Wild Nature

Walking Australia’s south east forests

Final part of the south east forests trilogy.

What do we really know about the wild forests of Australia’s south east? How did they come to be the way they are?

John Blay laces up his walking boots and goes bush to track their history and reality in a long-term expedition that leads us back through the coming of national parks, into the forest wars as well as the very first European incursions, and beyond.

The epic story of his bushwalking maps emotional territory and natural history, and describes what’s there with delicate patience. Wild Nature: walking Australia’s south east forests reveals a journey to the heart of these great Australian forests and wild nature itself.

And yet just when everything appears settled for the region’s national parks, new threats emerge…

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This is a beautiful and enchanting book. John Blay is a superb walking companion – a naturalist, historian and philosopher whose writing glows with wit, wisdom and wonder. I savoured every word and relished every step. Wild Nature is a journal of meditation, observation and exploration, and a delicate natural and human history of the south east forests. What is nature, and how do we value it today? How did we save these special places and how might we lose them? Pick up this book and set foot in another world, a wild one nested within our own.        — Tom Griffiths

Moving and vividly told. John Blay’s Wild Nature is a book like no other, written on the soles of his boots and in the wildness of his heart. At once personal, historical and political, it bears witness to the majesty and fragility of a unique Australian environment         — Mark McKenna

A brilliant natural history of the south east forests. Blay brings a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion to every walk     Inga Simpson


This year of staying at home has made me ravenous for the wild places I can’t visit, and John Blay’s new book is a balm for this frustrated urge. Blay is a naturalist, best known for his exploration and recording of the Bundian Way, an ancient Indigenous route running from the Snowy Mountains to the coast. In Wild Nature, Blay sets out to walk as much of the south-eastern forests as possible, opening himself up to whatever experiences might come and recording them in his gently compelling style.

Blay’s writing has a quality very much like a long and satisfying walk. He describes the trails he takes with a steady rhythm, noting plants and changes in the landscape with an expert’s eye. Sudden, rich encounters flit across the page like rosellas hiding in a grove of tree waratahs in full bloom, or the dingo that steals his hat somewhere along the Genoa river. He writes with candour about frustrations and setbacks – a wrong turn, or a push through wiregrass so thick it shreds his trousers to ribbons – but these are outweighed by what Blay calls ‘wild ecstasies’, moments when wilderness rewards the quiet observer with connection and epiphany. Bushwalkers will recognise this feeling and adore this book.

It’s impossible to read about these places without thinking of the catastrophic bushfires that tore through while Blay was finishing off the book, and his writing provides important context for the history of forest management. Wild Nature is a social and political history of the forests, their traditional owners, foresters, conservationists, politicians and scientists: a whirlwind of interests and conflicts. He argues against oversimplification of the debate: it’s never just left vs. right, or greenies vs. jobs. Our forests are complicated places that demand accordingly nuanced management, and Blay is an excellent guide to navigating this complexity.

Ele Jenkins at Readings Carlton.

Shared from the Sydney Morning Herald eEdition:

Naturalist John Blay was only days into his odyssey through the Great Escarpment forests of south eastern Australia when he fell flat on his face and found himself eyeballing a tiger snake. This happened many times during this journey but mysteriously, he never hurt himself or was hurt by a snake. The experience of being brought down to the snake’s eyeview of the world nicely captures the way his deep immersion in these forests transformed Blay’s own consciousness and how it might transform all of us. As well as being a story of ‘‘spiritual regeneration’’, it’s also very much about the decades long ‘‘war’’ between the forest industry and Aboriginal custodians and environmentalists, and about the history of this region. Reading Wild Nature is itself a deep immersion experience in the teeming tapestry of these wild places and what connects us with them.

FIONA CAPP   SMH Spectrum July 4-5 2020 at P 11

Shared from Blue Wolf Reviews:

Reading this account of John and Jacqueline’s journey is like walking with an artist. You begin to see the contrasting colours, and the individual and collective beauty of your surrounds. The passionate message conveyed in this story is the need for continued protection of our magnificent forests, and the wildlife within them.

Shared from The Platypus:

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  Henry David Thoreau

As a child growing up in the foothills of Connecticut, my parent’s home bordered a private reserve of 100 wooded acres. The neighbourhood kids and I explored every inch of its boundaries. We dubbed it ‘hundred acre wood’ after author A.A. Milne from Winnie the Pooh. We camped in a clearing in summer and trudged through the snow with our trusty sleds in winter. We took risks and had adventures and embraced a sense of independence unimaginable to city kids. This forest had originally been home to the Pequot, Woodland Indians. It was a bountiful place with blueberries and strawberries, Lady Slipper orchids, rhododendron, walnuts, chestnuts, oak, maple, birch and pine. Little evidence remained of the indigenous inhabitants but place names were a reminder of their existence. The Nonnewaug River was a short walk from my home and I learned to swim while avoiding poisonous copperhead snakes at Lake Quassapaug, but it was the poets and philosophers of the 19th century who enabled me to truly understand the beauty and significance of my surroundings in rural New England and they remain justifiably revered throughout America for their contribution to the literary canon. David Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Longfellow, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost taught us to truly see what we were looking at. John Blay has added an Australian voice to this exalted genre of writing.

After completing the third volume of the South East Forest trilogy, Wild Nature, my first inclination was to turn back to the first page and start the book again. It is one of the most enjoyable armchair journeys I have ever had the pleasure of making and I didn’t want it to end. John Blay has been walking the forests and uplands of Sth/East New South Wales for decades and by doing so, he has become our eyes and ears for a journey that none of us is ever likely to undertake in its entirety. This is, of course, a naturalists’ diary and a treatise on the vast and unique landscape that surrounds us and that we must continue to educate ourselves about if we are to live here harmoniously. He describes scenes of breathtaking beauty while reporting on and seeking to reconcile the historical consequences of development and exploitation of the resources that these forests have relinquished. The balancing act between commercial and ecological value is a conundrum that we still struggle with to this day. I think John handles the topic with a level head and a lot of dignity. This is also an autobiographical journey and a love story. John treks so much of the vast countryside alone, making my forays into ‘hundred acre wood’ feel like traversing a postage stamp, he periodically shares his journey with a companion as well as various wise friends and kindred spirits who bear witness and add dimension to the narrative. The prose is lyrical and poetic, the storytelling beautifully paced and John Blay deserves a place amongst the very finest of Australian writers on natural history and philosophy.

̶ Nancy Northrop