Wilderness Journal issue #032

In this issue, the nature of night: stars, bats and golden orb weavers; night time flowers; tripping the light fantastic; dancing to the circadian rhythm and more.
Above: B is for Bats. Illustration by Antonia Pesenti


The longer you stare, the more you see

Hilary Bell & Antonia Pesenti on night, art, friendship and nature.

"As your eyes adjust new constellations reveal themselves, and single stars drop and vanish."—Hilary Bell.

Hilary Bell
is a playwright and lyricist, and Antonia Pesenti an architect and illustrator. They have been friends since they met in 1996 in Paris and have maintained a friendship across continents. Here, Hilary and Antonia correspond with Rachel Knepfer who asked these two luminaries:

What do you love about the night and what does it reveal?

Hilary: Every time I get out of the city, the night sky is a revelation. It’s astonishing to see, after being used to a meagre handful of urban stars, the thick dustings and clusterings, the Milky Way swirling across the heavens. The longer you stare, the more you see: as your eyes adjust new constellations reveal themselves, and single stars drop and vanish. How amazing to think that those countless stars are always there, in broad daylight, above the city.

From 'Summer Time'. Illustration by Antonia Pesenti
Summer has ended; now Emu returns
As surely as night follows day.
He flies for eternity, dark among stars,
Over the vast Milky Way.

Antonia: I love the night in Sydney—how the balance between the city and nature shifts. Our quiet inner-city street erupts with wildlife once the sun sets. Hundreds of bats fly silently across the sky above our balcony, possums gallop noisily across our roof, rats scuttle across the gutters, and I’ve been lucky enough to see tawny frogmouths watching me inscrutably from above.

B is for bats, who sojourn after dark
To the Gardens across from Centennial Park.
They squeal until sunrise, then back they commute
To hang from the palm trees like stinky black fruit.

(Verse for opening illustration, Hilary Bell, from 'Alphabetical Sydney')

Is there a particular environmental challenge you would like to draw attention to?

Hilary: Local and destructive—the fake spiderweb Halloween decoration that people drape across their trees and fences. Deadly for bees, ants and other insects; birds get trapped in it, or if they use it in their nests it can strangle the babies. And it’s plastic! Ends up in landfill forever.

From 'Summer Time'. Illustration by Antonia Pesenti

Golden Orb-Weavers love hot summer days.
Look what's appeared overnight:
Strong sticky filaments cross and connect,
Their gilded sheen catching the light.

Returning home to Sydney after 10 years away, Hilary and Antonia finally discovered how an architect and a playwright could collaborate: they created the picture book Alphabetical Sydney. The book became an instant classic and, soon after, followed Numerical Street and Summer Time.

They are currently working on Hello Cocky, a celebration of Australia’s beloved cockatoo, and last year saw Alphabetical Sydney come to life as a musical on stage at the Sydney Opera House.

Hilary is also collaborating on a musical adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock with composer Greta Gertler Gold.

Hilary sat on the judging panel of our Environment Awards for Children's Literature in 2021. This year's shortlist was recently announced.

Hillary Bell and Antonia Pesenti, Katz's Deli 1999
Hilary Bell and Antonia Pesenti, Katz's Deli, New York City, 1999. @_antoniadraws

'Summer Time', Hilary Bell & Antonia Pesenti, New South Publishing, 2019;
'Alphabetical Sydney', Hilary Bell & Antonia Pesenti, New South Publishing, 2013


Night time flowers

Andrew Cowen and Rachel Knepfer visit Garigal man Adam Byrne at the magical Bush to Bowl to talk night gardens, music, family, love & Country.

Photographs by Andrew Cowen for Wilderness Journal.

Adam Byrne at Bush to Bowl, 24 June 2024.

Your advice, please, on gardening that will look after night-time creatures—the possums, bats, frogs, owls, moths even?

Our animal family needs all the things we need, food, water and shelter. A safe space for thriving. Ponds, canopy and food sources such as grains (seeds), berries and nectar. See your garden as a thank you note to Country and everything it provides for us daily. Those old spirits have been living on Country before we were even thought of, they deserve our respect and attention.

Making night-time habitat—a list of plants for nocturnal creatures for midnight meals?
On our Coastal Country the banksias provide a lot of food and shelter for our night-time creatures. For our little mates close to the ground I always recommend native grasses for the seed and shelter, such as kangaroo grasses (themeda), dancing grasses (microlena) and poa grasses. Remember to research what’s in your local Country (ecology).
Banksia (endemic)—possums, owls, birds.
Grasses (endemic)—moths, frogs.
Native violet (Viola)—frogs, moths.
Warrigal greens (food source)—moths & possums.

"The banksia flower releases a scent at night that brings the nocturnal animals out—lured into chewing away and pollinating the flowers... Possums love banksia.”—Adam Byrne
Anything else?

