An Unlikely Union
Who are we apart from where we live? Places like this should belong to all Australians and be preserved for all. – David Pocock
David Pocock is renowned as one of the Wallabies’ greatest rugby players. On the field he’s an outside flanker, a notoriously physical position responsible for attacking and defending against players much larger, requiring as much brain and brawn while the umpire hawks his every move.
But it’s his fight for at-risk environments off the field which has attracted fans well beyond the game. In a brief window before the Rugby World Cup in Japan, David wanted to point his camera and raise awareness for an area of Australia desperately under threat.
“It’s often hard to love something you haven’t seen,” says David, sitting amongst the green- soaked Tarkine region in Northwest Tasmania, gazing up toward the rainforest canopy. “And it’s hard to fight for something you don’t love... I want to share photos of the Tarkine to show people, to get conversations going. Who are we apart from where we live? Places like this, should belong to all Australians, and be preserved for all.”
takayna or Tarkine Rainforest, two-and-a-half hours west of Launceston in Tasmania, is a time capsule of Australia’s beautifully wild origins. Home to precious Aboriginal heritage tens of thousands of years old, and endangered wildlife and rainforests that have stood for over 60 million years. It is a rare part of the world which still resembles a pre-human landscape, a riot of greenery stretching for nearly 500,000 ha.
It’s exactly where you want to point a lens with bends of light, swipes of colour, ancient myrtle trees and rare creatures posing at every turn. Tasmanian devils, wallabies, platypus and echidnas call the Tarkine home. As did the Tasmanian tiger before settlers wiped out the ‘pests’. Overhead the giant Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle rules the sky, an endangered bird of prey David has longed to photograph before we lose the last 150 mating pairs.
David found photography as a young boy growing up in Zimbabwe, South Africa. Like so many of us, a chance few frames of his parent’s 35mm film camera was enough to get him hooked. “Growing up on a farm, I’d sneak off and spend hours trying to get a photo of a Swainson’s spurfowl or something. It was always so much fun. I always felt being able to take a photo I could show someone how close I got and how special that bird was to me.”
Since then photography has grown as a way for him to tell stories and share memories that matter most. While in the Tarkine, David used the EOS-1D X Mark II with the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X to stalk the skies and tree lines for the wedge-tailed eagle, an EOS R with the versatile RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM for the dark corners of the rainforest and an EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM to photograph the rainforest’s smallest inhabitants.
Exploring the rainforest, David’s breath begins to dive a little deeper into the clean air, his shoulders ease and you can see the surroundings start to rejuvenate him. Maree Jenkins, owner of the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge who operates ecotourism walks in the area, leads David through the trails she’s built with her own hands. She shares stories of local activists chaining themselves to logging machinery, camping out for weeks in the punishing Tassie weather, fabled sightings of Tassie tigers still wandering the forest and the community divided between conservation and commodity.
David stops every few trunks to feel and photograph. They talk about the local devils and possums, how Maree’s come to know them like family, and how the wedgie’s numbers have fallen over the 30 years she’s lived on the edge of the Tarkine. Maree introduces David to Mother Mrytle, one of the many giant myrtle trees who’ve stood for centuries, but she’s defenceless to man’s growing impact. For Maree, it’s been hard to grow the fight in Tasmania, let alone to the mainland… but visitors like David are changing that.
“The word awesome gets thrown around a lot,” David says. “But it’s not until you’re in places like this that you understand what is truly awesome. Raw Nature. It inspires a feeling you don’t get from anything else.
I’m trying to capture a glimpse and hopefully help others make better decisions because that’s what it comes down to.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was a kid looking up to rugby players, interested in what they were interested in. That’s why I’ve chosen to talk about issues and take stands on things because that’s how you get conversations happening.”
The protection of the Tarkine is the conversation we’re here to continue. Despite its unique ecology, it’s completely unprotected from mining, logging and other extraction practices which have been running through the bloodlines of local townspeople for decades. The Tarkine has no security as a National Park and with over 60 rare and endangered Tasmanian species at risk, many are calling for it to be World Heritage listed. “I’ve slowly become more comfortable bringing these different sides of me [Union and conservation] together in public,” he reflects. “Of course, I’ve really enjoyed rugby, it’s given me so many opportunities, but this is equally a big part of who I am.”
David’s the first to acknowledge this is a delicate situation. A people situation about what they consider valuable. “Yes, it’s complicated with jobs and economics…
There’s got to be a way to align things better so we’re not sawing off the very branch we’re all sitting on. We’re destroying our home and calling it economic growth. That seems like insanity to me.
“If we say this is very valuable, in and of itself, to continue to exist, important to us and future generations, then it will be preserved. If we say it’s better to cut it all down and start again every 60 years and lose the old trees, or just leave it to industry and government to decide, then that’s what’s going to happen.”
The weight of running out for the green and gold is not lost on David. Even after a decade in the top tier of Australian rugby, lacing up for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan has enormous meaning for him. It’s not just for the millions of Australians watching at home. It’s not just for the sport that’s given him countless opportunities. It’s not just for the teammates he goes in to fight for at every ruck.
For David, running out as a proud Australian is representing country – all its people, and importantly, all its land and creatures. “When you are running out for the Wallabies, you’re representing so many Australians, so many backgrounds,” David says. “People support us because they love Australia. But, for me, this is Australia, there’s nothing more Australian than the Tarkine and the many incredible places like this in our country.”