Australians love nature. Together, we’re a country of bikers, hikers, star-gazers and beach lovers. And while most of us are living in big built up cities, now more than ever we crave time in nature to decompress and switch off from our busy lives.
A growing body of research tells us what we already know intuitively. That nature is good for us. Studies show that time spent in nature has a powerful and positive effect on our body and mind. It can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
Whether it’s a short trip down the highway, a quick walk to your local park, or spending time in your living room, there are so many ways to connect with nature.
Charlotte (Charlie) O'Beirne from Margaret River, WA, is an ocean swimmer and community builder.
'I remember my first proper (ocean) swim, it was at Maroubra beach (NSW). It was to do a run-swim-run with the surf club. And I thought I can do this, I got up to my knees and I froze. I was so scared, with the surf and waves, my brain didn’t know how to deal with this.'
Training for her first Rottnest Island swim Charlie discovered the joy of being in the open water.
'I got to know the puffer fish, and the seaweed and I started to look for things instead of just panicking, it just opened my eyes to this world, and this freedom, just nature.'
After moving to Margaret River 21 years ago, Charlie decided to run ocean swimming classes for local women.
'Many of the women who joined hadn’t swum since they were kids, some were in their 70’s, and many were scared to get in the ocean. I had them all rubbing seaweed on the bottom of their feet because they were scared and making silly hats and moustaches with seaweed, you know just silly stuff.'
'We’ve had some massive surf here and they’ll go out in it and they are educated now and they understand the risk and they understand their limitations, they’re not reckless but they’re brave. And you see them when they come out of the water, its this wonderful bounty of joy and effervescence.'
'For a lot of the women through this swimming, they’ve found their own friends.They don’t need to know what your religion is, what your political party is; it doesn’t matter, you’re just in it together.'
'I remember one time swimming and seeing this octopus trying to get this crab, and this crab was doing circles with its claw up trying to pinch the octopus trying to get him. There were loads of us (swimmers) on the surface watching these two creatures, perhaps oblivious to us or just so focussed on trying to save their life and trying to get a meal. It just felt like such a privilege.'
Why swimming in nature trumps the pool for Charlie.
'When you step into the wild, the ocean or a river, you're not sure what you're going to get today. No day is the same, it's just liberating, it amplifies all the feel-good scenes that are good for your body and mind. The biggest thing with swimming in nature is because we are social creatures and we all benefit from the feeling of touch, the water gives us that sense of touch. It heals you, it nurtures you and you just want to look after it because of how special it is.'
Robby Wyper is a business consultant by day, originally from the US, now living in East Geelong, (VIC).
'I spend all my time in front of computers, I crave time to spend in nature all week, and the weekend is the time when I can actually realise that.'
'I only got into fly fishing which is my current obsession and passion about eight years ago. Since then it's been the lens through which I’ve explored the world. Everywhere I go, I go with the idea of what’s the fishing like here?'
'A lot of fly fishermen are novice entomologists because you’re mimicking nature in a bunch of ways. Not only are you mimicking a specific bug, you’re imitating that bug in its particular lifecycle (as a lure to catch fish).'
'Around here I’ll go to the Otways. Any of the little streams hold small brown trout which are pretty skittish but fun to fish for. The fish out there are really small, they're also just really beautiful, fish that live in small mountain streams they just look a bit different, they’re a richer gold, they have these pretty little red spots down their side.
The Otways are super fun, I’ve had a great time exploring there. You drive down the Great Ocean Road and anytime you pass over a stream you can just follow that up into the hills and there will be fish in there.
Part of the sport is called blue lining where you look at a map and just follow a blue line, you say I’m going to go walk up that one today. And then once you’re in the stream you can just follow it.'
It’s not just about catching fish, it’s about noticing what’s around you, and being in nature.
'My uncle who I grew up fishing with always cracks the dad joke of like “that’s why they call it fishing not catching”. There’s any number of reasons why fish won’t be biting. It’s more of an excuse to just be outside.'
'The first thing I’ll do in a stream is pick up a rock that’s just slightly submerged and I’ll look under it and you’ll see what type of bugs are crawling around. And so you kind of see what’s in there, you think they’re about this size, this colour, so I’ll tie on that type of fly.
I always pack a banana and peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my go-to lunch, and just find a good rock in the middle of a stream to sit on and eat. It’s like one of the best parts of the day. You just look around at what’s going on around you.'
Matt Garrow is a videographer who lives in an apartment in Brunswick (VIC), with his partner and their dog Frida, tending to an indoor forest of plants.
'It's a game changer (having a house full of plants) particularly on a day like today, the combination of the light coming in and the green and the warmth, it's like dopamine. You're in your little apartment but you're also in this fantasy forest.'
Bringing nature indoors has made Matt notice nature around him.
'I wake up and I see the sun, and I think that’s going to be good for my plants. I think about the seasons and I think about the life cycle of my plants. We’ve got a Christmas Cactus, it’s from the northern hemisphere where it blooms in winter, and in Australia it blooms in June and July, so even though the weather is cold and sad you think oh it’s going to be cool to see it bloom.
Even an urban environment is still an environment, and you can see so much stuff. Luckily I live on the second floor and I can see rooftops and trees and stuff. The trees across the way from us get flowers in spring and they invite bees and birds and things are still happening out there. We go to the Merri Creek often, and only a month ago, my partner saw a native water rat (Rakali), in the Merri Creek. I'd never seen that before. It looked like a platypus, it’s just living here. There’s stuff here, you just have to look a bit harder for it.'
'I try not to be too focussed on the plants, I let them do their thing. In the early days I’d be preening over a plant and thinking this leaf doesn’t look very good, I’d cut it off and I’d be like huh, that’s interesting, that plant isn't growing anymore, it was relying on that leaf to produce energy.'
'We humans live so fast, and a plant is so slow, so anything I do you always think, just do it later, do it in a week, chances are you don’t need to move that quickly for a plant. They don’t need eight cups of water a day like we do.
I have plants in here that I’m thinking if treated right would outlive us all. We’ve got a fiddle leaf fig and if you treat that well it's an 80 plus years tree. We’ve got an indoor olive tree, they’re 400 year old plants, if you treat it well it could be an ancient plant. Most of the time you’ve got these plants and you’re only seeing their baby years, you don’t actually know what they’re meant to look like.'
There are so many different ways we can connect to nature in Australia. What are some of the ways you like to spend time in our big backyard? Share your nature love story on social media and tag us in your post.
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