I like to put stone in the garden for animals to find shelter and to be playful on. Recently, we did a cultural garden at Burraja in Albury Wodonga, which is on Duduroa Country and we noticed fairy wrens loved playing amongst dead branches we had piled up from the garden’s clean up so we decided to dedicate a pile of those sticks in the garden for the wrens so they could play every day, just an example of what you could do in your backyard at zero cost, all provided by Country herself. Try it...

"I am a Wiradjuri man and my mob is in desert country out in Dubbo. Working at Bush to Bowl has really helped me grasp an understanding of my culture, through learning how mob were able to survive and thrive off the land for so many thousands of years. At Bush to Bowl we practice and share all the benefits of bush foods, whether it’s for traditional healing purposes of nutritional values."—Cooper Carmopil-Kerslake

Please describe why it is so important that we each make the patches of habitat we can, especially in the cities, little microcosms of nature, for ourselves and for the creatures.

Bringing back Country in cities will bring connection into our communities but it has to be inclusive, a collective, events that will connect us closer to ourselves, Country and people. Segregation is unhealthy and all our health needs attention. Family first.

"See your garden as a thank you note to Country and everything it provides for us daily. Those old spirits have been living on Country before we were even thought of, they deserve our respect and attention."—Adam Byrne

Tips for enjoying a night garden: a chair in your garden to watch the creatures by moonlight…toast and lilly pilly jam for breakfast?

Fire is a must for myself and so many at night. I feel it creates a focus/reflection point, which is nice before we sleep. We all love fire deep down and it draws us in, our relationship starts with it there and that same feeling should be kept inside at all times.

The modern story with fire is a dark one but in our Culture it’s one of beauty and survival. That smell of smoke too!

A space for family—inclusive seating and a space for reflection.

Does the garden come alive in different ways between sunset and sunrise?

Oh, most definitely—the night sky is on its way, a new day!

In our language here, there’s several words to describe the sun going down and the sun coming up. I believe it’s to pay tribute to its importance, times where you can remember the role you play daily on Country.

We encourage you to visit Bush to Bowl if you’re in this part of the world. Please keep an eye on their site and instagram for all things gardening, bush foods, culture and Country. Mail order available too.

100% Aboriginal owned, by Clarence Bruinsma (Yaegl) and Adam Byrne (Garigal/Gadigal), Bush to Bowl is a social enterprise aimed at creating a healing space and platform for First Nations people by connecting to Country and their traditional foodways. We practice our culture on a daily basis by giving back to Country, our mob and the wider community.

Thank you to Adam Byrne for so generously welcoming us into your beautiful world.


Tripping the light fantastic

Words and photographs by Jimmy Cordwell and Joe Bean

In May, the Wilderness Society Tasmania joined a community call for sanctuary protection across Dark Sky Country in the island's Southwest National Park. Just like land and water, night is key to the natural and cultural values of the southwest. The release of our new Guide to Southwest Sky Country coincided almost to the day with the largest Aurora Australis event in the past 20 years.

Two members of the Wilderness Society team from Lutruwita / Tasmania, Jimmy Cordwell and Joe Bean—who've been working on the Dark Sky campaign—share their experience chasing the G5 aurora from two different locations on the island. A night neither will forget…

With Jimmy on the east coast and Joe on the north, a Level 5 geomagnetic storm (G5) swept across Lutruwita / Tasmania. Map by Jimmy Cordwell

Saturday, 11 May 2024

I walk home from a housewarming in Hobart, a little worse for wear, looking down at my feet as I navigate my way through the South Hobart backstreets. I’d heard there might be an aurora, so had a quick scan of the horizon but noticed nothing.

Wake up. Still worse for wear. Check my phone and see a flood of breathtaking aurora images. It was enormous, an incredibly rare event. I vow never to attend a housewarming or any sort of social gathering ever again and cross my fingers and toes that the solar storm hangs around until it falls dark again this evening.

Jimmy's family patch of remnant peppermints. Photographs by Jimmy Cordwell

Jimmy: We’re driving up to the east coast when my phone receives a message. My partner, Ellen, reaches into the glove box and as she pulls out the phone I catch a glimpse of a tiny, pink-purple square on the screen. Somehow, from the colour, I know straight away that it's Jacko (my mate who lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand), and that the Aurora Australis is pumping. The largest aurora event of our lifetime is in full swing…

Jimmy: Tonight is Mother’s Day eve, so we’ve headed up to the family block to see mum and our favourite patch of remnant Eucalytpus viminalis (peppermint) and gnarly old Banksia marginata. In the soft evening light, the white trunks of the gums stretch out of the darkness, welcoming us in their own unique way as we make our way through the forest.


Joe: As dark descends, I’m at a pizza joint with my friends Sam and Nick on the main street of Beaconsfield, northern Tasmania, en route to Narawntapu National Park for an ultramarathon the next morning. I’ve been hyping the aurora conditions all day and Nick has been receiving images of Aurora Borealis, fizzing from the same solar flare, from his parents in the UK as we drive. As we wait for our dinner, we try to shield our eyes from the urban lighting and wonder if the glow to the south is Launceston or the aurora. I’m convinced, but the others are not.

