good'," explained Claire.

But the forest has no timepiece and Claire's sense of self was revealed to be illusory.

"It was completely shattering. A whole lot of grief welled up," she said.

Claire is touring Byron Bay today and Lismore tomorrow to share her book, but mainly to advocate 'Rewilding' - returning to a more wild or natural state. "It felt like I had come home," Claire said, of finding her flow in the forest.

Once again, Claire is the perfect housemate. She just needed to move in with the forest.

Topics:  editors picks, environment, grafton



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