Gleebooks Book Launch

John Blay – Wild Nature

Sunday 13 March 2022 starting 2:30 pm for 3:00 pm at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Pt Rd  Sydney

Celebrating completion of the South East trilogy with James Griffin, Minister for Environment and Heritage, and Bob Debus.

Wild Nature, John Blay’s natural history of the South East Forests National Park also looks at the purpose and values of national parks. Widely praised in reviews and press articles it was recently included in the WILD’s top nature books of the world:

  •  It also freeze-frames nature’s wonder and worth: A dance party of bristlebirds, emu-wrens and fieldwrens is one      fireworks example. The book is an important social and environmental work, partly because of the land it documents, and also since it compellingly answers a question Blay himself poses: “How do you express the value of wild nature?”

Wild Nature completes a trilogy that began with On Track and Back Country.

Bob Debus is NSW’s longest serving Environment Minister, who increased its national park protected area by more than a third. He is a committed conservationist: chair of the Colong Foundation For Wilderness and of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, a project working for landscape-scale conservation across land of all tenures in eastern Australia.

Book at:

Poets and Mystery

The Australian bush holds its mysteries close. How can we follow its interconnections, find the disconnections, name things that are barely hints. The old world sent truths that became lies and we cannot blame the poets.


It is not only poets who are interested in puzzles. All of us live in basic mystery.

Science and religion jostle one another in the shadows,

throwing in each other’s eyes the dust of beauty, possibilities,

distant myths, and approximate truth.

-Pablo Neruda

Erratum – Back Country

Early copies of Back Country Trek through the Deua and Wadbilliga have a mistake in a page close to the end. There was  some text missing (under the photo) from the top of page 256.

Here is the missing text:


[…Someone needed to keep an eye on…]

it, and what else could I do? Accompanied by a few friends in retracing the route I had taken with Jacqueline, I was overjoyed to come onto the river again. But then dismayed to find trees and scrub filling places that had once been open and clear.

Along the river, on flats where I had once camped in open forest clearings and even on sand bars, young trees such as river peppermint and river oak had sprung up in wheatfield profusion. For kilometre after kilometre, due to the pencil-thin 2-metre-plus growth, it was difficult to find a place to lay down, let alone pitch a tent. Years before when I had first noticed the beginning of this regrowth, I thought its density would be sorted out by the cycles of extreme drought and flood, by competition, and yet they were surviving. The river

[often narrowed to a tunnel and you could only walk in the middle of the stream…]


It’s quite important text and Canopy Press is most dismayed the glitch occurred. The current print runs have been corrected and an erratum has been inserted into the copies still in circulation.

From the Edge by Mark McKenna – the book launch

For one moment I reflect on the irony of ‘launching’ a book that that features shipwrecks.

But it is a book that involves us all. The Bega Valley is on the south eastern edge of a continent occupied by our vast, imperfect nation state. This book reports from the edge.

In the introduction Mark visits Mascot, a symbol of how easy it is nowadays to roam the world and which looks across Kamay or Botany Bay to the place where Cook’s men shot an Aboriginal man and took his shield, which is currently being claimed from the British Museum by Rodney Kelly, a local Aboriginal man. This is a prelude to the key episode of the book, the wreck of the Sydney Cove, which led to the 1797 long walk during which the shipwrecked mariners made first contact with the Aboriginal people of our region. It’s remarkable that a written record of their ‘adventures’ survived. Significant events happened only 10 km away from the nowadays town of Bega. Read about their adventures near Tathra and the mouth of the river….

We’ll come back to that later, after the book is officially launched, when we’ll have a conversation and plenty of time for questions.

Meantimes let’s consider the other three corners of the book. From the Bega Valley and that very long walk, we have Cooktown only 2400 km as the crow flies,  Pt Essington 3000 and Murujuga a mere 3,400km away. That is some decent mileage that had to be covered during researches. Distances that would daunt less ambitious historians. The book covers, from the end, Gangaar or Cooktown, from Captain Cook’s visit to Kamay in the Prelude to his shipwreck. Gangaar is the point where everything changes on the way northwards, the last place of substantial settlement, still there after a chequered life. It’s here where we find ways to move forward.

The next place is now deserted: Port Essington, a strategic location to defend the continent, was a wretched, ill-fated, fever-ridden settlement in the far north visited by our own Oswald Brierly after his time on Twofold Bay. I must add that Mark has spared his readers some of the worst, I recall that one of the sailing boats visiting became so overrun by cockroaches they had to sink it. The cockroaches washed onshore in great mounds, only to be avidly consumed by Aboriginal people who appreciated the special delicacy. Who would not prefer cockroaches to the flyblown salt meats of the doomed garrison?

Coming closer to the beginning, we find Murujuga, the biggest and oldest art gallery on earth. Unfortunately the Pilbara has a sordid background in the treatment of its Aboriginal people, and in the disregard of the values of the Aboriginal artworks by industrialisation. Anywhere else in the world it would have world heritage protection.

And what is it that holds such diverse material together? What binds these 4 places at the edge of the continent so many thousands of km apart into a unified work of history?

It’s not just what is common to the stories, it’s not just the uncomprehending meetings between the Europeans and the old people, it’s not just the voice of a very special historian bringing the scenes so brilliantly to light. Essentially for me it lies in the rhythms of his prose, the majestic prose poetry that works on an epic scale like a Homer painting in word-music his Iliad and Odyssey, as if Mark is rediscovering songlines that connect these places in the imagination, that majestic McKenna music, as divine as Bach, that creates a new pastoral for the continent.

The old pastorals were about the rustic life, man and woman at peace with their countryside, shepherds and their sheep. Idealised, idyllic. But here, without rose-coloured glasses, we learn the shock of discovering each place as different Countries of one continent, of utterly disparate ways of life meeting for the first time. And those meetings are weirder than science fiction, stranger than the clash of alien cultures from far corners of the galaxy we get in the movies. Mark shows us that beside the tragedies & conflict & commonalities there are glimmers of hope for the future. But we don’t get there without acknowledging the past.

Here it is, a very beautiful book, generously illustrated and printed on a paper that will outlast most of us. It will take you to places you might never have imagined, places that demonstrate the many countries and needs of our continent, eerie, strange places once well populated and managed but not perhaps suited for settlement, they are places essential in the story of Australia, where we have come from and where we’re going.

Read the book. Take these journeys with Mark McKenna. It’s now launched, From the Edge


About the author

Mark McKenna is one of Australia’s leading historians. His most recent book, An Eye for Eternity: The life of Manning Clark (MUP) won five national awards, including the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History. He is also the author of Looking for Blackfellas’ Point: An Australian History of Place (UNSW Press), which won the Book of the Year and the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction in the 2003 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. His essays, reviews and political commentary have appeared in The Monthly, Meanjin, ABR, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian.

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