Joe peers through his aurora-vision goggles at the unfolding light show. Photographs by Joe Bean

Jimmy: We set ourselves up, get a fire going and ready our dinner of barbequed roast spuds and a lager. The fire crackles as we sit around catching up, talking about the new plants that have ‘gone in’ to the garden (in my folk’s attempt to slow down the movement of noisy miners through the block, and give the small pardalotes and wrens some refuge). We look over some new books sourced from the local vendor at the monthly market. We wait for the darkness to set in as I chip away at the extra tub of hummus. There’s no moon above us this evening and it won’t appear until early morning. I look towards the clearing beyond the peppermints. The aurora has arrived…

"I look towards the clearing beyond the peppermints. The aurora has arrived..."—Jimmy Cordwell. Photograph by Jimmy Cordwell

Joe: I squeal with excitement. Bright pink beams over Kanamaluka / Tamar River, visible from the car. It’s like everyone on the other side of the river left their brake lights on and then floated to the moon. I’d seen the Aurora Australis on the south coast before but this was nothing like that—there was no second-guessing yourself, no long-exposure photography required to verify the presence of a solar wind making our atmosphere dance. This thing is vibrant, powerful, electric.

We arrive at Narawntapu National Park and set up camp. Fellow campers are on their feet, staring south. “The best in 20 years they reckon…” I hear over and again. There’s something special about the shared, communal experience of awe. The show seems to fade after an hour or so, and people return to their campfires and retire to their tents.

Narawntapu National Park campsite. Photograph by Joe Bean

Jimmy: We weren’t sure if the spectacle would return this evening. We’d spent an hour earlier standing on the dunes surrounded by the aurora, and retreated back under the peppermints to cook up a storm and continue to share the experience. Come 9.30pm, the phones start beeping with messages again. My phone rings. A mate of mine—overwhelmed with excitement—hurriedly encourages us to look up again. This time, the pink hue had shifted into a crimson wash; what were green pockets of light dancing across the skyline now stretch across the entire southern horizon, shafts of light crashing into the atmosphere and causing huge ripples of mind-blowing, radiant green.

At the same time, we notice bioluminescent, electric-blue shockwaves in the ocean as the waves break. It's almost too much! I retreat from the dune, back under the banksias, where I sit on a big old branch that had fallen this past summer. The dance of light continues; I’m lost for words—how beautiful, how special a moment this is…

"What were green pockets of light dancing across the skyline now stretch across the entire southern horizon, shafts of light crashing into the atmosphere and causing huge ripples of mind-blowing, radiant green."—Jimmy Cordwell. Photographs by Jimmy Cordwell

Joe: Before bed, I call my mum in WA for an early Mother’s Day chat. Figure I’ll forget tomorrow in all the hubbub of the run. The aurora has settled now, but I go down to the darkness of the beach anyway. Five minutes into our conversation, I stop mid sentence. Curtains of light pulse across the sky. The light seems to splash like a storm swelling onto rocks. I can't tear myself away from the lights, and lay with half my body sticking out of the tent.

Mum’s too far north to see it, but it’s nice to share this moment with her. I call my girlfriend, Ash, to check she’s seeing it down in Hobart. She’s on Mt Nelson, moved to tears. Around 10.30pm I decide I better try to get some sleep before the race tomorrow.

"Last night’s event felt existential… This thing is vibrant, powerful, electric."—Joe Bean. Photograph by Ashleigh Sumner

Sunday, 12 May 2024

I still can’t believe it. I’ve wanted to see and experience the aurora my entire adult life. As a little lad, I thought it could only be seen from the Arctic Circle. Years later I learned that the Southern Hemisphere equivalent could be experienced right here, in my backyard. I keep looking at my new favourite photo. It’s kind of blurry, a snap through the peppermints, the blues, crimsons and greens dancing in the sky beyond.

Learn more about our efforts to establish a Dark Sky Sanctuary and the importance of protecting our night skies.


From the archives

A look at some old Wilderness Society News, Vol. 8, 1 February 1987.

"There are all sorts of small animals in every backyard, running about through the grass and soil, resting in plants and under pots. You have to get down low to see them and it may help to have a magnifying glass with you.

"Turn on a light outside at night to see flying insects. Watch for snails and slugs.

"By planting native Australian plants you will attract Australian birds."

Vol. 8, 1 February 1987


Limited-edition Circadian Rhythm T-shirt

Dance like no-one's watching beneath a silvery moon in our latest, custom-designed, glow-in-the-dark tee. Two colourways: navy and white; white and green.

Purchasing this tee helps support the Wilderness Society.
(Adult and child sizes available)


We thank all the artists, activists, photographers, writers and gardeners who've given their work to this edition. If you have anything from your own archive to share, get in touch.

If you haven't signed up for the Journal you can do so here. And take a look at past issues of the Journal below.

We recognise First Nations as the custodians of land and water across the continent of Australia and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge sovereignty was never ceded.

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