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Up Stream – Tasmania 1996

We can’t accurately set borders to human identity since it trails off from the light of focused awareness into the shadow of dreams, spotty memories, intuitions, and spontaneous eruptions whose point of origin is indefinite.

James Hillman (1995)

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The beginning; where we emerge from the mother ocean. A spontaneous dawn ceremony honouring the Mother, my mother and my birth, before heading up stream. Finding an eagle feather on the beach the ceremony was Influenced by Native American song and dance which I had learned the year before on the Japan Sacred Run

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In 1996 I embarked on a 21 day solo walk through the centre of SW Tasmania, to ascend a river that had only seen a dozen or so expeditions. I had descended the river twice before with friends, however this time I was determined to go UP it, beginning at the ocean and finishing on the summit of one of Australia’s most spectacular mountains.

I had one main motivation for doing this trip by myself. The reason was that in the previous few years I had created my entire ‘cosmology’ around and within a diverse river system that incorporated the mist in the mountains to the waves of the ocean and everything in between. It was a time in my life where my loneliness deepened exponentially with the continued feeling of being unable to fit into society. I had created this analogy of my life as a man ascending a river, from the ocean to the mountains. The story was so deep and detailed in my psyche that I had to go and live it, to see if it was real, or was I going mad?

What happened was extraordinary. Beginning on the beach at the river’s mouth, I immersed myself into some of Australia’s premier wilderness. Remote, untouched. Ascending the river and entering a deep canyon I found a dead tree, gnarled and weathered. The holes in its trunk made it look like a face in great pain, distorted, mouth wide open screaming, ‘Noooooo’. A dead branch upon it was like an arm pointing upstream, ‘ Nooooo, don’t go up there’, it seemed to scream. It was the middle of the day but I set up camp on the small beach next to the stream. Then the rain began. By 3pm I was moving my bivvy higher into the steep tangled forest, watching the canyon flood. If I had gone on I would have been caught in the narrowest part of the canyon unable to climb higher, away from the raging torrent. I most certainly would have been swept away.

In short, I spent four days watching the river roar down the canyon. It rose about eight metres, a couple of metres more and I would have had to move higher into more dense forest – with nowhere else to go after that. I spent four days listening to the enormous sound of the water.

By the fourth day the water level had dropped to a couple of feet above what it was before. I packed up and went back down to the river. I saw the old tree, re-emerged after drowning. If it hadn’t spoken to me (if I hadn’t had listened) I never would have stopped. From the moment I knew about the tree and it’s strange spirit I felt I was a part of something much bigger and deeper than I had ever imagined. Most likely the tree reflected a part of me that just said ‘stop’; my intuition perhaps and whatever that is tapped into?

On the rocky canyon floor I looked upstream, then downstream. I had a choice. Do I continue up, or do I go back? For the first time in my life I felt like I didn’t have to get to the top of the mountain. I could go back if I wanted to. There also seemed no need to proceed up river. What I’d came for, to find out, I had found. I’d proved that this is my true journey, It was no analogy, it was reality. I am this river, these trees, these mountains and everything in its system.

It took me a few days to raft down the river on the tail end of the flood. When my raft slid up a log and capsized I almost lost my pack with everything in it. I spent 20 minutes rescuing myself, the raft and then the pack, which could have easily been carried away by the river. I then spent the night by the fire drying my gear. My freeze dried food had got wet, so it had all re-hydrated. I had to eat it all in a couple of days as it was going off. The last three days I was without food. What a trip!

In 1999 I attempted to write down this personal cosmology/mythology that I had lived in for almost a decade. The result is the story, Anthony Where Are You?

The story of Anthony Where Are You? is my life experiences mythologised; an attempt in mapping my own inner landscape (as of up to 1999). One of my main goals before writing it was to create a story of my life and see if it resonated with other people. The challenge was to find the similarities of everyone’s lives, the pain, the hardship, the joy and happiness, the love and light, the arrogance and compassion, and all the other emotions and qualities we share. The task was to fit this into a system that holds true and that we all hold in common. And this system of course is the wild natural environment. As Senator Bob Brown (1993) says, ‘We came from it. We are it’. It physically binds us all together.

The entire river system, from the mist in the mountains to the tides of the ocean is a microcosm of the universe. Sometimes the universe seems so huge that it is too mind boggling to comprehend – when we think we need to comprehend. Sometimes it baffles us. No matter how much we think we might know we still know nothing compared. When I was going through personal uncertainty, not knowing where I fitted in to the scheme of things, I created this microcosm, this smaller universe to enable me to better understand the processes I was going through. I was on a journey through my own universe and encountered obstacles along the way. The way could be smooth or it could be rough. But what the analogy of the wild river system enables is the use of unlimited metaphor and symbol. Your imagination is the limit in finding meaning in this system. An individual leaf on a tree in the forest might mean something entirely different to the leaf next to it. The trickle of water in one creek might mean something else. One grain of sand might prove something that the rock near it can’t. These meanings can be transformed into reality without complication to the interpreter.

The idea of Anthony Where are You?, had many beginnings. I cannot place exactly when I formulated it in its entirety but it evolved over a period from 1991 to ’94. The idea grew from the various experiences I had had in the wilds of Tasmania and South America. I chose the name Anthony to represent my protagonist self because ‘Gary’ just doesn’t seem to fit such a poetic heroic story. Ha. Now there’s a judgment!!! But mainly, my brother recorded a very inspiring piece of rock music that evoked all the images at the beginning of the journey, and the song was called, ‘Anthony Where Are You?’

Read Anthony Where Are You?

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River at lowest.

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River in flood.

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Old Man tree.
Photographic montage of a dead burnt log and a waterfall, representing the old tree.

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Read Anthony Where Are You?

I would also love you to leave a comment below about the story.

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