Three years ago, Simon Harris watched takayna – a documentary by Patagonia about the threats to Tasmania’s Tarkine region due to logging activities – and it changed his life.
“It deeply affected me,” he recalls. “I knew I had to do something to protect the forest.”
The next day, Simon called the Bob Brown Foundation, the organisation working tirelessly to protect the Tarkine against logging, and pitched his idea: at rail run through the Tarkine to raise money and awareness, and help protect the forest.
And just like that, the idea for For Wild Places was born. “For Wild Places is about taking people who are trail runners, new and old, who love to spend their leisure time running in nature,” Simon says. “We’re working to get those people interested in protecting the places they love to run in.”
Simon likens the For Wild Places ethos to sports activism. “Trail running is a huge sport by participation, so if we can help this unique group of people use their voice, raise money, and take action, that’s a really great vehicle to make change,” he says. “Runners that engage with our campaigns are out there telling the world that they’re going to run 50 kilometres through a wild place to protect it. Activism for us is about using your voice in a way that works for you.”
This year, For Wild Places received a $10,000 Impact Grant from Bank Australia, which they’re using to develop different types of events, extend their reach, and build more trail activists.
“Bank Australia are sick of me, because I’m their biggest ambassador –– I am not sure I have ever been so in love with a bank before!” Simon laughs. “I’m always asking people ‘why are you not banking with Bank Australia?’ We need to start getting comfortable with having conversations about our money and the power we have to set our planet on the right course.”
It’s something the For Wild Places team promote to runners as well. “If you’re changing your super or your banking, the knowledge of what that does is so powerful. As soon as people know the impact it can have, how can they not want to do anything about it? It’s so important to understand what your money’s doing and where it goes.”
The next event on the calendar is the Pilliga Ultra, which will be held in northwest New South Wales’ Pilliga forest in March 2022.
“We’re working with The Wilderness Society and the Gamilaraay community – the Traditional Owners – in their fight to prevent Santos from establishing up to 850 drill sites to extract coal seam gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel,” explains Simon. “If the Santos gas-mining project goes ahead, not only would this project carve up the half a million hectares of intact temperate eucalypt Pilliga forest, but it could contaminate or depressurize the Great Artesian Basin, the ancient groundwater system relied upon by the people and ecosystems of inland Australia.”
The Pilliga Ultra trail run, a small event open to around 150 runners, will take part in the Pilliga Pottery part of the forest, on three different tracks: five kilometres, 20 kilometres, and a 50-ish kilometre trail – “for the die-hard runners!”.
The 20-kilometre trail generally brings in people who might not be runners, but who are passionate about the environment and want to get involved, so is a great option for those more interested in a vigorous hike than a flat-outrun. The trail itself, according to Simon, is extremely diverse. “It’s hilly, grassy and gnarly. There are lots of spiders! But that’s why you do it,for the nature. It’s everything trail runners would want in a trail.”
Registrations for the Pilliga Ultra are still open, with whispers a Victorian event will be added to the calendar next year as well.
“I would really encourage people, regardless of whether you think of yourself as a runner, to get involved,” Simon says. “Part of why we started For Wild Places is that we really believe people only protect what they understand. So if people are in nature, they experience and understand what it is, and why it needs looking after. We need to build a relationship with Mother Nature.”