Thoughts on Australia's Nature Connect Conference - Coming together to connect, collaborate, celebrate and start conversations.

On February 21st this year I was thrilled to attend the inaugural Nature Connect Conference in Melbourne.

Presented by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Victorian Child & Nature Connection, it was a gathering of inspiring and inspired leaders and practitioners from community, health, industry, education, sport, recreation, infrastructure, planning, and conservation.

We came together to share passion and ideas; to connect, collaborate, celebrate and start conversations on how we can reconnect our nation – and our world – to nature.

With David Seignior (Melbourne Fellowship Program Director at the Centre for Sustainable Leadership and Director, PlayThinkInc) as our fun and engaging conference facilitator, we heard from some fantastic speakers – Dr Robert Grenfell (National Heart Foundation), Jonathon La Nauze (Australian Conservation Foundation), Dr Barbara Chancellor (RMIT University), Ian Shears (Australian Conservation Foundation) & Cecile van der Burgh (Victorian Children & Nature Connection).

They shared stories of targeted nature-based interventions, programs, practices and research that have led to real, positive and lasting impact not just for children, but on families and people of all ages and from all backgrounds – and on our environment.

Of course, the highlight of the Conference was keynote speaker Richard Louv (Author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principal, and Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network).

Richard Louv and Tania Moloney at ACF'S Connected By Nature - In Conversation with Richard Louv Feb 2014

In November last year I was excited to find myself sitting across from Richard in his San Diego backyard, interviewing him for my second Nurture in Nature interview series. To hear him here again in Australia sharing his vision and optimism for a nature rich future for all was again inspiring – and the sold-out audiences across the country at ACF events he spoke at, evidenced that his message is both timely and pertinent.

I asked Richard to share his thoughts on the movement here in Australia. His response was one of praise and encouragement.

He said “This was my third trip to Australia to support the people and organizations working so hard there to connect children to nature. Remarkable progress has been made since then. I was already impressed with the good research coming from Australian universities, and such thinkers as Glenn Albrecht, who coined the word solastalgia – the sense of grief that so many feel when they see natural areas disappearing around them.”

“On this trip, primarily arranged by the Australian Conservation Foundation, I witnessed even greater progress, new organizations springing up, and the emergence of major Nature Play campaigns in three states, Western Australia and now Queensland and South Australia. The movement is moving quickly in Australia, and it’s inspiring”.

So it seems that we’re on the right track in helping advance what Richard calls the “new nature movement”.

Naturally this movement includes nature conservation and restoration, both vital to the health and wellbeing of our planet and the human race. But the challenge Richard set was for us to think not only about what we can DO to ensure a nature rich future, but what visions can we CREATE for nature rich lifestyles, communities, facilities, infrastructure, schools, cities, homes and occupations that will make the future a place that our kids – and us – want to go to.

In one of the interactive conference activities we did, I was excited to pair up with Glenn Albrecht whom Richard Louv so admires. He’s not only an incredible philosopher, he’s also an absolute delight! We were asked to share with our partner memories of our own special childhood place in nature. Glenn shared with me that the memories he has where he felt most connected to nature were quite literally with his feet in the dirt (although he said it far more eloquently than I have described it. It is a concept Glenn links to his developing theories of psychoterratica – psyche {mind}; terra {earth}).

I shared with Glenn how growing up on a dairy farm I was fortunate to be surrounded by nature, and there were many special places that evoked strong memories for me both on and off the farm. I explained that for me the memories which seemed to have more feeling for me where not always connected to where I was. For me, so many of the best and most memorable times I spent in nature were when they were shared with my family or with friends – irrespective of where we were. It was the human connection that held the most power for me, and nature was the perfect conduit.

kids yabbying 200x300

One shared experience that holds particularly vivid memories for me was sleeping on our verandah in 1986 with my family for four nights in a row to see Halley’s Comet. I was 12 years old. On the fourth night the sky finally cleared and we saw it. There were lots of “oohs”, “aahs” and “wows”, but seeing the comet seems now to have simply been the destination – the journey getting to that moment was the joy and connection really happened. That was where the most cherished memories were made, and they have stayed with me not only in my head, but more powerfully and fittingly in my heart.

As I talked with Glenn I also realised that this was likely where my love of the night sky was borne. I often find myself outside at night, even if just for a moment, looking up and feeling that incredible sense of awe, wonder and perspective that it evokes in me.

There’s also a feeling of connectedness and comfort.

I know I’m “home” when I can look up and know exactly where the Southern Cross is. That’s comforting, and on my travels around the world I have often looked up to wonder at the different constellations that others recognise as their “home”.

Glenn can take his experience and memories anywhere and reconnect by simply getting barefoot and connecting with the earth. I too can take my night sky with me wherever I go.

The second part of that fun activity at the conference was where Glenn volunteered me to share my story with the group. As I recounted my feelings and memories about those nights that my family and I shared under the stars some 28 years ago waiting for a glimpse of what was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience, I saw lots of knowing nods and smiles around the room. Many commented to me in the break that they enjoyed my story, and that it took them back to thinking about where they were in 1986 watching Halley’s Comet and witnessing one of nature’s wonders.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re all connected under the night sky – not just on the World Wide Web.

Nature provides such a perfect conduit and opportunity for creating vivid and powerful childhood experiences and memories for (and with) our kids. Many of those memories they we will carry in their minds and hold in their hearts for a lifetime. Just like we do.

kids alpacas

As a generation of adults where many of us have been blessed with the gift of having had that nature connection in our own childhood, and who know it’s power, it’s our responsibility to help give – and indeed gift – to future generations that same opportunity.

Hopefully I get to see Halley’s Comet again with my kids in 2061 when I’m 88 years young – perhaps then I’ll even have Grandchildren to make those memories with!

At the conference we were also encouraged to think about connecting to nature through the eyes and hearts of children. What fun it was to put our ‘kid hat’ on again and really think about what kids want and need. We could probably all do with laying our often over-protective, risk-averse, “keep off the grass” adult hats down for a bit every once and awhile.

A healthy balance is the key here, the challenge is finding it, and in attending the Nature Connection Conference I know that here in Australia – and indeed around the world – there are people who are willing to lay down their hats and fight the good fight for what the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has declared as a basic human right – the right for every child to connect with nature and with a healthy environment.

So yes, at the conference, we connected, we celebrated, the seeds of new collaborations were sown and I know the conversations started will continue … the questions to ask yourself are what can you imagine and create for a nature rich future that our kids (and us) will want to go to, and what cherished memories do you want your children to carry in their minds and hearts forever?

Once you have the answer, then get outside and make it happen.

Tania Moloney, Nurture in Nature Australia
Email: tania@nurtureinnature.com.au
Phone: 0409 843 965
Int’l Phone: +61 409 843 965
Website: www.nurtureinnature.com.au
Twitter: @naturechildhood and @MoloneyTania
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NurtureInNatureAustralia

© Tania Moloney & Nurture in Nature Australia 2013

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