White Beech: The Rainforest Years by Germaine Greer; book review


Mohammed Ali  used to boast that when boxing,  he would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. So it is with Germiane Greer. She writes lightly, gracefully even when agitating for a cause. But the words still sting. And unsettle. Here she consciously creates a quasi-religious epic out of a part of her remarkable life when she decided to restore a small, wrecked rainforest in Australia, her homeland. The tone is apocalyptic, themes existential and critical: (wo)man not against, but ardently for ITALS PREVIOUS WD wondrous, pitiless and predatory nature. She, the Lionheart, is awed, meets devastation, fears cataclysms, intuits prophecies, bears historical and biological guilt,  seeks redemption and takes stupendous, fervent  action. It really is some story.

Greer longed someday to own a small part of arid desert land so she could set it free, turn feral again. That never happened. Then, in 2001, the middle-aged feminist went through an epiphany. As you do. It wasn’t a toy boy or sudden urge to take off to the Andes. Her life was ‘was taken over by a forest’, sixty hectares of rock, trees and scrub. While walking around it, she heard weird sounds, saw gigantic trees- among them the logged and endangered  White Beech. A Regent Bowerbird, deep blue and brilliant yellow, danced before her- a dance of seduction. She wrote out a very large cheque – £268,000- and bought the place. It was an act not of towering vanity ( Greer can be toweringly vain) but seemingly of penitence and an expression of her intense eco-sensibility: ‘Give me a chance to clean something up, sort something out, make it right’. The prayer is authentic, sentiments pure.    

Land tended and revered by indigenous Aborigines has been ravaged by ‘whitefellas’ to Greer ‘the most dangerous animals’ on the island continent. Europeans destroyed local flora and fauna all around the colonised world, with holy blessings. In the Bible, God makes humans predominant, the highest beings.  Religious supremacy, capitalism and expansionism led inevitably to ecological imperialism. The long tentacles of  the civilizing mission extended to man, beast and greenery.

 Australian settlers burnt native trees and plants  ‘[and] were happy to spend proper money on...species of exotic trees round their houses. Anyone who didn’t plant a Coral tree and a Jacaranda in the front garden was deemed insensible to beauty’. Animals like koalas were slaughtered, cattle brought in. The same deadly mindset and eradication compulsion engendered the systematic massacres of Aborigines. Their stories and complex world views are handled with veneration by Greer throughout the book.

In contrast, fellow Antipodean do- gooders get little respect. Since the 70s, environmental consciousness has grown and led to some effective restorative schemes. Greer is ( unfairly) dismissive of all that and green tourism too. As she has sometimes been of younger feminists. This meanness of spirit diminishes the great intellectual. Furthermore, to damn all imported species is reactionary and too close to the objectionable discourse about national cultural purity  resurgent in the globalised world. I get the importance of preserving rainforests but humans have always migrated, taken with them ideas, goods, seeds, tools and customs.

I wish the book had been better edited so readers were spared excessive textbook botany and haranguing. The author tries so, so hard to let her ego deflate, but just can’t. It often distorts the eyeline, blots the landscape.  Most of those who she enlists on this project remain shadowy figures. But not her sister Jane, an assiduous, attentive botanist. 

Greer looks up to Jane, not something one would expect. Their propinquity, the animated  and honest conversations between them humanize and liven the project, rescue it from deadly worthiness. Jane is the expert, the voice of reason, the helpful sceptic, the realist; Germaine is impetuous, the dreamer of impossible dreams. Together they make an unassailable duo.

The rehabilitation of Cave Creek is incredibly arduous. It is a hard place to love, with pythons, ‘sliding as slowly as a glacier’, toads, lizards and vegetation that fights back. Greer eventually passed control of it on to a charity. At that point, her ego did recede and she became a ‘servant of the forest’, its supplicant. She sounds as if she has finally made peace with history, found spiritual solace.

Though you may have to skip pages, do read this searching and rousing book. It made me think more deeply about our planet and what we humans call civilization. Greer, now 75,  is a force of nature and among its most erudite defenders.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture