The Atherton Tablelands is a very special place. Together with some other parts of the Wet Tropics, they contain the only truly tropical Gondwanan relicts – all that remains of the rainforests that once covered most of Australia. That was 60 million years ago. Some of the plants that flourished then are still here and only here. Even older are the Tablelands’ Kauris. Fossil Kauris 175 million years old are indistinguishable from those growing beside Lake Barrine today. Ancestors of today’s eucalypts, casuarinas, banksias, and others also flourish here. There is no other place like it in the world. That is why Sir David Attenborough referred to the wider region as Australia’s Garden of Eden in his preface to Visions of a Rainforest, a book the natural history artist Bill Cooper and I published in 1992.
The Tablelands’ volcanic soils lie between mountains beside the Pacific Ocean in the east and the Great Dividing Range in the west. The northwest monsoon brings wet season rains, at other times southeast trade winds bring moisture. This combination of geography and climate make the Tablelands less susceptible to the excesses of the present day man-made climate change. This means their biodiversity has some protection. So, when human-induced climate change has run its course, as one day it must, the Atherton Tablelands’ plants and animals are ready to re-colonise a blasted continent. They’ve done it before. There is no more urgent reason to conserve these rainforests.
It is not just about plants and animals. There are other qualities more difficult to define – the light, the air you breathe; the special feel of forests, mountains and waterfalls the very essence of the place. These qualities have influenced all those who have worked in or visited these magnificent landscapes. More than anyone younger people realize the conservation of Australia’s natural environment is vital to their future and that of the generations that come after them. The nurturing of art, literature, and science is the master key in achieving that.
The natural Tablelands inspired Visions of a Rainforest, Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest, and the works of many others. They, in turn, I’m honoured to know, inspired the formation of the Atherton Tablelands Foundation to celebrate and conserve this unique natural history. Within a hundred years all of us will be gone. The Foundation must be our legacy.