"Gimme That Old-Time Religion: Reclaiming Our Ancestral Heritage"
(March 2001, for PanGaia magazine, CA)

Here in Australia, like everywhere else in the world, we are struggling to protect the forests around us from the insidious clutches of the timber industry. We are in a near impossible situation with the State Forests department bound up in agreements that require them to deliver huge amounts of timber to the timber mills over the course of the next 20 years. To meet these quotas, the vast majority of the remaining State Forests will need to be torn down. To make matters worse, the Minister of Forestry now proposes that we dip into the National Parks and begin to log these as well, old growth and all.

How is it I wonder, that we have grown so far away from our ancestral homes that we now tear them down at such an alarming rate? I wonder backwards in time to remember when we lived within the forests…


About 335 Million years ago, the first subtropical forests evolved. Later, when Gondwanaland drifted apart into the now familiar continents, the rainforests of South America, Australia and Africa each began to follow their own evolutionary destinies, their species no longer able to interbreed. Over the next 40 million years, tropical rainforests extended across much of the world.

Some seventy million years ago, the first primates of the mammalian family of life, first appeared. The primates -- lemurs, monkeys, apes -- were for the most part forest-dwellers who lived mostly in the trees, swinging, sleeping, eating…

Then four million years ago, chimpanzees and finally the hominids descended. While hominids had increased brain size and upright posture, like the other primates, hominids spent much time in the trees, as is suggested by the length and muscular quality of their arms relative to their shorter legs. However, they lived mostly now in the savannas, the grasslands of what is now Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

"Forest life seems to have advanced the psychic capacity of the earlier primates, the capacity to swing easily among the tree branches, the quickness of mind, and the focusing of attention -- all qualities that were preserved when their hominid descendants moved out of the forest to the more open savanna areas." (Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.145)


Unfortunately though, humans have grown far apart from the forests. In fact, we have come largely to fear what we might find in the forests -- predator animals, stinging plants, biting insects -- and most of us are unknowing about how to survive in the bush, what to eat, where to sleep, how to find our way by the stars. There are no roadsigns to guide us, no electricity, none of the amenities to which we have become accustomed.

What happened to the romantic notions that Henry Thoreau had when he went to live in the woods in Concord, MA?

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary."

While some might try a "back to nature" approach to life, many are filled with fear at the thought of having to survive in the forests. The media takes great pleasure at playing on this fear. When 2 weeks ago, the 27-year-old former Army private, Ben Maloney, survived 5 weeks in the Tasmanian wilderness, the media proclaimed, " Ben Maloney is a man who has come back from the dead." and " How on earth did this man survive?" It was declared a veritable miracle.

It is no wonder, with the media playing up this fear for our lives, that we are quickly cutting down forests all across the planets. Rates of deforestation are alarming and the thousand or more forest tribes around the world are largely on the verge of extinction.

As much as we, here at Rainforest Information Centre, and many many other groups earnestly work to protect forests worldwide, the extractive industries -- oil, mining, logging -- gain a stronger and stronger foothold each day. Local people become increasingly dependent on multi national corporations as they edge their way into every aspect of the community members' lives, even paying them just to stay on their payroll. Offering promises that never come true. Stealing the land of its wealth and the people of their dignity.


It's it not too late for us to remember who exactly we are and where we come from. When we remember who we are, then we find ourselves more apt to stand up in the name of the protection of our natural surroundings. In the work that John Seed and I do, we use Deep Ecology rituals and ceremonies, meditation and exercises, to help rekindle the memory that lies in our DNA, of a time when we felt comfort in our home, the forests.

Although we walk upright, and have developed as a species in countless ways, we have "still not entirely forgotten the quadripedal past, and sometimes our bones ache to return to a time when we scrambled as happily in trees as on the ground. And is there not something in the simple, joyful triumph of a small boy announcing his presence from high in the branches of a tree which speaks of a time that our mind has forgotten but our body has not? (Richard Fortey, "Life: An Unauthorized Biography", p341)

It is time in the name of our ancestors that we go back to our home, to our roots, to remember who we once were and from whence we came.

It is time in the name of the future generations that we plant our feet firmly on the Earth stepping lightly and caringly, with compassion in our hearts as we look together towards a harmonious future on this planet.


Yeah, gimme them Blue Gums and Red Gums and Spotted Gums
those IronBarks and Blood Woods and Black Butts and Grey Box
Squirrel gliders and bats, a koala or two.
I'll take that old-time religion from
the pale headed snake
the masked owl.
Reclaim our heritage
it’s the forest where we grew
from reptile to mammal and primate
before the savannah
me and you
these trees were our home
these forests our safety
those branches and vines our joy
as we swang up and down.
so far from the womb we have come
now we go back
we find our way back
young and old
poor and rich
white and black
to stand up for the trees
stand up for the trees
stand up, you and me
for the Earth.